Web Curios 06/07/18
Pride! Pride in our country! Pride in Gareth's Plucky Young Lions! Pride in the idea of IT coming home (what is 'it'? Have you considered the idea that maybe the 'it' whose return you're all so joyously anticipating is, I don't know, a horrific monster borne out of irradiated Chernobyl isotopes, temporarily disguised as 'football'? HAVE YOU? I don't think Gareth's Plucky Young Lions ought to bring it home AT ALL, it doesn't sound safe)!
SO MUCH PRIDE!
But, before the pride, Chequers! Not the fun sort, with Kings and crownings and jumping and a nice mug of tea of a Sunday afternoon, but instead the version in which (pray God) noone at all gets made king, noone seems to know the rules and, regardless, WE ALL LOSE.
Frankly, the only response to this insane concatenation of events - ALL of the booze and drugs all over the country, a Government possibly about to wobble quite severely, no prospect whatsoever of a sensible outcome to any of this, a heatwave - is to get utterly banjaxed all weekend.
Before you do, though, can I urge you to read Web Curios? If nothing else it will give you an interestingly divergent selection of topics to cover whilst you're waiting for The Man at 3am on Sunday and can't stop your jaw working. TAKE CARE EVERYONE, IT'S GOING TO BE A BIG ONE - this, as ever, is Web Curios.
By Oleg Tolstoy
THE SECTION WHICH SUGGESTS YOU GO ON TO THE TWITTER AD TRANSPARENCY TOOL AND SEE IF YOU CAN FIND ANYONE WHO’S ACTUALLY BOUGHT TWITTER ADS IN THE UK IN THE PAST WEEK; IT’S HARDER THAN YOU THINK:
- Facebook Reinstitutes Apps For Groups: These were shuttered in the Great Privacy Stramash of 2018, but are now BACK as Facebook have sorted all those concerns RIGHT out, isn’t that right lads? This is slightly niche tbh - Group Admins will now have the ability to install enterprise software apps to their Groups to help with admin, etc - but it looks like they are also opening up the Groups API again meaning you’ll be able to build your own too. Which might be useful - shamefully I don’t know, as I got too bored with the technical details to investigate much further. I...I can probably stop writing about this now, can’t I? Good.
- Instagram Testing Persistent Stories Bar In-App: Because you WILL consume all your friends’ Stories and the app WILL keep bugging you about it til you’ve done so. Did they spend 15s cobbling together a poorly-thought-through series of mediocre still photographs with some wonky caption text and some cry-laugh emoji for naught? DID ALL THEIR CREATIVITY SPAFF OUT THROUGH THEIR FINGERS IN VAIN?? WATCH THE STORIES. Not hugely significant, fine, but another one for the ‘Stories as the unavoidable and ubiquitous content juggernaut of the near future’ list.
- Insta Tests Questions In Stories: Stuff like this is why, though - the ability to mash together all sorts of different content types into one unit is what makes the format so appealing, and the potential addition of freeform question/answer functionality, which seemingly will let Stories creators write freetext questions which viewers can respond to, also in freetext. The interesting bit here - which the article is frustratingly vague about - is what happens to those responses; are they delivered as a DM to the creator, or do they get integrated into the Story itself in some way? WE SIMPLY DON’T KNOW. Anyway, this will be live in a few weeks I imagine so expect me to rewrite this entry with a bit more detail when it’s actual news, for THAT IS THE WAY OF TECH MEDIA. Awful, really, isn’t it?
- WhatsApp Now Lets Groups Be Broadcast-Only: There are so, so many people - hen and stag party organisers, for example - who I imagine will look at this news and rejoice. You can now set up a WhatsApp group so that only the admin can send messages - DICTATORSHIP! No, Steve, you CANNOT propose that the float be raised to “£100 and a bag of gak each”! Really, really useful, and makes WhatsApp a suddenly interesting variant for group games and things.
- The Twitter Ad Transparency Centre: Twitter’s been quieter than Facebook on this, but here’s their version of ad transparency - search for advertisers in the top-right, and Twitter will show you any adverts that they have run on the platform in the past week. It’s...not great from the point of view of Twitter that I had to search around a bit to find any - Activision? Nope! Nike UK? Nope! The Labour Party? Nope! - but if you want to have a snoop at what people are doing with ads on the platform and can be bothered to hunt around then it might be of interest. A few observations: 1) there’s not a fat lot in terms of creativity going on with the content and format in most of the ads I’ve seen through this; and 2) some of the numbers on these promoted Tweets are pretty poor tbh - check out Adi’s current ads, whose numbers are, well, pretty rubbish imho. I know that there’s been a lot of recent chat about how Twitter’s turned it around a bit in the eyes of Wall Street, and the new news focus is working for investors, but purely from an advermarketingpr standpoint this doesn’t smell great.
- Better Accessibility Options for Twitter: A Good Thing, this, whereby Twitter’s improving its support for metadata on images, Cards, etc, and expanding this to Tweetdeck too - there’s no excuse if you’re a large brand not to append this additional information to your photo-or-video content to help enable the visually impaired to be able to access it.
