45 minutes reading time (9063 words)

Web Curios 05/07/19

Web Curios 05/07/19
HELLO EVERYONE! How are you? Happy? Well-rested and optimistic and full of vim and vigour and spunk?
No, I thought not. You're either sitting grimly looking out of the window at the lovely weather you're not enjoying because of the ceaseless demands of the capitalist trap we've created for ourselves, or you're wishing you were back in a field boshing pills and getting on with your sunburn. I apologise for the fact that Web Curios is unable to help with either condition.
What is Web Curios good for, I hear you ask? WORDS. LINKS AND WORDS. TOO MANY LINKS AND WORDS. Position yourselves expectantly underneath the gaping nozzle of my infohose, then, and let the cooling webspaff spray you with abandon, like that scene from Zoolander with the petrol pumps but with more odd stuff off the internet and less crispily-burnt manmodelflesh. I, as ever, am Matt; this, as ever, is Web Curios; the world, as ever, is a dreadful and confusing and slightly frightening place, and nothing you are about to read is likely to prove reassuring whatsoever. 'ENJOY'!

By Joana Choumali

LET’S KICK OFF THE MUSIC THIS WEEK WITH A SURPRISINGLY EXCELLENT TREAT FROM BBC RADIO 3 - A SELECTION OF GAME MUSIC PLAYED BY THE BBC SYMPHONY!

THE SECTION WHICH THIS WEEK HAS HAD TO FIELD PROFESSIONAL QUESTIONS LIKE ‘CAN YOU GIVE ME AN EXAMPLE OF AN EXCELLENT CORPORATE S*C**L M*D** CAMPAIGN?’ AND WHICH ONLY *JUST* MANAGED TO REFRAIN FROM CRYING OUT “NO THEY ARE ALL POINTLESS IT IS ALL A TOTAL WASTE OF TIME CAN WE ALL JUST STOP PRETENDING ANY OF THIS MATTERS?” BUT WORRIES THAT IT MAY NOT BE ABLE TO KEEP THE MASK OF PSEUDO-PROFESSIONALISM ON THAT MUCH LONGER TBH:

  • Facebook Clamping Down On Absurd Health Claims: One of the regular series of Facebook updates which prompts me to make some sort of lame, avuncular gag about the fact that none of you will obviously be affected by this update, which will see Facebook limit the distribution of content shared on the platform which it perceives to be peddling unrealistic or straight-up untrue claims about health and wellbeing. The second part of the announcement is interesting - not only will FB limit the reach of posts which ”exaggerate or mislead”, but it will also restrict those which “promote a product or service based on a health-related claim”, which is a bit broader and might actually be something to watch out for if you’re peddling slimming tea. Actually, that’s a point - is this applying to Insta if not? Because, really, if not this is something of a bandage/axewound situation imho.
  • India, Facebook, 4G and Literacy: This isn’t really of any relevance to you, but it’s a slow newsweek and I think this is an instructive story in the broad sense - Facebook and India’s largest 4g network this week announced that they are teaming up to offer digital literacy courses in physical locations across the country, giving millions of people access to free classes that teach them how to use their phones more effectively, how to access digital services, etc. Except, obviously, what it will also be doing is teaching millions of people that Facebook is the web, and Facebook is the portal to everything online, and locking in a whole bunch of new digital citizens to the Big Blue Misery Factory ecosystem. If you still think Facebook is going to go away anytime soon, stuff like this is why you’re wrong.
  • Instagram Launches ‘Join Groupchat’ Stickers for Stories: I’m sorry, but the Mashable intro explanation is succinct and so I’m just going to lazily C&P it here (I promise I’ll weigh in with some EXCITING ORIGINAL ANALYSIS to follow, though): “Here's how it works: the new sticker, rolling out to the app now, appears alongside the rest of the Stories stickers. Once you choose it, you add a text prompt about what you want to chat about. Friends who view the post tap "join chat" for the chance to be in the group DM. The person who posted the sticker gets to control who can join and can end the chat whenever they want.” So this, on the one hand, is quite a cool thing that brands can do with famouses on their feed as total engagement-bait; on the other, this seems like exactly the sort of thing that is going to make a lot of teenagers’ lives miserable. So it goes.
  • LinkedIn Pages Get Call-to-Action Buttons: A phrase so anti-erotic that I think I may have rendered myself impotent simply by typing it, “the new customer call-to-action buttons include five options: Contact Us, Learn More, Register, Sign Up and Visit Website.” Happy? Oh, and you can now add HASHTAGS TO YOUR PAGE! Through “Communities Hashtags, a feature that allows you to associate your Page with relevant hashtags and join important conversations that members and organizations are having on those topics. From #AdvertisingWeek to #Blockchain, it’s easy to jump in and participate from the perspective of your organization. To get started, click into a hashtag feed you're associated with to interact with new audiences in the voice of your business.” I’ve copied that directly from the LinkedIn update, and it still doesn’t really make any sense or explain why anyone would want to do that - LinkedIn hashtags are a source of constant amusement to be, particularly the ones that it automatically suggests each week when I post Curios to the platform. Why in the name of the everliving Christ anyone would want to tag their post on LinkedIn with #happiness is a mystery to me, but still it keeps on suggesting it, which sort-of proves that it doesn’t understand what Curios is about at all.
  • Snap Friendship Stats: Snapchat has released the FRIENDSHIP REPORT, all about how people, specifically young ones, experience friendship in 2019. They send photos! Videos help them to express things in a way they can’t with words! This is obviously mostly all bollocks, but it’s the sort of bollocks you can put in your strategy upfront and twist to mean anything you like! Particularly useful as the UK is one of the focus markets, so there’s actual UK data here that you can pull out - we have fewer ‘best friends’ than any of the other surveyed nationalities, it turns out, which suggests either that we’re simply more discerning or that we are a fundamentally lonely, atomised people who struggle to move beyond the superficial in our relationships and who as a result feel loneliness and isolation as a sort of permanent ambient background sensation to our every waking moment. Which do you think is the correct explanation?
  • The IKEA Sofont: This is pretty much perfect imho; IKEA’s ‘design your own sofa’ webtoy has done the rounds over the past couple of weeks as people compete to use the reasonably fun little design tool on their website to create outlandish, horrifying or funny sofa designs - the company clocked that people were doing this and riffed on the concept by knocking up a font based on letterforms made out of modular IKEA sofa pieces and making it available for free download from their site. Simple, reactive, clever, funny and on-brand, I wish it had been my idea.
  • O By Nars: This week’s baffling, pointless, overengineered website of the week award goes to makeup brand Nars, whose new range of products, called ‘Orgasm’, is being promoted via this website, which offers you the chance to win a set of the slap by participating in four minigames which require you to stroke or tap your screen in a vaguely uncomfortable sort of pseudo-sexual way and ask “how long will you take to reach orgasm?” So, to be clear, this is a website which offers you the chance to win some makeup in exchange for you pretending to finger your phone. Amazing.

By Dahye Choi

NEXT UP, A PLAYLIST OF MUSIC WHICH ITS COMPILER HAS FOUND USED AS BACKING TRACKS ON TIKTOK AND WHICH IS A USEFUL COMPANION TO THE LONGREAD ON TIKTOK AND MUSIC WHICH YOU CAN FIND IN THE APPROPRIATE SECTION DOWN THERE!

THE SECTION WHICH IS VERY MUCH LOOKING FORWARD TO A SLIGHTLY FAT, HAGGARD-LOOKING ALEX FROM GLASTONBURY TURNING UP IN THE ‘WHO IS THIS FLEETINGLY POPULAR POP CULTURE RELIC FROM THE DISTANT PAST?’ SLOT OF SOME FUTURE GAMESHOW IN 2035, PT.1:

  • Google Earth In-Browser: A fleeting example of quite how astonishingly far browser-based stuff has come in the past 10 years - I remember when Google Earth was a chunky download and a slightly clunky desktop app; now you can run it through a website, on your phone, off 4G. Google Earth is still a jawdropping piece of software, and still gifts some properly futureamazement moments; I can’t get over the fact that I can zoom practically anywhere on earth and see what the view’s like - honestly, try inputting ‘Gianicolo’ and seeing how ace the sensation of flying to one of Rome’s best viewpoints is. Magical.
  • Experience Cornelius: “See Him. Feed Him. Touch Him” says the website. But who is Cornelius? What is Cornelius? A prophet? A God? It is impossible to tell. This is a very, very odd website - the text is...gnomic at best, and there is no real explanation as to who Cornelius is, other than the rather wonderful copy “Cornelius does not claim to be a healer, faith guru, or wonder-priest. He claims only to be a single man who can be seen, touched and fed at your discretion.” The onsite video shows people doing just that, including, rather beautifully, a shot of a solemn-looking Cornelius being fed what looks like Extra Hot Doritos from a glass bowl. There’s a form at the bottom of the page which lets you apply to have Cornelius visit your town - you just state where you’re from, your ‘Faith Level’ (on a scale of 1-10 - there is, sadly, no direction as to how one is meant to assess one’s own faith level, or indeed how this scale works) and why your town needs Cornelius. Could we all please take 5 minutes and ask Cornelius to make an appearance in London, please? I feel like we could all use the opportunity to feed him and to tap into the endless world of love ‘nestled in the folds of Cornelius’ (no, really).
  • The State of AI Report: I was going to put this in the worky section up top, and then realised that it would be massively disrespectful to what is seemingly a decent piece of research work to lump it up there with all the crap about LinkedIn. The State of AI Report is a detailed and extensive look at where the whole business of AI is at in 2019 - it covers the main terms contained within the broader AI banner, along with an assessment of progress, trends, the politico-regulatory environment around specific technologies, the specific role of China in the advancement of AI systems and some predictions for the future. It’s pretty much essential reading if you work or are interested in the field, though be warned that it’s basically just 136 slides and is in no way a light read.
  • The Old Net: This is a WONDERFUL timesink. The Old Net is basically an interface for the Wayback Machine, which makes it simpler and easier to find and access old websites and look at them as they were at any point between 1994 and 2005. “The Old Internet Again is an attempt to restore vintage web browsing on vintage computers. It uses the Internet Archive: Wayback Machine API and a proxy that strips out any incompatible javascript and stitches together as many links as it can.” So now you know. You can input any url you like, or alternatively scroll down for a pleasingly random selection of webpages from times past; I just ended up at Alan and Steve’s Playroom, a charming site celebrating the love and relationship between two gay guys in LA in the mid-90s. Alan, Steve, I hope you are still together and still happy, and that none of your friends’ kids ever clicked any of the links on your site. Also, Alan, I really hope you retired the word ‘husbear’ soon after coining it because really.
  • Retrievans: I honestly couldn’t tell you one thing about the actor Chris Evans, or indeed pick him out of a lineup, but that didn’t stop me from very much enjoying this Twitter feed which, for reasons known only to its creator, exists solely to post images of said actor alongside images of golden retrievers slightly mimicking his pose. There are 177 posts here, which speaks to a deep commitment to the gag.
  • The Materials Data Bank: “The Materials Data Bank (MDB) archives the 3D coordinates and chemical species of individual atoms in materials without assuming crystallinity determined by atomic electron tomography (AET). The databank is designed to provide useful resources for research and education in studying the 3D atomic arrangements and associated material properties arising from non-crystalline structures, such as point defects, dislocations, grain boundaries, stacking faults and disorders.” Look, I don’t totally understand what’s going on here, but, basically, atomic models! 3d representations of the base-level structure of STUFF! All zoomable and manipulatable and everything!
  • Girlboss: I am not a woman (shocking news) so obviously my opinion on this counts for very little - can any of my readers who are women let me know what they think of this idea? I am...unconvinced. Girlboss is a just-launched new professional network for women, which is basically setting itself up as a better LinkedIn without any men on it. Now don’t get me wrong, I hate LinkedIn on pretty much every conceivable level - it’s clunky, horribly designed, the feed is a mess, Groups are broken and it’s full of absolute arseholes - but it does have the benefit of scale; why anyone would want to create a parallel network which excludes half the working population of the world is slightly beyond me, although I imagine that LinkedIn isn’t immune from Reply Guys or creepy unsolicited messages or stalky behaviour and the like (oh, men, ffs) and so on that basis an escape from that is possibly a welcome option. The bit at the bottom where it lists the types of women this is for is a bit depressing, though - ENTREPRENEURS! MARKETERS! CREATIVES! SIDE-HUSTLERS! Can we all not just stop, please? Side-hustlers? FCUK OFF FFS. Anyway, Girlboss - please can a woman tell me whether I am being a grumpy idiot about this? Ta.
  • Fares: This is a really interesting project by motoring website Jalopnik, attempting to get clarity on exactly how much money drivers for taxi-disruptors Uber and Lyft make. It’s sadly US only, but the principle is smart and I would be interested to see a parallel piece of research done in the UK; the idea is that drivers input details of rides they have taken, the amount billed, the amount they receive, etc, and over time the project’s owners will be able to make assessments about the average percentage of a fare that is received by the contractor. From the ‘About’ section: “The ridehail companies say drivers are independent contractors, but do not allow them to set their own prices, nor can they decline unprofitable rides without facing potential reprimand from the company. Uber and Lyft unilaterally determine pricing structures. Yet, the ridehail companies retain total control over the data regarding how rider fares are divided between the driver and the company and have routinely declined to share it. This project is an attempt to shed light on how fares are split.” I’ll be fascinated to see where this ends up; I’m going to go out on a limb here and predict that the results won’t make Uber or Lyft look like particularly nice companies, and, equally, will demonstrate that,given the fact that they are not even close to being profitable, there’s no way in hell they’re going to change their terms any time soon.