- Snap Updates Ads Manager: In a rare, perhaps unprecedented, move, Snapchat’s copied Facebook for once - the new Ads Manager interface introduces a bunch of features which will be familiar to those of you used to staring at the horrorCMS that is the FB ad platform, letting you optimise ads for a wider range of goals, do improved ROI-tracking against conversion, and, most interestingly, opens up the use of the Snap Pixel to all advertisers, meaning that you can now create lookalike audiences and track user activity across your site. Three years is a long time, eh, Evan?
- Snap Opens Commerce Integration To Influencers: It’s not enough that the contoured and sculpted can now peddle speed lollipops to us through the app - they can now sell them direct to us through it too! Only available to a select few Kardashian-level ‘influencers’ at present, this lets this select band of creators (O I BOW AT THE ALTAR OF YOUR CREATIVITY, WOMAN SHOWING OFF HER BIKINI ON A YACHT!) integrate ‘swipe up to buy’ functionality within the app, letting users spend their hard-earned pennies on whatever tat said creator is being paid to endorse this week, all without leaving the app. See something? Want something? BUY SOMETHING, and don’t you even dare pause to think about it!
- Snapchat Does AR Bitmoji Tennis Game: In conjunction with Serena Williams, with whom they did another, non-AR tennis game almost exactly two years ago. This is, according to those who’ve played it, literally no more fun than pong, but a) LOOK IT’S AR!; and b) the bitmoji stuff is very impressive. A possible precursor to the sort of thing that’s coming to Snap’s games platform in time (see Curios passim).
- The Economist Does Snap AR: A nice piece of editorial integration between Snap and the Economist - this article on the weird foods we might all be eating when the seas rise and the crops fail uses Snapcodes in the copy, so users can just open Snap, scan the codes and then use the unlocked lenses as an AR viewer to see said weird foods RIGHT BEFORE THEIR EYES! The use of Snap in this context - as an alternative to Blippar or A N Other AR app that no real-world person is ever going to want to download, ever - is a really smart one and worth considering next time you’re putting AR in a pitch because, well, the client’s a know-nothing bozo and will thus be impressed by the tech, despite you having no real clue why anyone would want an AR experience in the first place (WELCOME TO THE WORLD OF ADVERMARKETINGPR!).
- 02h38: Another inexplicably shiny 3d website for French train operator SNCF (do you recall their pinball game? It was ACE, try it again here) - this one, though, is designed to, er, scare kids out of ever playing on the train tracks again? It’s the story of three kids who went out one night AND ONLY TWO RETURNED, and, honestly, it’s quite unsettling and made me really not ever want to get hit by a train at high speed ever again. It’s also told from the point of view of the driver, who’s not been able to sleep after spraying a French teenaged over approximately half a kilometre of pristine Dordogne countryside, which is an added layer of ‘wow, this is...tonally quite weird, isn’t it?’. Still, it’s nicely made so WELL DONE, TRAIN PEOPLE!
THE SECTION WHICH REALLY HOPES THAT ENGLAND LOSE TOMORROW (SORRY) BUT IF THEY DON’T THEN HOPES INSTEAD THAT THERE IS A WONDERFUL, HAPPY AND SURPRISING CENTRAL LONDON INTERSECTION BETWEEN THE DRUNK PUB FOOTBALL CROWD AND THE PRIDE CROWD WHICH SEES A LOT OF UNEXPECTED FIRST KISSES, PT.1:
- Steem Whale: It’s fair to say that blockchain-based projects have maybe been, well, a touch devalued in the popular consciousness, what with the news that 90% of ICOs are entirely fraudulent, and the creepy realisation that simply saying “ON THE BLOCKCHAIN!” at the end of every sentence won’t automatically solve your problems or make you a billionaire (“A fixed, non-physical border...ON THE BLOCKCHAIN!” See? Doesn’t work). Still, who can look at this and not have their faith in the whole technowaffle restored? NO FCUKER, that’s who! Steem Whale is a brilliantly stupid project which lets you, for a small cash donation paid in crypto, trigger a (life-sized) whale shaped fountain to spray water from its spumey blowhole. Why? WHY NOT! I love the Dutch sometimes.
- Fin: There was a vogue about 10 years ago for high-end concierge services - whether it be Amex’s Black Card service, which allegedly gives you access to a team of factotums (factoti?) around the world, willing to act on your every whim and desire, or Quintessentially, which was the same but for people who were doing well in Shoreditch tech and had let the cocaine go a little to their heads, there was a lot of buzz around the things. It died down for a bit, but was resurrected slightly with Iron Man (as an aside, surely there are essays to be written about how those flims effectively legitimised the existence of the mercurial, arsehole CEO to the detriment of, well, all of us?) and then when Facebook began talking about their experiments with ‘M’. Anyway, AI (which will solve EVERYTHING, so don’t worry) is the next step in this hype-cycle; Fin is a subscription service which purportedly combines light AI with real people to do things like handle your emails and calls, remember and execute repetitive tasks and, one presumes, hand over to actual people for the harder stuff. It’s a really interesting idea and will catch on at some point - though at $2500 a month for the premium service, perhaps not quite yet.