  • User Inyerface: Simultaneously the best and worst website in here this week. User Inyerface is a spoof site designing to collate all manner of appalling web design / UX decisions into one horrendous website. The goal here is simple - just fill in the online form! Or at least try to - there are one or two features that might make it tricky. I don’t know which part of this was the most frustrating - the Captcha gets a special mention, though - but the overall experience is rage-inducingly frustrating, which is exactly the point. The sort of thing which you hope will make at least a few web designers feel slightly sheepish about some of the ills they have wrought in the name of dark patterns and the like. On the flipside, though, if any of you are shortly to leave a design job, why not consider building some of these features into your last project before locking the gates and leaving forever? You will be remembered, if not fondly.
  • Wade in the Water: If you’re a music historian or scholar, or you’re simply a fan of black American music through the 20th Century, this is a quite incredible series of programmes. “Produced in 1994 by NPR and the Smithsonian Institution, Wade in the Water is a 26-part documentary series detailing the history of American gospel music and its impact on soul, jazz and R&B.” - honestly, I listened to a couple of these this week and they are ACE, full of wonderful music and fascinating social history. Honestly, this is very much worth your time.
  • Bachelor and Spinster Parties: Occasionally you’ll come across something online that reminds you that Australia is a very big, strange, far away land and that the size and distances and heat and persistently-deadly fauna do strange things to people over there. This is a quite incredible series of photographs, detailing the strange world of ‘bachelor and spinster balls’, held in remote rural areas of the country and designed to give young people a chance to meet someone other than a sheep or a rattlesnake - think a Young Farmers’ ball, except with 1000000% more bogan vibes. Every single one of these pictures tells a Pulitzer-winning story - you think those images of women in the North East going out over Christmas are a Hogarthian nightmare? Honestly, these shots beat them hands down for sheer ‘Jesus, the state of you’-ness.
  • SourcedFact: An interesting idea, this, though sadly one which will almost certainly not get any real traction; nonetheless, as a principle it’s an interesting one which I would be fascinated to see other publications explore. SourcedFact is designed to allow reporters to upload work with all their sources linked; readers can at any point hover over a claim or assertion made in the copy and see all the sources and citations the author has provided to stand up the fact in question. Obviously I imagine that providing all this stuff would be a colossal pain for the hacks, and it makes the process of uploading pieces to a CMS a horrorshow, but the principle is a good one and I’d be interested to see how some design tweaks could make it less-clunky.
  • Post-Punk Paperbacks: Perennial Curios favourite, Brazilian graphic artists Butcher Billy returns with this lovely series, creating fictional covers for Archie-style comic books with a 50s vibe inspired by lyrics from post-punk bands and artists from the early-80s. The Smiths, Joy Division, Gary Numan and the rest are all here - the style is wonderful, and they’re available as prints should you fancy; I reckon these are a perfect gift for a certain type of person.
  • Fast Forward Magazine: In a SEAMLESS segue, more post-punk! “Bruce Milne and Andrew Maine's Fast Forward cassette magazine documented the post-punk scene of the early 80s. The tapes interspersed interviews with music and were packaged with printed artwork in a soft case and distributed through record shops. In that pre-internet era Fast Forward helped spread sounds and ideas among music communities. Archived it offers a valuable resource for people interested in post-punk.” This is a WONDERFUL archive and for the older crowd here - I know you’re there, old men, harrumphing and snuffling and stroking your corduroys - a rather nice trip back in time.
  • Ground Zero Photographs: An incredible collection of thousands of photographs taken at Ground Zero in the aftermath of September 11 2001 - they’re something of a chaotic mess, but that only serves to heighten the strange sense of time/place travel they give you; you get a very real feeling of the confusion and horror experienced as work took place to secure the area, look for any survivors and, eventually, begin the cleanup. The devastation on display is jaw-dropping; you obviously know what happened, but seeing the up-close imagery of the site is sobering in the extreme.
  • Mandelbrots: A fractal-generating toy, which is largely unremarkable other than for the fact that you can move the image around, change the colours, zoom in and out and then, when you’re happy with the view you’ve captured, export the image as a jpg for printing or doing with as you see fit. The 16 year old stoner in me - you may not be entirely surprised I’m still in touch with him and we hang out quite a bit - absolutely LOVES this and is quite temped to get at least one artily-zoomed-and-framed black and white fractal print to stare at after having done lungs.
  • Ultralapse: An iOS app for all those of you who are bored with standard timelapse photos and want to go BIGGER. Ultralapse is designed to do loooooong term timelapses - over a period of weeks, months or years - and helps with ensuring that the framing and composition of each of the shots is close enough to allow for seamless blending at the end. Takes both photos and videos and stitches them all together to (presumably) pleasing effect; if you fancy making your kid’s journey from child to adult fodder for a 20k views YouTube upload, then this is the app for YOU.
  • The News: FULL DISCLOSURE - I am friends with Tassos, who runs Coney, the company behind this Kickstarter. That said, I’d be featuring it anyway - The News is an interesting idea, developed by Coney’s kid-led ‘Young Coneys’ development team, designed to help kids get a handle on the weirdness that is ‘The News’ in 2019, with all the associated fakery and uncertainty and lying and dissembling. If funded, it will be a card game / interactive experience which asks questions like “Where do we get our information from? How do we know when we are being told the truth? What are the stakes when that information informs the way we grow in and respond to the world?” If you have kids of 10-15, this might be an interesting way of beginning to teach them principles of critical appraisal of sources and things like that (but without using incredibly dry terminology like ‘critical appraisal of sources’).

By Eiko Ojala

NEXT UP, A MIX BY AUTECHRE DESIGNED TO HELP YOU SLEEP OR JUST TO LET YOU ZONE OUT A BIT!

THE SECTION WHICH IS VERY MUCH LOOKING FORWARD TO A SLIGHTLY FAT, HAGGARD-LOOKING ALEX FROM GLASTONBURY TURNING UP IN THE ‘WHO IS THIS FLEETINGLY POPULAR POP CULTURE RELIC FROM THE DISTANT PAST?’ SLOT OF SOME FUTURE GAMESHOW IN 2035, PT.2:

  • Rentafriend: I can’t recall exactly where I found this, but the article it was referenced in suggested that this very, very bizarre site is in fact 10 years old, which is sort of amazing. Its premise is pretty self-explanatory - it offers you the opportunity to, er, rent a friend to hang out with and share non-sexual experiences with (I bet this is in NO WAY a covert escorting portal). What really made me laugh, though, was what happened when I searched for people in the UK - not only are there lots of them, but WHY ARE THEY ALL FROM KILSBY IN NORTHAMPTONSHIRE? What has happened in Kilsby that so many of its residents have felt the need to rent themselves out as ‘friends’? Honestly, there’s DEFINITELY a 3000 word VICE piece in this, sort it out Golby.
  • Pride Worldwide: Buzzfeed collects photos of Pride celebrations from around the world last month - these are a nice mix of the joyful and celebratory, and on the flipside a number of photos which make you realise that, for all the cheery corporate coopting of queerness once a year, LGBTx rights, acceptance and representation have a long way to go. The image of Pride celebrants in Ukraine tightly-flanked on both sides by armed and armoured police is a superb and sobering one.
  • Insert Controller Here: A YouTube channel which features a single, very specific gimmick - the guy behind it makes videogame controllers out of weird stuff. Play Smash Bros. using ACTUAL SPAM! Create a feature which lets you ragequit an online game by pouring LITERAL SALT (do you see?!)! Single-note, but quite funny, and if you’re after someone to build you some sort of interesting physical user interface for some pointless piece of advermarketingprwankery then this bloke might be worth looking up.
  • Pao: Another travel-y, explore-y, do stuff-y app, Pao’s gimmick is that it’s Insta but more purposeful; the feed is split into stuff from everyone and stuff from your friends, each post is pegged to a real place (the idea being that users share cool spots they have visited) and each post can be explored to find more details about the place in question, including details of how and when to get there. The really smart thing here is that each post can be added to a personal scrapbook-type system, arranged by city - the software can then create organised itineraries for you from the posts you’ve added to your scrapbook, theoretically taking the pain out of planning an itinerary. Obviously this is useless without a large userbase, and I’d guess that there’s not enough traction to make all the features really shine, but there’s a lot of smart thinking in here which I’ll expect to see ripped off on Insta or elsewhere within a year.
  • Football Manager Hair on Politicians: You don’t, I think, need me to explain this to you.
  • The Mad Magazine Covers: I know Mad Magazine isn’t a thing in the UK really, but when I was at international school my friend Oli had a bunch of them and I got rather into the style and gently satirical tone of the whole thing, not to mention slightly obsessed with perma-confused Alfred E Neuman, the red-headed, gap-toothed gonk kid who’s adorned every cover (this is a great article about the character, by the way, which I featured in the Longreads section of Curios waaaay back in 2016 and which I just remembered). The magazine announced this week that it was ceasing publication, which is an excellent excuse to feature this archived collection of all the covers, ever - this is SUCH a comprehensive fansite, with loads more associated stuff than just the art, and it’s quite fun to poke around even if you have no knowledge of Mad whatsoever.
  • Spy vs Spy: Other than little Alfred, one of the best things about Mad was the comic strip Spy vs Spy, tracking the permanent, neverending and brutal battle between two nameless spies, Black and White (and occasionally a third, Gray) who have spent the past 40-odd years attempting to kill each other in a variety of beautifully-inventive ways. This is a scan of a book collecting the complete strips (or at least they were the complete strips back when this was published) - aside from the fact that these are genuinely funny, they’re also an object-lesson in storytelling and sequential art, and worth exploring just from a technical / narrative design point of view (God, I really do take the fun out of everything, don’t I? JUST ENJOY THE COMICS FFS).
  • Earios: A new network of podcasts, specifically featuring podcasts by women. As a non-podcast consumer I have no idea whether the medium is particularly male-dominated, but, regardless, if you want more female-created audio in your life then you can find a shedload of it here. I can’t vouch for the quality of any of these, and they are all seemingly American, but were I a podcast person I would absolutely listen to the fcuk out of (wow, that is an absolute car crash of a turn of phrase, I am almost impressed with myself) “The Spermcast”, in which “Molly wants a baby. The only problem is she's 39, single, and not exactly ready for motherhood. So she's on a quest - a quest for a sperm donor, and a quest for some personal growth. Each week you'll hear interviews with potential donors, but she'll also seek guidance from the pros: doctors, financial advisors, tarot card readers...whatever it takes. By the end of this series, if all goes according to plan, she'll find her donor, and inseminate herself!” Fair play, that sounds GREAT (by which I mean like a total car crash).
  • Playground Buddy: A website designed to help you find nearby public playgrounds wherever you may be. Ideal for harassed parents who need to put Jonty on a swing before they commit infanticide, but have no idea where to find one because they’re on an ill-advised citybreak to Talinn. Alternatively, ideal for paedophiles.
  • Dr Fakenstein: A YouTube channel showcasing its owners work with deepfakes. Some of these are very funny, not least the sitcom intro sequence in which every character is Mike Tyson.
  • Specialised Tools: Pretty much pure, undiluted Reddit, this - Specialised Tools is a sub devoted to, er, very specialised tools used solely for very specific jobs. Ever wanted to see what a walking stick designed to double-up as a mushroom collecting basket looks like, or watch a drone equipped with a flamethrower clear plant matter from power lines? Well LUCKY YOU! This is, as per usual with this sort of thing, initially sort-of lightly interesting and then you look up and it’s 5pm and you still haven’t written that proposal and all you want to do is own a whelking spoon and move to the seaside.
  • Music Theory: On the one hand, this is a VERY ugly website with pretty much nothing in the way of aesthetic bells and whistles to draw you in; on the other, it’s a very, very comprehensive introduction to musical theory, from pitch and tone and scales and the like, all the way through to compositional tips and conventions. If you’re interested in the technical craft of songwriting, this is a really good resource; I’d be fascinated to know to what extent this sort of thing is helpful in improving one’s songwriting prowess, so if one of you could basically use it to teach yourselves music and then try and pen a hit that would be great, thanks.
  • Computational Peeling Art Design: I know deep down that this is actually quite a mathematically serious piece of work, and the final expression of it isn’t necessarily representative of the HARD THINKING that lies behind it, but, equally, I can’t help but find absolutely wonderful the fact that this is an entire scientific paper all about how to programme a machine to let you design a means of peeling a small orange so that the resulting skin, if removed as a single piece, forms a pleasing shape. Just click the link, all will become clear - and bookmark it, because they’re going to make the designs available at some point and I can guarantee that you’re going to want to try and make a tangerine dragon.
  • Pipes: This is a joke that will work exactly once, but it is a good (if silly) joke and it made me laugh.
  • Big Bear Bald Eagle Nest Cam: Whatever is happening in your world today, it’s unlikely that it won’t be slightly improved by being able to watch some massive bald eagles nesting. It’s nighttime over there as I type this, and one of the big, feathery lads is cotching down happily with their head under their wing, and, honestly, I had no idea that massive flesh-eating birds of prey could be so cute.
  • Roberto Geroli: Occasionally I feature artists’ or designers’ personal websites which are particularly inventive or fun examples of self-promotion. It’s been AGES since I’ve seen one this good, though - Roberto Geroli is an author, and his personal website is basically a mini-recreation of The Secret of Monkey Island and, well, I love him immoderately as a result. SO nicely done, and contains quite a few nice gags to boot.
  • Screamscapes: A massive, comprehensive and VERY UGLY guide to the world’s themeparks and rollercoasters. You want to plan a trip to a foreign country and check out the ‘coaster scene (‘coaster scene?! WHAT?!? Sorry, even by my standards there are some stylistic horrorshows in here this week, I’m not sure what’s wrong with me) in advance, this is absolutely the right website for you.
  • Brickception: The first of this week’s links to be lifted directly from the B3ta newsletter (THANKS ROB!), Brickception is a very clever - too clever for its own good really, when it comes to actually being playable - twist on the Breakout/Arkanoid model of smashing virtual bricks with a virtual ball and paddle. I won’t try and explain the twist here - just click and play and see if you can last longer than me (about 30s). It’s the gaming equivalent of rubbing your tummy and patting your head at the same time.
  • Payday 2 Text Adventure: Payday 2 is a real videogame about a bank heist; this is a small text adventure, playable in your browser, released as part of the promo push for the full game. It’s excellent - funny, smart, only lightly interactive (it’s literally just a piece of IF with some graphics) - and I don’t understand why more marketing stuff doesn’t use games tbh; there are SO many talented designers and makers out there, and the barriers to entry in terms of cost and lead times are so much lower than they ever used to be. I am, perhaps, slightly hung up on this - I’m still bitter that Castrol didn’t buy my suggestion to remake Pipe Mania in the style of their iconic ‘flowing oil’ ads from the 1980s (It was SUCH a good idea, they were philistines chiz chiz chiz).
  • Dino Pianito: I don’t know WHAT this is or what is happening, but I urge you to click the link, play the very bizarre game and make sure the volume is up. This is ALL about the soundtrack, which I will be humming all day and now feel that I have to inflict on you too.
  • Flappy Royale: Finally this week, after Mario Royale comes Flappy Royale - play against 98 others to see who can get furthest in famously frustrating one-button jump-flyer Flappy Bird. SO MUCH FUN, and also really cleverly coded - the players you race against are the ‘ghosts’ of the last 98 people to play the game, meaning you never need to wait for a lobby to fill up. Such an elegant solution, and such a ruinously addictive game - I promise you, you will totally get stuck on this.