- Honeyminer: Back to crypto, briefly - Honeyminer purports to be a simple, easy cryptomining service which lets you give over your CPU power for personal gain. Which isn’t unique, fine, but this is aimed very much at a mainstream audience, sells itself as simple, and is worth a click just for their projected earnings calculator on the homepage. It starts off with the slider almost all the way to the left, predicting a return of around $5k in 5 years, but slide that little guy a tiny bit to the right and WOW watch your cashpile grow! The fact that that now means you’re predicting a Bitcoin growth rate of 55% per annum? Pah! Totally likely! SUCH snake oil, but I’m almost impressed with the obfuscation here.
- Everipedia: Rather brutally, Everipedia says that it wants to do to Wikipedia what Wikipedia did to Britannica (to whit; eviscerate it); it’s an interesting project, in that it’s taken all of Wikipedia and is now building on it; it claims to now be the largest English language encyclopedia by number of entries, which is apparently down to the fact that its criteria for ‘stuff that is worth an entry’ is somewhat lower than Wikipedia’s (so if you want an entry about yourself but Wikipedia’s always sniffily contended that you’re not a person of note, then write yourself up here and FCUK THEM). It’s invitation only at the moment, should you want to explore editing features and functionality, but you can search around it to your heart’s content. Oh, and it’s on the blockchain! There’s some talk about eventually rewarding editors with actual payment (I say ‘actual’ - I mean, it’ll be in crypto, so your degree of ‘actual’ here might vary quite a bit), but tbc. Worth a look although, as my friend Ed rightly says, making Wikis is HARD.
- The Danny Dyer Soundboard: Another week, another Rob Manuel joint - this time around it’s the chance to make Danny Dyer shout “BONGO CHRIST!” (no, really) from your keyboard like the WORKING MAN’S BREXIT MESSIAH that he now is. SO much fun - I know I always say things like this and I know noone ever does it, but can one of you please attempt to communicate with your colleagues exclusively through the medium of shouted Dyerisms this afternoon? Please? Oh ffs you are NO FUN.
- Hansard: I appreciate that looking through the parliamentary record isn’t necessarily everyone’s idea of fun - apart from any lobbyists be reading this (HI GUYS! HAPPY FRIDAY!), who obviously do this sort of thing on weekends all the time. That said, Hansard - for those of you who aren’t familiar, Hansard is the trasncript of parliamentary business which has been going for a few centuries and has been searchable online since the early-00s - has had a revamp! You can now search for keywords and see how their use has changed over time, which is, I promise, fascinating (admittedly you need a bit of political / historical curiosity, fine). So you can learn, for example, that the only two recorded instances of the use of the word ‘cnut’ in the House both occurred this year (fie on anyone complaining about declining standards!), and that people REALLY enjoyed calling each other ‘quisling’ after the war, and, oh, loads of stuff. Honestly, it’s really nicely done, user-friendly and I’m properly impressed.
- Phantom Islands: Well THIS is very much up my street. Phantom Islands is an interactive map...oh, here you go, their description is better than mine: “Phantom Islands are artifacts of the age of maritime discovery and colonial expansion. During centuries of ocean exploration these islands were sighted, charted, described and even explored – but their existence has never been ultimately verified. Poised somewhere between cartographical fact and maritime fiction, they haunted seafarers’ maps for hundreds of years, inspiring legends, fantasies, and counterfactual histories. Phantom Islands – A Sonic Atlas interprets and presents these imaginations in the form of an interactive map which charts the sounds of a number of historical phantom islands.” So, so lovely - the audio design is particularly nice, not least in the way it uses binaural sound to fade the island sounds in and out as you navigate.
- Culture Ship Names: Amazingly I have never featured this before, despite being a fan of Ian Banks and in particular the WONDERFUL names he invented for the ships from his fictional future-us society, The Culture. This Twitter account Tweets made-up ones, but they are on a par with the originals - recent highlights include “GSV Anticipating Football’s Arrival’, and ‘ROU: Forced To Cancel The Summit Meeting’, but the standard is generally high.
- AR Chemistry: Another in the series of “Yes, I know that this sort of stuff is still a really long way away from being mainstream or even, if I’m honest, particularly useful, but WOW this AR stuff is SO impressive looking”. Witness this, a demonstration of how one might teach basic chemistry principles to kids using AR and cue cards to explain how molecules work - I’m not saying this would have made me better at chemistry, fine, but it would certainly have made me less inclined to spend lessons attempting to smuggle phenol phylene out of the lab for nefarious purposes.
- Big Brands In Classic Paintings: A design / photoshop contest with the sole instruction “put a big contemporary brand into a classic painting”. You may have seen a few of these doing the rounds, but it’s worth taking a look through all the entries as some of the work here’s really very good indeed (although no points whatsoever to the person who just plastered the word ‘Oreos’ across the right shoulder of the 17C woman in the...er...Rossetti? It’s definitely that period, anyway.
- Tenori-Off: Another in the occasional series of ‘nice synthtoys which might amuse you for 10 minutes’, this one is simple, small, works beatiifully on a phone and contains the added fun gimmick of using rudimentary AI to match drum patterns to whatever you create if you press the ‘Imagine’ button, which makes your tin-eared compositions sound about 100 times better than they would do without computer assistance and which suggests that it’s about 2 years time until every single £20 Bontempi organ will basically be Kanye in production terms.