Via Superbomba

LAST UP IN THIS WEEK’S MUSIC, ENJOY THE BEASTIE BOYS PLAYING GLASGOW IN 1999 (THIS IS A HELL OF A GIG, HONESTLY)!

THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!:

  • Rejected Emoji: Also nicked from B3ta (THANKS ROB!), this is a moderately-funny collection of emoji that don’t in fact exist. I genuinely think the ‘My Haters Have Some Valid Points’ one could do with going into production.
  • Explore What You Love: A Tumblr-owned project, celebrating some of the people who’ve made the platform great over its existence, and in general acting as a tribute to the strands of queer and outsider culture which found an expressive home there. If you are, or were, a Tumblr kid, this is rather lovely.

THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!:

  • Sunglasses Cat: A cat! In sunglasses! Which it wears for well-founded medical reasons, so stop making fun of it! Not as special as Lebowski, but still a pretty great maow.
  • Jo Nakashima: Jo Nakashima makes amazing origami, some of which is more 3d kinetic sculpture than folded paper. This is some incredible stuff.
  • Kirstie Perez: Perez photographs childbirth - this feed is therefore ALL photos of women giving birth. I think this is astonishing photography, but it’s also not for the squeamish; whilst there’s some lovely. Heartwarming, ‘kid on breast’-type newborn shots, there’s also a nicely-framed placenta in a bucket and quite a lot of ‘oh look, there’s the head!’-type moments. Still, makes a nice change from fcuking chia bowls and latte art, eh?

LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:

  • A History of Brands on Twitter: One for the advermarketingprdrones, this - a very good, if annoyingly US-centric, look at the evolution of how brands have used Twitter, from the first, excruciating steps into ‘brandter’ (still, by the way, the worst neologism thrown up by the digital age, and one for which I will always, always hold a special, stabby torch) to the strange recent trend towards despair-centric memery. If your job is doing social media ‘strategy’ (don’t get me started, please) for brands then a) I am so, so sorry; and b) you really ought to read this.
  • Alibaba and Behaviour Modification: This isn’t a spectacular piece of writing or anything - it is, though, a really interesting insight into the way in which payments giant Alibaba is working gamification (no, come back, I promise we’re not going to try and make that a thing like it’s still 2010!) into its systems to incentivise people to use its services more often. The stuff in here is SO clever, and I would be amazed if Monzo or one of the other kid-chasing banks doesn’t start using this sort of thing soon.
  • What Does Putin Really Want?: Don’t for a second think that this NYT will answer its own question, by the way - this is more of an overview into the whole idea of Russia even having an externally-definable coherence in terms of foreign policy, asking questions about the extent to which the West has been getting it wrong when it comes to the country’s international ambitions. It’s all a bit ‘4d chess’, but interesting nonetheless - even moreso if you start to wonder whether the entire piece, all the interviews in it, is itself a result of this campaign of disinformation and confusion we’re all convinced Putin’s puppeteering.
  • What Happened To Evernote?: This is a really interesting piece, and a nice corrective to all the ‘what it’s like to work at a Unicorn’-type valley business pieces. Evernote, as I’m sure you’re all aware, is basically a note-taking and information organising app, which has been around for a decade or so without ever quite getting the mass-market pickup it needed to catapult it into the ranks of the big tech players. This piece profiles the company, its latest CEO and its history, and offers an interesting picture of what second-tier tech companies are like, and what it feels like when the hype train leaves you behind.
  • How TikTok and Old Town Road are Changing Music: There were quite a few Old Town Road / TikTok pieces a few months back, but this is the first that I feel has really explained the symbiosis that exists between the music industry and TikTok in 2019. This does a really good job of explaining how artists can and do use TikTok and meme culture to drive awareness of their tracks before releasing them, and how they can exploit trends to get their beats in the ears of record execs who are scouring the platform for the next big viral hit. What’s interesting is the extent to which this promotes small, single moments of music rather than longerform material; all you need to blow up on TikTok is a beat that’s easy enough for anyone to dance to, and ideally some sort of a drop/keyshift moment that plays to the platform’s bait-and-switch/reveal meme culture. Does this mean that we’re going to see more and more music optimised to act as a soundtrack to a 10s video of someone turning into a Pokemon? It does, doesn’t it?
  • The Krazy Kat AI: This is VERY TECHNICAL and is about how to build a piece of software to go out and find all the Krazy Kat comics on the web - the reason I’m including it is because it’s also a really, really good way of learning how one should think about using AI/Machine learning and what sort of things you can do with it. You don’t need to understand the tech here to get value from this (Christ knows lots of this is gibberish to me) - this is more about learning how to think about what computation of this sort can achieve, and the steps and processes one needs to go through to create useful tools with it. I promise, you will find this more interesting than you think you will.
  • A Book For Every Year of Your Life: Whilst this list will obviously make you annoyed - that’s what these things are for, after all - it’s also a brilliant idea and I would love to see it done in the UK. The Washington Post has selected 100 books which are appropriate for each year of a centenarian life - from The Very Hungry Caterpillar onwards. There are some strange choices and placings - Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels when you’re 95? Run, Rabbit at 41? - but overall this is a fascinating and enjoyable list which made me think a lot and which is the sort of thing which part of me wants to consider using as inspiration for all my godkids’ future birthdays (think you’re getting something you actually WANT? AHAHAHAHA).
  • The History of Granta: UK literary magazine Granta turns 40 this year - this is an interview in the magazine with its founder Jonathan Levi, and whilst it’s a bit inside baseball (I imagine the literati will get lots more out of this than I did) it’s also a lovely read, and typically British in the sense of bumbling accidentalism (is that a word? It is now!) that permeates the magazine’s genesis. I love Granta, and this is a really affectionate look back at its genesis and early years.
  • Speedrunners Beat My Game: Not really an essay, this, more a selection of screenshots and a few lines of copy, but it’s charming and culturally interesting and worth a moment of your time. A game designer has made a game - a deliberately hard game, designed to be challenging and difficult, in the manner of Super Meat Boy or Getting Over It, that sort of thing. He has released it into the wild - and the speedrunning community (people who compete to try and complete a game in the fastest possible time) got hold of it. This post details his feelings watching people patiently and skillfully deconstruct something he worked hard to build - exploit small loopholes in the code, cut out whole sections entirely, and generally not play it ‘properly’. As a general metaphor for the creative act in the digital era, this is pretty much unsurpassed.
  • How Much Damage Can One Child Do?: A (spoof) academic paper examining the material cost of all the naughty things Calvin gets up to in the Calvin & Hobbes comic strips. The final figure strikes me as a bit low to be honest, but I very much enjoy the reasoning on display here.
  • Tractor and the Bright White Sky: A typically brilliant essay by the brilliant James Bridle, a man who I would very much like to meet one day. In this one, Bridle looks at self-driving cars and the potential social consequences of greater automation across all aspects of society. Includes a hefty dollop of Ballard, which is an instant win for me but also de rigeur for anyone thinking seriously about THIS FCUKING WORLD WE LIVE IN (Polygon studios in-joke there for the two people reading this who might get it).
  • Influencer Bathwater: I find this story sort-of wonderful - or at least I do as long as I take it as a piece of Poppy-style performance art rather than an actual act of transactional commerce. Belle Delphine is a cosplayer/streamer/Twitch/Insta personality - she’s also exactly the sort of cutesy, perky cute-looking womanchild that a certain type of man on the internet gets obsessed with. She’s also not an idiot, and over the past year or so has been exploiting this in a variety of ways, some artsy, some commercial. Her latest attention-baiting tactic is selling her bathwater at $30 a pop - it’s Manzoni for the internet age! I find this fascinating, and, honestly, I would love to read a proper artworld-type take on this sort of stuff.
  • Cobralingus: Thanks to Steve Toase for pointing me at this - it’s a really interesting language and storytelling game invented by author Jeff Noon, which anyone can play with a pen and paper and a D17. You start with an opening sentence, and then roll the dice - the next player, or you if you’re doing this alone, then applies one of 17 modifiers to the sentence, rewriting per a selection of prompts such as ‘DECAY - Gently breaks down the text. Dissipates. Introduces corruption to the signal” or “RELEASE VIRUS - Attacks text, changing words of choice into others of a similar sound. Recommended for advanced users.” This article introduces the game and shows it in action; it’s such an interesting idea for forcing you into creative writing situations, and in the right hands could be a genuinely fun game. I would like someone to turn this into a website please, for collaborative ongoing play with strangers. Thanks!
  • Hanging on the Telephone: On the oddity of representing our relationship with the telephone in film, and how noone has quite managed to find a way of capturing the odd simultaneity of solitude and connection one experiences when staring at a tiny screen when in company; there’s a genuinely interesting creative challenge in how to communicate the internal, external and intra-personal communication going on simultaneously, which I would love to see formalised as some sort of contest, prize of collaborative exhibition.
  • Elon Musk & Thud: I had honestly totally forgotten that Elon Musk decided that he loved satire so much he was going to start his own version of The Onion, just for fun. He did, though, and then he decided that actually he didn’t want to fund it any more, so he stopped. This is a quite remarkable story about what happens when a billionaire decides they want to do something on a whim, and what happens when a company is set up with no immediate need to actually make any money at all - spoilers, fine, but it doesn’t go fantastically well. I actually unwittingly featured a Thump project in here last year - I’m not 100% surprised that it hasn’t ended well.
  • The Corporate Logo Singularity: Or, ‘why all logos are a tedious morass of sans serif similarity’. The basic point of the piece is that all corporate logos in 2019 look like this because sans-serif fonts are slightly childlike and slightly unthreatening and basically their use helps mask the fact that a lot of these companies are not actually very nice at all, and in some cases actively a bit evil. You might scoff, but, equally, you could argue it seems to be working pretty well for them.
  • Hooked On Bank Robbing: This is an amazing story, all about skaghead bank robber Anthony Hathaway who was left addicted to opiates after an injury, ended up turning to heroin as so many do, and decided that the best way to fund his habit was to go on a quite remarkable bank robbing spree, involving 30 banks over a year. Hathaway is a sympathetic hero - the villain here is very much the US medical and pharma establishment that has let the opiate problem spiral out of control - and I will never tire of reading tales of laconic criminals strolling calmly away from the scene of a crime. Oh, and it also gives me an opportunity to once again recommend to you ‘The Ballad of the Whisky Robber’, one of the funniest books I have ever read and the best story about an alcoholic ice hockey goalkeeper in post-Soviet Hungary you will ever hear.
  • My Time as a Bounty Hunter: If, like me, your idea of bounty hunting is a weird mishmash of that reality TV show from a few years back and some half-remembered bits on bail bondsmen cribbed from Jackie Brown then this will he a helpfully educative experience. This is a great piece of first-person experience writing, as the author recounts his stint as a bounty hunter in Virginia - it’s full of great characters, self-deprecation, botched stakeouts and low-stakes tension, and feels like it could happily stretch to short story length.
  • An Oral History of the Eyes Wide Shut Orgy Scene: Or, ‘Man, Would This Scene Not Get Filmed Now, Or Certainly Not Like This’. A truly fascinating piece which speaks to cast and crew involved in the (in)famous orgy scene from Kubrick’s massive, overhyped mess of a film - there’s LOADS of interesting stuff in here, largely about Kubrick’s famously obsessional auteurship, but the main takeaway is that it sounds like a very, very creepy and not particularly nice and maddeningly high-pressure atmosphere, and that Stanley was, well, a bit pushy when it came to what he wanted.
  • Where Disease Stopped and my Brother Began: On sibling suicide, and coping with it. This is gorgeous writing which for personal reasons I found hugely affecting - the lines about clearing out their stuff ruined me somewhat, but if you can deal with the subject matter it’s a very, very beautiful piece.
  • Epcot World Showcase: Another very beautiful piece of writing, this is a piece of short fiction about getting it on at the Epcot Centre. Surreal, sexy, brilliant writing.
  • The Pleasure of Clapping Back: Finally in the longreads this week, hands-down the best piece of writing I have read all week - Roxanne Gay on the importance of having nemeses. I would have enjoyed this even more had I not been so sickeningly jealous of how good the prose is here - she is an incredible writer, and this is a brilliant essay, funny and honest and self-critical and modern and intelligent. Also, it gives me the opportunity to link you to the Chilly Gonzales song ‘The Grudge’, which is pretty much the exact musical equivalent of this essay and which I recommend you listen to once you’re done reading the piece by way of aural dessert.