- Co-Worker: This is a good idea, obviously aimed at the US tech sector where, famously, certain companies aren’t hugely keen on their employees unionising. Pesky unions! Worker representation? SO old-school, so undisruptive! Co-Worker effectively offers a series of tools and processes to help workers organise themselves so as to more effectively demand change from management; effectively it works not unlike a crowdfunding site, with employees able to start petitions to call for specific changes to their working environment, which can then be shared widely to garner support from the wider world. Not a substitute for a union, evidently, but not a bad adjunct or alternative for those for whom unionisation isn’t a viable option.
- The Signs of The Crew: The Crew was a fairly unremarkable videogame released a few years back which featured a whole open world you could drive around - said open world featured a lot of shops and associated real-world gubbins, all with their own brands and names and signage; this Twitter moment collects some of those, and it’s worth flicking through even if you care not one iota about games, to enjoy the slightly surreal degree of detail which went into the worldbuilding. Bear in mind players were most likely to be driving past these at hundreds of virtual miles an hour, so why the devs felt the need not only to create imaginary films to put on billboards but to also create imaginary lead actors and imaginary pull-quotes is a happy mystery.
- Draw This: OH I LOVE THIS SO SO MUCH! A project by Dan McNish which involves...oh, here, Dan, you tell them: “Playing with neural networks for object recognition one day, I wondered if I could take the concept of a polaroid one step further, and ask the camera to re-interpret the image, printing out a cartoon instead of a faithful photograph.” This explains how he made it, using Raspberry Pi and drawing on the image recognition tech developed by Google through its collaborative drawing project last year (you remember the one when it asked the world to draw circles, cats, houses, etc, to train its AI? No? YOU WORK FOR THE MACHINES NOW, DAVE) - the idea of pointing the camera at stuff and being surprised each time by the machine’s interpretation of what it ‘saw’ is wonderful, and I really would like one of these in case Dan’s reading and wants to quote me a price.
- Text To Face: This is a Github repository, so nothing to play with unless you can run the code yourself - BUT the idea/tech behind it is really interesting, letting you type in a description of a face and then get a neural net to imagine what that face might look like. That countdown towards the point when designers will literally be able to describe the characteristics of a character and have a machine create it to spec just sped up significantly - why is it that the only place my mind goes with this, as per, is futurebongo? WHY???
- Excel Unusual: If YOU are that small, niche part of my audience that gets excited by creative use of Excel formulas and pivot tables and stuff then WOW are you in for a thigh-rubbing, lip-smacking, palm-sweating treat. I know that this doesn’t sound like the most fun link in this week’s Curios (and it’s not, fine), but, I promise, you will click on this and do a proper amaze at some of the things that people have managed to create in Excel - you won’t for a second understand why they bothered, fine, but you will definitely be impressed (I imagine those Excel people feel the same way about someone writing 8,000 words a week about stuff on the internet for an audience of tens of people, but each to their own and live and let live and LEAVE ME ALONE, I KNOW THAT AT LEAST YOU LIKE THIS, DON’T YOU???).
- A Slightly Frightening Number Of Nuclear Test Videos: Uploaded 48h ago at the time of writing, this is a few hundred videos of US nuclear tests from the last century. Properly chilling - I confess I had no idea they did quite this many.
THE SECTION WHICH REALLY HOPES THAT ENGLAND LOSE TOMORROW (SORRY) BUT IF THEY DON’T THEN HOPES INSTEAD THAT THERE IS A WONDERFUL, HAPPY AND SURPRISING CENTRAL LONDON INTERSECTION BETWEEN THE DRUNK PUB FOOTBALL CROWD AND THE PRIDE CROWD WHICH SEES A LOT OF UNEXPECTED FIRST KISSES, PT.2:
- Basic Engine: If you fancy playing with, coding on, and making with a tiny computer, but never quite got the appeal of the Raspberry Pi, this might be the alternative you were looking for. The Basic Engine “is a very low-cost single-board home computer with advanced 2D color graphics and sound capabilities, roughly comparable to late-1980s or early-1990s computers and video game consoles. It can be built at home without special skills or tools and using readily available components for under 10 Euros in parts, or mass-produced for even less.” As with all these things, it’s not exactly a low-input toy and you need to know what you’re doing with it, but if you’re a particular sort of 30-40something then you’ll probably be well excited by this. As Shardcore pointed out to me, though, your kids won’t care and will just want to get back to playing Fortnite rather than watching you attempt to debug the crap, homebrew version of Alex Kidd that you spent the previous three weeks attempting to code.
- The Interlocal: “The Interlocal indexes news from local sources all over the world and automatically translates them into English.” Good luck to this project and all who are behind it - it’s fair to say, though, that this site isn’t currently quite a BBC-level resource, but it does bring some GREAT JOY with its headlines. Current on-site favourites include “Parking on the sidewalk, Taxi Driver Mouthfight with Pedestrian” and “Matteo Guidicelli creates sexy jeans line for men and women–including Sarah” (STOP CHIRPSING MY GIRLFRIEND, MATTEO GIUDICELLI). In a WORLD GONE MAD, something this silly is a rather nice palette-cleanser.
- Itty Bitty Site: A slightly pointless site, in the ‘write anything you want and it creates a shareable custom url which links to a site showing that content’ sense - the gimmick though is that all that content is encoded in the url, which is a showy-if-fundamentally-useless trick.
- Scrolling Numbers: Can someone - anyone? - explain to me why this exists? Scrolling numbers, FOREVER. Part of me wants to refresh this a few times to see if it’s entirely random, part of me really wants to move on as I am starting to question why I am even including this. ONWARDS!
- Heaven: A slice of very, very old-school internet here. ‘Enjoy’, and never forget DJ Sammy.
- Amaury Guichon: This man apparently achieved the recent distinction of being THE MOST FOLLOWED BAKER ON INSTAGRAM, and looking through his feed you can see why. Incredibly-glazed mirror cakes? CHECK! Elaborate chocolate work? CHECK! Layered shots showing that the amazing creations are actually edible? CHECK! Sexy, bearded patisserie master? CHECK CHECK CHECK JACKPOT! Fine, so I am just jealous - I can’t make cakes like this, nor can I look like a Scandi model in photos where I’m nonchalantly hanging out with an elephant. But DOES HE KNOW ABOUT SNAPCHAT’S NEW AD OPPORTUNITIES? No, most likely not, and I imagine he’s all the happier for it. I...I probably need to reevaluate things, don’t I?
- Games By Angelina: Sounds sinister, doesn’t it? It isn’t, at least not yet, but if we wait long enough...Angelina is an AI which imagines game environments - the research of Michael Cook a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Falmouth, the aim is to develop an AI system that can intelligently design videogames, as part of an investigation into the ways in which software can design creatively. I’ve linked to the Itch page on which you can play some of Angelina’s creations (you’ll need to install Unity, for which apologies) - they’re not going to win any awards yet, but it’s easy to see the connecting line from this, to a passable platformer, to the sort of horrific endpoint described in the late, great Harlan Ellison in ‘I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream’, which is nice.
- Barkour: A subReddit featuring insane feats of canine agility - LOTS of excellent leaping here, occasionally in slomo, and a pretty great selection of dogs (OH LOOK, A DOG! RUFF!) for you to enjoy and marvel at.
- The Riz Test: Named after Web Curios favourite Riz Ahmed, this is an initiative seeking to draw attention to the manner in which Muslims are portrayed on TV and in films. The idea obviously draws on the Bechdel Test for representation of women on screen, and swaps out ‘are they talking about men?’ for ‘are they talking about islamic terrorism’, ‘are they irrationally angry’, ‘are they presented as oppressed or misogynistic’...you get the idea. A smart initiative - it’s worth supporting, as I think it’s fair to say the representation of Muslims isn’t always what it could be.
- All The Les Paul Videos: If you know guitar, you know Les Paul - this is an incredible selection of videos of him playing old blues, country and jazz tracks in a variety of venues; seriously, if you’re into playing at all this is a wonderful trove of sounds, showing a truly talented musician doing something he loved. Honestly heartwarming in a way I wasn’t expecting.
- Tube Lines, Depth-Mapped: Whilst I appreciate your current level of affection for the Tube, as a Londoner, is largely determined by how much time over the past fortnight you’ve had to spend plugged into the spicily damp armpit of a fellow wage slave around 6pm, I challenge you not to fall slightly in love with this series of maps which shows the depth of each line as it travels along its route. THRILL as you realise that the Bakerloo line could probably work perfectly well on gravity alone! GASP as you learn that Epping is the closest thing London has to Everest! These are great, and in a certain type of household would make excellent wall decorations.
- The Robot Monk: The Dirk Gently novels, by Douglas Adams, were very much secondary works to the Hitchhiker’s Guide series - that said, they did contain some excellent ideas and gags, one of my favourite of which was the concept of the Electric Monk, invented to sustain beliefs for people who, well, were just a bit too busy and distracted by other facets of life to actually bother believing in anything any more. Anyway, this is now OUR ACTUAL REALITY - well, sort of, this particular robot is a PR stunt by a Buddhist temple who, it is presumed, are still pretty into the whole Buddhism thing - and the robot monk has a Facebook Page. MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE ROBOT MONK. After all, it can’t hurt on the immortal soul front. Probably. Although as a man who literally sold his soul to the devil at the age of 16 in exchange for good exam results I’m not sure what my perspective is on this.
- Domainz: Want to buy a domain? This is a very good place to look to find non-terrible free ones. Not sexy, but useful.
- AR_t: This is all in Russian, so not REALLY sure what’s going on, but as far as I can tell it’s an app that lets users experiencing a wide range of classic artworks as giant digital floating AR...things, wherever you choose to point it. Not sure exactly how this works with copyright and all the artists’ estates and stuff, but I can’t imagine that anyone in Russia gives two hoots about ANY of that stuff, so if you’d like to populate all your selfies this weekend with, I don’t know, a CG version of Dali’s Persistence of Vision looming over you then GO FOR IT.
- The Google Reader Time Capsule: Google Reader’s still much lamented - moreso, in fact, as time passes - and this is a lovely and slightly nostalgic look to when it was last active 5 whole years ago, complete with time capsule links to take you back to a time when Brexit and Trump were just distant memories and we were all happily reminiscing about how great the ‘lympics were. Reminded me of the existence of ‘Suri’s Burn Book’ as a website, which in turn reminded me of the fact that I can still remember the Haiku I wrote at work on the occasion of her birth (it was a running gag - don’t ask) and now I feel like my whole life has been a waste so THANKS SURI.