By Miss Bugs

AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!

1) First track of the week is by Sui Zhen - a very odd, brittle song with a video that scared the everliving daylights out of me. For the avoidance of doubt, I love everything about all of this:

2) Next, this is one of the more unholy genremashes I have heard in a while; it starts out feeling like it’s going to go full squelchy synthandbeats, but then pivots in all sorts of odd directions and generally doesn’t sound like anything else at all. Fascinating, if a bit messy, and the video’s equally schizophrenic. This is Sonia Calico with ‘Clutter Confines’:

3) This is a band called Hideous Sun Demon, and frankly they’re mainly in here because of the name and the fact that the lead singer looks like Jeremy from Peep Show if he was an indiekid. Anyway, this is all slightly lofi and crap and Australian, but it’s honestly really quite charming too, insofar as a song all about wanting to stop taking gak can be charming. See what you think:

4) I know that a Kate Bush cover is, to many, sacrilege, but Meg Myers does an excellent job with this take on ‘Running Up That Hill’ - the video, though, is the real star, a stop-motion piece with each frame hand-coloured by kids, creating a wonderful, chaotic, hand-made feel to the whole thing. This is ACE and the technique/idea is definitely something that could be appropriated:

5) UK HIPHOP CORNER! Mikill Pane, a Curios pick from waaaaay back in the day, is back with a new single. Still an excellent MC, still a very funny man:

6) Finally this week, one of those videos where I absolutely have to promise you that THIS STUFF FINDS ME. This is a video review of a piece of VR software called ‘Virtamate’ which lets the user create a virtual environment and populate it with virtual women. This is totally SFW, and there is nothing gross in here - apart, of course, from the inherent creepiness of the entire concept - but if you want a very real sense of creeping futurehorror (and who doesn’t, amiright?!) then scrub through this and take a moment to imagine where a future with this sort of thing, haptic technology, deepfakes and the like leads us. This is SO odd and SO creepy and I’m sorry to leave you with it but, well, THAT’S HOW CURIOS WORKS! Oh, and LOOK, THAT’S IT, IT’S ONCE AGAIN TIME FOR ME TO GET WASHED AND DRESSED AND LEAVE THE HOUSE AND FOR YOU TO GET ON WITH THE REST OF YOUR DAY OR NIGHT AND I HOPE THAT WHATEVER YOU DECIDE TO DO AFTER READING THIS IS LOVELY AND YOU HAVE FUN AND THAT IN GENERAL YOU HAVE A LOVELY TIME AND THAT YOU KNOW THAT I LOVE YOU AND CARE ABOUT YOU AND THAT I APPRECIATE YOU READING THIS MORE THAN YOU CAN POSSIBLY IMAGINE AND THAT I WILL MISS YOU WHILE YOU’RE GONE AND I AM ALREADY LOOKING FORWARD TO NEXT WEEK’S CURIOS BYE BYE BYE TAKE CARE I LOVE YOU BYE!:

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