- Masaki’s Models: Entirely in Japanese, but click this link and LOOK AT THE AMAZING POST-APOCALYPTIC CITYSCAPES THIS PERSON MAKES! This is truly superb work and I would LOVE one of these.
- Travel Photographer of the Year: National Geographic’s 2018 travel photo contest winners are, as per usual, absolutely stunning - look, marvel, feel very, very small indeed.
- Liminal Seattle: I really want this for London, please. Liminal Seattle is a crowdsourced map, collecting the supernatural stories of the city’s residents mapped to where they took place. If you want to browse around people’s sightings and reports of the supernatural, and enjoy obviously totally sane entries such as “There’s a man in a house who’s trapped in the 3rd dimension. he died in the home and now he sits on the porch. he protects and cares for the folx who live there now, but we think he wants to officially cross over.” (of course there is mate) then this is an EXCELLENT browse. I sort of want to play a Seattle-set version of Ghostbusters now tbh.
- Lemonade Stand EXTREME!: Timewasting game of the day #1 - run a lemonade stand! Set prices! Earn money! Deal with the mob! Surprisingly fun for 15 minutes, particularly when the alternative is writing client updates or making up this week’s timesheets.
- It’s As If You Were Making Love: I adore this. A ‘game’ by Pippin Barr, which uses Windows 95-style interfaces (sliding bars, etc) to replicate the experience of sex. I know, it sounds implausible - and it is, totally implausible, and obviously this is nothing like having sex at all (honest, I don’t have sex like a 20 year old PC), except it also totally is. I don’t really want to describe this too much, but please do play (it’s totally sfw, I promise) - I showed this to a roomful of people at the BBC this week as part of a training exercise and they all came away thinking significantly less of me than they had done at the outset, which was nice.
- Novena: Thanks to reader Goyo Graco who sent this in to Imperica, with the explainer “it's amazing how this bitsy storytelling thing is developing in the boundaries of videogame / poetry / interactive fiction.” They’re right, it really is - this is a lovely way of delivering a light poem / short story, and I am seeing SO much nice, small, webstoryartgame projects popping up there. Gorgeous, and worth your time.
- Heraclos: Timewasting game of the day #2! This is RIGHT at the other end of the spectrum to the lemonade game up there - Heraclos is a hugely impressive piece of WebGL, which presents a competent 3d platformer entirely in-browser, which you can play on most computers (even the piece of crap on which I am writing this). If you can get away with playing this for the rest of the afternoon at work you are a hero and I salute you unreservedly - please send photos of your endeavours to Imperica and we’ll award some sort of prize to the person who can prove they are wasting time most flagrantly and spectacularly. GO!
By Yu Maeda
THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!:
- Collages De Blasia: Collage art! Lovely, Spanish, retro-styled collage art! I am a sucker for this sort of thing, and the stuff here’s rather good.
- One Terabyte of Kilobyte Age: A Tumblr accompanying the Geocities Research project of the same name, looking into the culture and aesthetic of old Geocities pages - the Tumblr presents a selection of machine-selected screenshots from the Terabyte of Pages in the project’s collection. Such aesthetic! Such seapunk!
- Norman Orro: I don’t know what it is about the digital art of Norman Orro, but it makes me feel very slightly...wrong. There’s nothing overtly unpleasant about it, but this particular aesthetic - sort of shiny, early-aughts CGI metallic surfaces and slightly stretched fonts, elicits some weird Pavlovian reaction in me and gives me the willies something chronic, turns out. WHAT DARK, DIGITAL EVENT FROM MY PAST AM I SUPPRESSING??
LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:
- A Twitter Thread About LGBT History in London: A wonderful Twitter thread, about what user Gavin McGregor found when he and his friend cleared out her South London attic, taking you through years and years of LGBT history through a selection of found objects that emerged as the rummaged through decades’ worth of abandoned stuff. Such a lovely way of telling history, and a timely reminder of how hard it was to be queer for so long.
- On England: The worst thing about this whole World Cup run - sorry, but just for a moment - is that you’ve not even been very good ffs and yet everyone else is so equally mediocre that it doesn’t matter and yes I am just bitter because Italy would have done ok this year had the fcuking Swedes not intervened (come on Sweden tho) ok fine I will shut up now. Ahem. Anyway, this is a really good piece by the WSJ on what Southgate’s tactics have taken from basketball - a typically tactically astute reading of the sort that the English press, in the main, are less good at imho.
- The Resurgence of Print: Not really, you understand, but in the sense of what passes for innovation in marketing in 2018. Facebook recently produced a high-end magazine aimed at business travellers and left in BA executive lounges - called ‘Grow’, it’s (I’m speculating based on what I’ve read about it - OBVIOUSLY I don’t have access to BA executive lounges) full of stuff about BUSINESS and CONNECTIVITY and SUCCESS and, probably, Facebook, but the interesting thing is that its physical, print nature evidently affords it a degree of gravitas it would lack in digital form. This piece looks at the growing trend for brand magazines as positioning devices - I had no IDEA ASOS’ own fashion mag was the largest in the UK by circulation, but it makes sense. Things like Mundial are proof of a renewed interest in printwork, but I’m uncertain of how much it extends beyond certain hipster/AB classes at the moment.
- Chatbots For Satire: This is SO smart - this piece looks at Arabic satirical site Al-Hudood, which...oh, look, here’s the precis: “We created a chatbot. We get contacted a lot on Facebook, hundreds of people every week. They usually do that for the same reasons, either they love our work and want to tell us that, or they are angry. So when someone starts chatting us, and opts for the second option, our chatbot asks them how they want to express that. They then get to choose from the most popular ways that people did before the chatbot was created, which was to call us liars or to swear at us, though we left out the option of sending us death threats. At that point, if they choose to swear — and a large number do — the bot asks them what kind of insults they want to send to us: above the belt, or below. Then we ask them why they chose that, and we ask them what makes them angry about what we’re doing, and in that process we explain what we do and why it matters.” Brilliant.
- The Most Mysterious Reddit Posts: Are you a scriptwriter? Do you want a writing prompt for a thriller or horror-type script? My God, then, are you in luck. This Reddit thread collects Redditors memories of the creepiest and most mysterious posts and threads they recall on the platform and, well, if some of these were hoaxes or fakeouts then man did people put the effort in. The most...well, sort of bleak and a bit sad, really, are all the examples of people who’d been asking advice about quite serious and potentially dangerous issues and then who….never. posted. again. So much creepypasta, too, but there are lots that feel too real not to be, if you see what I mean.
- I Made Up A Story And Upset People: You remember last year there was a not particularly good article which briefly got caught in the web’s outrage cyclone, one by a young woman who was defending the fact that her parents bought her everything (including the Coachella tickets of the post’s title) and who WASN’T ASHAMED? You remember, don’t you? Anyway, that post was totally made up by some guy who’d decided to see what journalistic credentials were required to become a content creator for content farm The Odyssey Online (spoilers: no credentials). The writing’s not great (as ever, I know, GLASS HOUSES MATT) but the story about how easy it is to manipulate the online rage factory and the very, very weird business of all these people being corralled to write for free for this utterly pointless content repository is SO NOW.
- Well-behaved Women Make History Too: I thought this was an excellent, thoughtful article about the recent success of that Rebel Girls book (and its attendant knockoffs/spinoffs) and how, in its fetishisation of the rebel and the badass and the kickass and all the other slightly sickly terms for ‘strength and independence’ that we now like to use it’s ignoring the fact that changing the world can take many forms and you don’t always need to be Boudica to make a difference. It feels somehow important to remind people that it’s not just those who stand out who are, or can be, exceptional.
- On The Queer Eye Trans Makeover: I must be the only London media person who has never seen Queer Eye (or indeed Nanette, which literally everyone I know is telling me to watch - I WILL, I PROMISE, but, er, can I do it without Netflix? Or is there a transcript I can read instead? I am SO BAD at telly), but this piece - which takes a critical look at an episode in which they feature a recently post-top-surgery transman - was interesting regardless, not least as it does an excellent job of how incredibly complicated these questions of attitude and representation are even within the LGBTQx community, without even thinking about outside it. Watching large-scale sociocultural change happen in realtime is interesting and knotty and, Christ, makes one rather respect anyone going through these things in or around their personal life.
- The Data or the Hunch: Or, “I don’t care what that computer says, they DO want hot-pink tacos!” This piece looks at the current trend for the primacy of data over everything in the decisionmaking process, and asks whether it will ever totally supplant the savant’s hunch (it won’t, but the tensions between the two approaches and the relative potential benefits of each makes for a really interesting read).
- Where Whales Go When They Die: There are few things sadder than a beached whale, imho - massive, otherworldly creatures so far out of their natural habitat that they look like alien monoliths cast to earth on beaches and sandbanks, being patted by well-meaning locals with damp towels before malodorously rottting away leaving bones and, if you’re lucky, some ambergis. Anyway, this is a beautiful, lyrical piece of writing about massive mammalian death - ENJOY!
- A Brief History of Low-Level Violence: I very much enjoyed this piece til right at the end, when it suddenly pivoted to be about the latest stupid, pointless piece of internecine Twitter fighting the left decided to embroil itself in this week (I really can’t be bothered, sorry), but the portrait the author paints of the persistent, low-level threat you felt as a young man growing up somewhere mediocre in the 1980s, and the way that violence bled through society in ways you perhaps didn’t notice at the time, is an evocative one, and the writing is very good indeed.
- How Your Eyes Work: ANOTHER Twitter thread, this one full of some truly mind-fcuking detail about exactly how your brain lies to you about what you’re seeing because it doesn’t want you to know quite how shonky your eyes actually are. Honestly, bodies are AMAZING.
- Ice Poseidon: If you spend any time on Reddit, specifically looking at the ‘Controversial’ category of posts, you’ll be aware of ICE POSEIDON as one of the most active and actively trolled subs on the site. It had totally baffled me until I read this article - I could get that he was a YouTuber and had BEEF with other YouTubers, including the odious Sam Pepper (seriously, one of the very oddest things about 2018, aside from a bloke who used to be a failed Telegraph tech blogger being one of the alt-right’s biggest figureheads, is that Sam Pepper, a man who managed to earn the distinction of being one of the most obnoxious people ever to appear on Big Brother, is now a legitimate international star thanks to YouTube.HOW DOES THIS STUFF HAPPEN???), but otherwise it was pretty impenetrable. This profile does a good job of explaining who he is, and lifting the lid on this particular corner of the streamer spectrum - this sort of low-rent, gonzo, semi-scripted reality-type schtic. It sounds - as per usual - exhausting and awful and in no way worth the money, frankly, and if one of these guys doesn’t get offed by a Stan sometime soon I will be amazed.
- Tim Berners Lee...Has Regrets: Well, yes, I bet he does. As ever Berners-Lee is a fascinating interviewee, and his thoughts on how he might create a newly decentralised web to undo some of the horror that has been wrought by the last two decades or so of online ‘progress’ are interesting and have promise (though, really, we’re not going to change this now, are we? There are too many enmeshed vested interests to rip up the infrastructure and start again, no?) - this line in particular is slighly bleak, though, eh? “[We] ended up producing—with no deliberate action of the people who designed the platform—a large-scale emergent phenomenon which is anti-human.”
- Exclamation Point Inflation: Not really about exclamation marks, in the main, but instead about the evolution of online language and the nuance and tonal shift that can now be imparted into online discourse through things like the formerly-maligned exclamation mark which is less now a marker of a sub-par intellect but instead is seen to connote sincerity. I would LOVE to read whatever Phd theses are being written about this stuff at the moment, if anyone knows where I might find any.
- Time Is Hard: And so is this, a bit, but it’s also VERY funny in a way that most articles about coding art - this is a long, and involved, explanation of why coding anything to do with time is often harder than it might at first appear. If you code, you’ll LOVE this, but even if you don’t I promise that it will make you chuckle under your breath at least once or twice.
- How Blogs Broke The Web: An excellent piece of writing exploring how the blogging platform Movable Type, thanks to certain pecularities of its design, made significant and lasting changes to the culture of the web, whose ripples can be seen in the evolution of social media and innovations like infinite scroll. I love pieces like this, which explore unintended consequences of form on function (/pseud), and the look back at HOW BLOGGING USED TO BE is fascinating if you’re a somewhat methuselan webmong like myself.
- In What Language Does Rain Fall: OK, this really *is* long - 12k words or so - so if you’re not committed then maybe skip this one. If you’re up for the marathon, though, this is a beautiful and discursive piece of writing by Arundhati Roy (in itself a transcript of a recent speech she gave), which explores how the characters in her novel use language, and how the multiple languages of India have defined and determined the country’s culture and society in specific ways. You don’t need to be a scholar of Roy’s work to find this a beautiful piece of writing, though an interest in literature and linguistics will help.
- The Summer of Rage: A miserable look at exactly how many of society’s current ills can be attributed to the fact that middle-aged white men are REALLY ANGRY about the fact that they’re not necessarily the centre of the world any more. The piece is US-focused, but if you don’t recognise obvious parallels with the situation in the UK and, frankly, much of the West as a whole, then you’re not looking closely enough.
- Scenes From A Life In Negroland: Margo Jefferson writes about her experience of growing up in an upper-middle class black household in the American midwest; it’s beautifully written, not just the prose but the way it elegantly shows the stratifications of class that exist even within marginalised communities and how navigating those, alongside the wider class-conventions which mean that you are a marginalised community, is a quotidian balancing act.
- Nitrate Nocturnes: SUCH a great scifi short story - if you enjoyed the episode of the latest Black Mirror with the conceit of couples knowing how long their relationship is going to last then you will LOVE this. The premise - that everyone is fitted with a timer which counts down to the point at which they will meet their soulmate - is a simple one, but the way it’s used and the world within which it’s built (totally familiar and yet subtly altered by the one element) makes this rather special I think.
- Late Nights Online: A slightly nostalgic look back at the 90s as lived online, with AOL and chatrooms and ASL and all that jazz - SO much love here for the web of my youth, but the deeper points made here, about these sorts of online environments as unexpectedly safe spaces for young people to learn about sex and desire and consent and working out what you were comfortable with, are really well-considered. I hadn’t considered quite how much the way I interact with people online was formed by hanging out in Bianca’s Smut Shack (no, really) when I was 19.
- The Great Awake: Finally this week, another short story. What if your sleep left your body and walked alongside you, robbing you of your ability to ever kip again and haunting your every waking hour? Well, quite. This is a SPECTACULAR piece of writing, which is worth 30 minutes of your time to savour slowly.
AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:
6) Finally this week, this is a wonderful, heartbreaking short film - called Anonymous, it’s about an ageing drag artist wandering through a Soho he no longer recognises. It’s honestly beautiful - take 10 minutes and give it the watch it deserves. In the meantime, though, BYE BYE THANKS FOR READING THANKS BYE I LOVE YOU SO MUCH YOU SPECIAL PEOPLE HAVE A WONDERFUL WEEKEND WHATEVER YOU CHOOSE TO DO BUT STAY SAFE AS I KNOW SOME OF YOU ARE PLANNING ON GOING QUITE HARD SO REMEMBER TO DRINK PLENTY OF WATER AND MAYBE SIT DOWN EVERY NOW ANG AGAIN BYE I LOVE YOU BYE SEE YOU NEXT WEEK BYE!: