Web Curios 07/12/18
Is it all going to be over on Tuesday night? Is it? CAN WE FINALLY STOP TALKING ABOUT THE FCUKING B WORD ON TUESDAY NIGHT???
'No' is the short answer, but let's pretend we didn't hear it and instead envisage a glorious future where I open next week's final Curios of 2018 with some sort of heartwarming and genuinely optimistic shortform essay about how the year, whilst looking like an absolute sh1tshow throughout, managed to salvage itself at the last and the whole Br*x*t debacle, whilst painful, has in fact shown us how well we can rally together as a nation when we really have to.
Imagining that? Good. Hold that image.
What I imagine will happen though is that in exactly 7 days time I'll be wrapping up the year in Curios with some sort of 'AND AT THE END OF IT ALL IT'S LIKE THE PAST 12 MONTHS NEVER OCCURRED'. Still, while we wait for that to happen - it's nearly over! we've nearly done it! - let's crack on with this week's edition, the last into which I'm going to put anything resembling any effort (I plan on phoning next week's in even more than usual). Pick a friend, grab one end each, close your eyes, grimace and PULL! - who knows what sort of tempting gewgaws and hackneyed gags and 'comedy' accessories will be released? And who's going to clean up the mess? This, as ever, is Web Curios!
By Adam Birkan
THE SECTION WHICH WOULD LIKE TO RAISE A SYMPATHETIC GLASS TO ANY OF YOU WHO WORK FOR O2:
- Facebook Becomes QVC: You mean always-on, tedious, a bit common, and the sort of thing that noone outside of communities of rural shut-ins in the Midwest would ever admit to engaging with? AHAHAHAHAHAHA. SATIRE! Leaving aside my EXCELLENT ZINGER at the expense of po’Facebook, this is...odd. Look, here’s the summary: “Facebook is testing a new element in its slowly evolving eCommerce tools with a dedicated Facebook Live mode that enables Pages to showcase products in their stream, which viewers can then easily purchase via screenshots.” This is...weird. I mean, I can’t for the life of me imagine this being the sort of thing anyone will ever actually want to engage with, but then again that’s exactly what I think of QVC and yet here we are. I don’t doubt there will be at least one big brand using this to SURPRISE AND DELIGHT (sorry) customers in the next year, and I can totally see how you could use the right sort of ambassador to do something fun and visible around one of the next big orgies of popular consumption (“The Cards Against Humanity Black Friday 24h Facebook Telethon ft. Gary Busey” - you read it here first, kids!).
- Facebook Becomes Pinterest: You mean a weird digital fantasy world where people can construct a version of reality which suits them b...no, this wasn’t funny the first time. This is an extension of the Facebook feature letting users create ‘collections of stuff on the platform - it launched last year, keep UP - which now makes said collections shareable, meaning you can now spend hours pulling together your ultimate ‘trashy wedding inspiration lookbook’ from all your childhood friends’ photos and then share it for LOLs with your new, sophisticated, big city crowd (they can all see through you, you know, you don’t fit in and you’ll ALWAYS be that weird, smelly kid in the playground).
- You Can Now Watch A Bunch of Old TV Shows on Facebook Watch: Or at least, you can if you’re in the US; not quite clear whether it’s region-locked, but worth a go if you’re inexplicably into Angel.
- Facebook Stories Coming to Groups: I’m running out of ways to whinge about Stories, so I’m going to embrace this instead. Look! Stories coming to Facebook Groups! The possibility to create collaborative content in the Stories format, sourced from all members and moderated / approved by Group admins! There’s actually quite a lot of stuff you could do with this, if you’re the sort of brand with actual, weird ‘fans’ - drop a bunch of clips in a closed group and invite members to collaborate to build the best Stories ‘remix’ of them, for example, with the community voting on the best ones for points and prizes! Invite Group members to make Stories as fan tributes for talent and then share the resulting output with famouses and record their reactions for community love-in joy! Come on, you get the idea.
- Facebook Subscriptions Test Expands to More Publishers: Literally just this, but the whole ‘get people to sign up for a paid content stream via FB’ for publishers continues apace. There’s nothing you can do about it - it’s all invitation-only as far as I can see - but, well, now you know.
- FB Changes App Rules: Worth being aware of, this, in terms of stuff you can build on/around Facebook: “Facebook will now freely allow developers to build competitors to its features upon its own platform. Today Facebook announced it will drop Platform Policy section 4.1, which stipulates “Add something unique to the community. Don’t replicate core functionality that Facebook already provides.”” This suddenly, potentially, lets you build much more interesting stuff on Facebook again - not back to the Wild West days of 2010, fine (oh the THINGS we did with your data!), but still better than the rather limited options currently available.
- Instagram Introduces ‘Cliques’: Oh, ok, FINE, that’s not technically what this update is called, but it’s EXACTLY what this is. In a move almost explicitly designed to undermine or contradict much of its recent ‘no! Ours is not a platform that encourages bullying and let us demonstrate why!’ rhetoric, Insta’s now letting users create lists of ‘close friends’ who will then exist as a discrete sub-audience to whom one can grant privileged access to certain content. So, for example, you could set some stories to ‘public’ and others to ‘close friends only’, thereby gating access to your most intimate thoughts and automatically creating playground drama for DAYS. Obviously there’s lots you can do with this from a SURPRISE AND DELIGHT (again, sorry) point of view, but the main impact will be in schools and colleges and universities, where it will be used by young, popular people to further cement their place in the rigidly-enforced and brutal social hierarchy that shapes and warps their lives. GREAT!
- Insta Lets You Share Multiple Photos and Videos In Stories: It does! All at once! Without having to go through and add them individually one-by-one! Progress! Death is once more kept at bay!
- Pretty Caption: Look, I found this and thought it might be useful to some of you - I don’t judge, I just present. Pretty Caption is a little web service that lets you add decent formatting to Insta captions; yes, I know that that seems entirely pointless but I guarantee that for at least one person reading this the slight differentiator that is ‘a nicely laid out caption on my ‘Gram’ will be the best thing they see in here this week.
- The Social Media Manager’s Guide To LinkedIn: I know that YOU are obviously all masters at LinkedIn, CRUSHING IT and KILLING IT and waking up at 4am to do two hours of hot yoga whilst simultaneously baking award-winning breads and reading the morning papers in seven languages and having a tantric brown and blogging the whole thing incessantly to your legions of content-hungry businessmongs, but in case you’re not, or in case you know someone who could use some pointers, this is a simple-but-honestly-quite-useful 101-type primer to the world’s worst social network.
- How To Get All The Bongo Off Your Tumblr Before 17 December: Web Curios does not judge. Web Curios is here to help.
- Bacardi Instant Jam: It’s been a while since I’ve seen a really good ‘made for adland, no real people have EVER seen this’ digital case study, so a big round of applause here for Bacardi who made what looks like a WONDERFULLY smart Insta hack, using some rather clever coding to turn their US Insta feed into a looping drumpad which you could use to make music alone or collaboratively. This is SO slick and, I guarantee, will have been seen and appreciated by literally noone not working in advermarketingpr because real people have never and will never use Instagram in this way. Still, one for the showreel, lads!
- Nordy Portrait: Nordstrom is a US chain of luxury department stores (isn’t ‘luxury chain’ sort of fundamentally an oxymoron?) and this is some sort of promo thingy for a loyalty scheme they’re running - look, I don’t care, the only reason I’m featuring it is that it does one of those rather nice ‘upload a photo and we’ll turn it into a stylised line drawing’ things, and you can download the image and do with it what you will; if you’re in the market for a new, slightly minimalist avi for the festive season (you are dreadful) then this might do the trick.
- YouTube Rewind: I am including this not as an endorsement and more instead as a sort of appalled nod to what passes for global youth entertainment culture in 2018 (STOP PASSING, TIME!) - this is YouTube’s annual jamboree video celebrating the memes and stars and cultural tropes that have characterised the past 12 months in the vlogosphere (sorry). So, look, you’ve got Fortnite and Drake and Casey Neistat and Will Smith and K-Pop and, oh look, no Logan Paul or Jake Paul because that’s not YouTube, is it, oh no, and LOOK there’s a little segment in the middle about how great it is when people talk openly about depression and marginalised communities WHERE ARE THE FCUKING NAZIS AND MAD RIGHT-WINGERS AND ALEX JONES AND THE KKK AND THE KEKISTANIS AND THE INCELS AND THE DIET-PILL PEDDLERS AND THE ESSAY FLOGGERS AND AND AND AND. Thanks, YouTube! Thanks for 2018! Thanks!
- How Long Left?: The Christmas advert tradition here in the UK is now well-known; a bunch of retailers attempt to gloss over the fact that their business models aren’t 100% adapted to the digital age by spending an inordinate amount of money trying to elicit a flicker of emotion from Britain’s jaded consumers in the hope that it will induce said consumers to spend their last remaining food tokens in their shops. We, though, are AMATUERS when compared to this effort from Spain, in which booze brand Rua Vieja take what is I imagine a fairly standard ‘insight’ (‘Christmas is reuniting us with loved ones!’) and takes it to its logical, CRY YOU BASTARDS ending with an advert that reminds us that we are all going to die and that every moment we share with the people closest to us might be the last. What could be more Christmassy than thinking of the inevitable death of everyone you love? NOTHING! Even better, the accompanying website lets you put in a bunch of data about yourself and a particular loved one and calculates how long you’re likely to have left together based on a bunch of third-party data (if you dig around you can find the hilariously serious-sounding methodology behind it) - is this some sort of joke? I LOVE IT.
- The Best Advert of the Year: Josh sent me this as I was writing a later bit, and I have had to come back and insert it in here. SO GOOD YOU MUST WATCH IT HOW CAN A RAP ABOUT KITCHENS BE THIS LEGITIMATELY EXCELLENT?!
- The State of European Tech: I did a TINY bit of work on this (really, miniscule), but I’m still quite proud of it - this is VC firm Atomico’s annual investigation into the tech sector in Europe - exits, investments, talent, that sort of thing. We turned it into a website last year, and this is the 2018 iteration. It is, honestly, a hell of a piece of work and a quite incredible resource, and credit should go to the immensely-brained Tom Wehmeier of Atomico, honestly one of the smartest men I’ve ever worked with, and the nice people at Studio Lovelock who designed and built the thing and whose work I can recommend unreservedly. Aw, wasn’t that a nice love-in?
- The Predictions Bucket: Finally in the PENULTIMATE s*c**l m*d** bit of 2018, the return of the semi-regular Imperica Predictions Bucket; do us a favour and email / Tweet to any and all 2019 predictions documents that you find to Lovely Imperica Publisher/Editor Paul and he’ll compile them all into an easily-digestible...thing documenting the trends within the trends. We’re basically rooting around in the scryer’s entrails so that you don’t have to. Be grateful.
By Maya Goded
THE SECTION WHICH WANTS ALL THIS 2018 SH1T TO BE DONE WITH NOW TBQHWY, PT.1:
- The Beat Bot: This is excellent, silly fun. A fairly standard browser-based web/beats toy which does the whole ‘programme a series of inputs which the synth will then cycle through rhythmically’ thing, but with the twist that rather than setting the inputs as, I don’t know, ‘kickdrum 1’ or ‘synth 3’ you instead type in letters or, even better, words, which are then text-to-speeched into existence by the software. So, basically, you can create weirdly complex, multi-layered, vocoder-voiced looping synth raps; I lost a good five minutes on Wednesday building quite a complex loop of disembodied voices saying “take the pain away, bruce” and I can vouch for this entirely.
- Ganvas Studio: Ah, the speed of the web! A couple of weeks ago I feature that site which let you mess around with image evolution through GAN-led image-’breeding’; now, a shop which lets you buy some of the resulting images as prints. They ship from the US so there’s no guarantee of Christmas delivery, and the options for the prints (satin finish or canvas-over-wood) sound a bit shonky to my mind, but the images themselves are sort of weirdly awesome if you’re into computer-imagined angular oddities (and who isn’t?).
- AICan: Of course, if that’s a bit too mainstream and publicly accessible for you then you could always go a level up and buy an original work from AICan. “AICAN is an Artificial Intelligence Artist and a Collaborative Creative Partner. Each artwork AICAN makes is an answer to the question "If we teach the machine about art and styles and push it to generate novel images that do not follow established styles, what would it generate?” This is the software which created the ‘First AI-generated Artwork’ sold at Christie’s the other month, and you can now buy your very own AICan piece for just $20,000 (in fairness there are cheaper options but come on! Go big!) - you too can have your own ‘modern art? EVEN MACHINES CAN MAKE IT!’ conversation piece from a mere $500!
- The First AI-rendered Interactive Virtual World: Add ‘designed who crafts meticulously-designed virtual environments from scratch’ to the list of ‘jobs soon to be rendered obsolete by the inexorable rise of brute-strength machine computation’! This is quite incredible footage, a proof-of-concept by Nvidia, showing not only a streetscape being generated by AI on the fly but also how that streetscape can be rendered navigable in realtime. I can’t wait for Red Dead Redemption 3 where the Old West is built entirely by neural nets trained on the Spaghetti Western canon.
- CreepBay: Would you like a storefront pointing you towards all the weirdly creepy and unpleasant stuff you can find to buy on eBay? Do you know anyone who’d like, say, a necklace in the shape of a strange pink maggot-baby? Or a necklace featuring massive, stainless steel hanging spiders all over it? I hope not, for your sake, but have the link just in case.
- Friends With Secrets: This is honestly wonderful; I love this project, and think it’s such a good idea. “Three friends with different backgrounds participated in online text therapy sessions from January to April 2018. Friends With Secrets captures a slice of their lives — the good, the bad, the heartbreaking — and how they try to process the world around them. The sessions have been refined. The identities of the therapists have been protected.” As a window into what it’s like having therapy, and to how other people think and feel, this is unparalleled; there’s a rawness to seeing the text logs and a vulnerability in the way that each interlocutor expresses themselves that make this feel authentic in a way much of this stuff often doesn’t (I wonder whether due to the fact it’s all text rather than being recorded audio or video). Do have a read, it’s honestly beautiful.
- 10x18: I’ve been doing this so long now that there are certain seasonal web projects that are slightly like old friends each time they come around - so it is with 10x18, “an annual ritual in which a select group of artists create visual interpretations of their favorite albums of the year.” Some of the work is lovely, the links between the album and their visualisation are often fascinating, and you can discover superb work that you would never have stumbled across otherwise (I am now obsessed with the work of Mark Weaver, for example). Wonderful, again.
- The Wigan Pier Project: Slightly surprised that I’ve not seen this before, seeing as I think it’s been around for a few months. This is an historical documentary project, taking the journey travelled by Orwell on his ‘Road to Wigan Pier’ and presenting the modern stories of residents in a selection of the towns and cities in the area; put together by The Mirror and others, it presents a portrait of a region devastated by years of austerity to the point whereby the links between Orwell’s own experience and modernity are bleakly apparent. This is a lovely piece of interactive documentarymaking, combining writing, photography and video into an emotionally resonant piece of social anthropology - this ought to be more famous than it is imho.
- Top Nine: The second of the recurring seasonal projects in this week’s Curios, Top Nine offers you your annual opportunity to see which nine of your MILLIONS of Insta posts gained the most traction this year - you too can get a miserable totting-up of the total ‘Likes’ you gleaned in 2018, in case you want yet another metric against which to judge yourself and find yourself inadequate. Tell you what, everyone, why not not do this this year? OK? Good!
- Projected Capital: Ooh, this is cool. Projected Capital is effectively a combative, artworld version of the Million Dollar Homepage - the gimmick is that, much as per the MDH, anyone can bid to occupy digital real estate within the project, and that said digital real estate will be projected into the physical space at a Zurich art gallery, offering (so goes the high-concept blurb) a democratised alternative to the curatorial tyranny of Big Gallery. Even better, anyone can bid to cover over anyone else’s work whenever the way want; equally, anyone who’s work has been covered over can pay a fee to bring their stuff to the front of the image again - but they can only do it 10 times. SO much to love about this, not least the way in which (wittingly or otherwise) it skewers the ever-so-slightly bloody competitiveness of artland itself. Anyone want to pay to project Curios on there? No, thought not, you fcukers.
- A Tribute to YouTube Annotations: They’re turning off YouTube annotations soon. This is an EXCELLENT post pulling together a bunch of examples of some of the most fun creative applications of the feature - all the slightly shonky CYOA-type hacks, all of the amazing creativity. YouTube Stop-Motion Playable StreetFighter, we will NEVER see your like again. Honestly, this is slightly sad-making; all the times I featured these things in Curios with a hopeful ‘brands! You could do something really cool with this!’ and yet noone ever did. Brands, you cnuts.
- Project Vermeer: Google Arts & Culture’s latest big thing, this is a wonderful way to explore the works of Johannes Vermeer; as with all these things there’s some beautiful stuff in here, but I’m a particular fan of both the virtual gallery (available in-browser or in the app) and the guide that takes you through a guided tour of the Pearl Earring painting in minute, brushstroke-level detail. Whatever you might think of Google, you don’t see Facebook doing this sort of stuff.
- The Al Lowe eBay Sale: One pretty much exclusively for the over-40s men here (yes, I know it’s a stereotype, but if there are any women reading this with a deep and abiding affection for Infocom text adventures then I’ll eat my hat) - (in)famous creator of the Leisure Suit Larry game franchise, and so many other things besides, Al Lowe is putting a bunch of his old memorabilia up for sale on eBay - if you want to bid on the original source code for the first Larry game then you have THREE DAYS.
- Humaans: A lovely, diverse and useful library of vector-based templates for illustrations of people; you can mix and match elements to easily create your own icon or character set, and it’s all free.
- Fishure Price: This couldn’t be any more perfectly aimed at the very core of the ‘muso dad who used to DJ in the 90s and still has a massive vinyl collection and who secretly thinks that playing his small child a bunch of really obscure white-label 7”s will guarantee that they have amazing taste and all the other parents will secretly think that it’s all down to their father’s amazing musical tutelage’ demographic, this. Fishure Price is a project by Daniel Barassi whereby he’s taken those Fisher Price wind-up ‘My First Turntable’ kids’ toys and turned them into actual working decks. There are videos on the site of him scratching with them. PEAK DAD.
- Tiny Follow: Want to keep up with Twitter but don’t actually want to be on Twitter at all because it makes you sad and anxious and nervy? TOUGH. Ha! Only joking! Not actually tough at all! Thanks to Tiny Follow you can keep up-to-date with the HILARIOUS antics of all your favourite follows - the beefs, the shade, the in-jokes, the thirsty pics - via the medium of a daily newsletter; Tiny Follow lets you plug in an account and will email you the highlights of their day on Twitter; the fact that it seemingly only lets you do one at a time basically kills its utility, but there’s the kernel of an idea in here. Maybe.
- The Cube Rule of Food Identification: Honestly, this is REVELATORY. Click the link and prepare to have your whole concept of food taxonomy shaken to its very foundations.
- The LEGO Holiday Building Guides: Would you like a whole bunch of guides to building festive things - models of Santa! Reindeer-faced baubles! - out of some of the three million pieces of LEGO which you just know will otherwise hide all over your house and ambush the soles of your feet in those vulnerable, late-night moments when you’re popping to the fridge for leftover snacking? YES YOU WOULD! This has been going for a while now, so there’s a decent enough archive of designs if you fancy spending the weekend turning your kids into a cheapo festive decorations production line.
- Artie: I’ve seen stuff a bit like this before, I think, but not quite presented in this way. Artie is effectively seeking to become a persistent AR companion - effectively like a Tamagotchi with knobs on. Or at least that’s one potential application for the technology, though one could equally imagine some sort of equivalent to the persistent virtual butler found in early Gibson novels. Anyway, the concept’s interesting and the idea of all the software being low-latency and hyperlink-accessible makes it potentially worth a look.
- Freedom on the Move: “Freedom on the Move is a database of fugitives from North American slavery. With the advent of newspapers in the American colonies, enslavers posted “runaway ads” to try to locate fugitives. Additionally, jailers posted ads describing people they had apprehended in search of the enslavers who claimed the fugitives as property.” This is slightly jaw-dropping; it oughtn’t be, of course, but there’s something still shocking about the treatment of humans as livestock which is presented here. The way this is set up - as an open-source archive for students and academics - is nicely done, and the content is fascinating, but it’s also really quite startling and unpleasant.
- Attention You Are Wonderful: A Kickstarter Project, funded with 12 days to go, which will sell unexpected, emotional messages done in the style of those tin roadsigns you see affixed to fences or atop poles. On the one hand, in their original incarnation as pieces of impromptu street art, I rather like these; on the other, as things that you can buy and do with as you will, all I can imagine is the INCREDIBLY stalky and emotionally heavy idea of sending someone a tin sign reading “NOTICE: I never stopped loving you and I never will. I hope you’re happy”. Can you IMAGINE how much you could fcuk someone up by sending this stuff? Please don’t.
- Lost Heritage: “Lost Heritage is a personal project which aims to create an authoratitive and comprehensive list of the many significant English country houses which have been demolished or severely reduced.” You want a database of old stately homes that are now either vanished or in ruins? YOU GOT IT! If you’re the sort of person who likes making historical pilgrimages around the country to look at old bits of stone in the middle of a field and then enjoys a slightly soggy cheese sandwich in a fusty, condensation-misted Ford then, well, this is ALL YOU.
- Me, Myself and Microbes: “Professor Elaine Hsiao heads the Hsiao Lab in the Department of Integrative Biology & Physiology at UCLA where she teaches the class “Me, Myself, and Microbes”. Her lab researches how microbes affect our brains and behavior.” Her husband, Leon, works for Google and is part of the team that does the Doodles. He made this website to accompany one of her lectures about gyt microfauna and it is CHARMING - look what you can accomplish when you’re part of a ridiculously smart and capable couple! Why aren’t you and your partner not doing stuff like this instead of sitting on the couch getting gout and smoking too much weed? Eh? What?
- Old YouTube: I can’t believe this is new, but it seems to be new to me - Old YouTube is a simple layer of search that sits atop YouTube and lets you run chronological searches on a year-by-year basis; so you can, say, search ‘redpill’ way back in 2009 and see that it didn’t mean anything at all, and then fast forward to 2017 and marvel / cry at the startling 4chanisation of everything. Potentially quite a useful tool if you’re trying to mine seams of historical trend-type content, I think.
- Optician Sans: A whole typeface made from the letters used by opticians; I didn’t know this, but traditionally there are only a limited set of letters used in opthalmology. Did you know? Why did noone tell me?
- Recomendo: A weekly newsletter which will send you six recommendations of good stuff on the internet every seven days. God, six recommendations is a nice, manageable number, isn’t it? Maybe I ought to try that?
THE SECTION WHICH WANTS ALL THIS 2018 SH1T TO BE DONE WITH NOW TBQHWY, PT.1:
- The United States of Wonder: Simple-but-fun, this - an interactive map of the US, divided by state; hover over each one and it will throw up a bunch of the most popular suggestions for the state in question drawn from Google, showing you all the innate prejudices and buried hatreds people have towards them. I particularly like that the top result for ‘why is alabama’ is ‘why is alabama so good?’ - strong sense of self-worth there, people. I would like to see this for the UK by county, please.
- Beale HipHop: A bunch of hiphop album covers reimagined with Ian Beale of EastEnders infamy as a central protagonist. Cold War Steve has an awful lot to answer for.
- Reuters Photo of the Year: Reuters’ picks of the year - their best, most powerful 100 photographs from the past 12 months. There is not one duff selection in here.
- The Top 25 News Photos of the Year: Whereas this is the parallel pic from the Atlantic - there’s a bit of overlap, but this is also very much worth a scroll; I had forgotten about Melania’s staggering jacket, but I think that that one wins for me as a microscopic portrait of so much that this year was about.
- Win A Banksy for £2: I have no time for Banksy; I think his work is banal and obvious, and I am bored of him. That said, I would totally like to win an original work of his for a £2 stake for charity and I imagine you would too - this is a raffle in aid of Choose Love, a refugee charity which provides assistance to migrants across Europe, in which you can win a...er...slighly crap Banksy-designed remote control boatload of refugees! Look, you can sell it and give the proceeds to charity, it’s worthwhile.
- Something About Maps: Daniel Huffman likes maps: “It seems to me that maps are as much about art as data, and creating connections between people and stories that happen to have a geography. I worry that the speed and ease of the computer has made it too easy to leave the humanity out of maps -- that creative spark that people bring to their unfeeling tools. I am not sure I have yet managed to humanize my own work enough to satisfy me, but it's something I'm working on.” These are some of the maps he has designed - they are lovely, and I want all of them on my walls.
- More LA: This is a really interesting idea; Los Angeles is currently exploring ideas around urban regeneration and renewal, and this is a website by...er...architecturedesigndigitalstudio (sorry, I have no idea what they actually do) Superspace which asks people to explore different land-use cases in different regions of LA, see what options might be available and what their impact could be, and then vote on their preferred usage based on the modelling. As a way of canvassing public opinion around major public infrastructure projects this is rather good I think.
- Elowan: Elowan is a plant/robot hybrid; basically a plantpot on wheels which can wander around under its own steam to get the optimal conditions for its growth; so it can chase sunlight and rain around, for example, or follow you around all day plaintively reminding you that it hasn’t been watered for weeks and have you noticed how brown its leaftips are lately? Obviously it can’t actually do that, but I look forward to the near future in which all plants are equipped with the ability to make us feel fcuking guilty for letting them die.
- Level: Are we all agreed that Slack is basically only useful if you treat it as a chatroom rather than anything work-related? Good! Level is basically a bit like Slack but promises to be less annoying - realistically, though, you’ll still end up using email, won’t you?
- Who’s She?: Just-funded on Kickstarter and now available to pre-order, this is an excellent idea - a version of Guess Who?, except instead of being a collection of 1970s sexpests (you know all the men in the original game are, well, a bit handsy) all the faces are of notable women from history - so you can not only play a fun game with your kids but also teach them about some of the women who have changed history. Not only a great present, but a wonderful link to share on Facebook in the run-up to Christmas to weed out the sexist pricks in your life who will be infuriated by this.
- Airport Codes: A website collecting all of the airports in the US, arranged by their three-letter code and all accompanied by a photo. There is literally no reason for this site to exist, which is exactly the way we like it.
- The London Medieval Murder Map: You want an interactive map showing all the murders documented in 14thC London? YES YOU DO! Sadly what with it being 1000 years ago South London didn’t exist yet - still, if you work in the City this is an excellent resource which will let you find out exactly how many tradesmen were bludgeoned to death beneath your offices a few centuries ago. As an added bonus, the case notes are reasonably extensive and give some decent colour, included some excellent snatches of murdery medieval dialogue.
- Animations by Ondrej Zunka: A selection of CG animations - excellent, surreal, technicolour work by Mr Zunka, who looks worth a commission if you ask me.
- Plot Diagrams: These, by Jake Berman, are just wonderful; the plots of a whole bunch of stories (they tend towards the pop cultural, so you’ve got Hamilton, Star Wars, etc…) with their plots mapped out diagrammatically, in the manner of tube maps. I would love to be able to commission one of these, should Mr Berman be reading this.
- The Advent of Code: For any of you who’ve been experimenting with coding this year, or who fancy a small, seasonal challenge, the Advent of Code is a project which presents “an Advent calendar of small programming puzzles for a variety of skill sets and skill levels that can be solved in any programming language you like. People use them as a speed contest, interview prep, company training, university coursework, practice problems, or to challenge each other. You don't need a computer science background to participate - just a little programming knowledge and some problem solving skills will get you pretty far. Nor do you need a fancy computer; every problem has a solution that completes in at most 15 seconds on ten-year-old hardware.” Worth a look for the codewranglers amongst you.
- Earn a Living: This is GREAT. An interactive documentary series exploring the world of work - like Disneyland, but horrid! - Earn a Living is a 7-part interactive documentary series which aims to use basic income as a lens through which to interrogate our relationship to work, wealth and worth in the 21st century.The series tackles the larger themes and questions related to basic income. Can people be trusted with “free money?” Who should pay to support society’s most vulnerable members? And what might the future of work look like (if such a thing as “work” will even exist)? Really, really nicely made, and I personally love the tone of the voice-over. Take a look - if nothing else, the webwork here is rather lovely.
- Betamaxmas: I think that this might be 10 years old. 10 years! Flick through a seemingly infinite number of channels streaming random, Christmas-related crap on YouTube, presented as though being screened on a crappy old television because, well, why not?
- All of the Bongo: I don’t ordinarily just straight-up link to bongo on here - I sort of presume you all know where to get it by now should you so desire - but this week I feel I must make an exception. In advance of Tumblr removing ALL THE PR0N from its servers in 10 short days time, a bunch of enterprising Reddit users have scraped the urls of all the Turmblrs in the network containing NSFW content in order to archive them; some 47,000 urls in total. This is all of them, in a list. 47,000 links to MYSTERY BONGO - fine, some of them will be reasonably self-explanatory, but others…? What’s The Physalis Project? An enquiry into Chinese gooseberries? DEAR GOD NO! This is in here less because of all the links to images of people fcuking and more because of its status as a sort of archive of human sexuality - I think there’s honestly something hugely sad about the fact that all of this is going to be deleted (archiving projects aside), and I wish that it weren’t. THIS is the sort of thing that deserves its own museum imho (did I say that out loud?).
- Chat With Me: Last up in the miscellanea this week is this lovely, poignant, beautiful little IF-type game about being in a long-distance relationship. It’s gorgeous, have a play.
THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!:
- Bonsai Empire: Tiny trees. Lots of tiny trees.
- Feels Like Christmas: Free Christmas music downloads! Almost entirely redundant in an age of streaming!
- Silent Locations: Not actually a Tumblr! Still, as a guide to places where silent movies were filmed - with some EXHAUSTIVE shot recreation around LA, this is rather good.
- Ryan Seaquest: I don’t really understand this.
THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!:
- Albert Chamillard:: Lovely notebook illustrations in a slightly scratchy, geometric pen-and-ink, fine-nibbed style. Does that give you ANY idea of what this will look like? It doesn’t, does it? FFS
- Eddie Argos: You might know Eddie Argos from Art Brut’s one near-hit ‘Emily Kane’, but when he’s not being an artpop frontman he also posts his album cover paintings to Instagram. He also does commissions should you fancy getting him to paint you, I don’t know, NOW 62.
- Gebelia: Slightly whimsical cartoony illustrations.
- Hayk Manukyan: Mr Manukyan is an animator working with Warner Bros. He posts animations, sketches and rough drawings to his Instagram and, honestly, these are so good; it’s like peeking through the window of an animation studio.
- I Am Puma: Yes, it’s the Instagram feed of someone’s pet puma. What of it?
LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:
- 52 Things in 2018: The third piece of recurring seasonal content this week. We return, once again, to Tom Whitwell’s annual collection of 52 things he learned this year, which, once again, present the absolute best snapshot of the fast-moving future shock we’re all living through on an hourly basis. All of these are great, all of these will be quoted back at you more often than you want them to be in the coming months - pick your favourites! My personal one is “54 percent of Chinese born after 1995 chose “influencer” as their most desired occupation”, but there’s enough bleakly-dystopian goodness in there to go round, trust me.
- The Digital Maginot Line: I’m a week late with this one, apologies, so you might already have seen it; if not, though, I would urge you all to take the time to go through this piece; it’s a wonderfully-written synopsis of The State of Things in terms of the Culture Wars and digital discourse and platforms and prevention, and does the best job I’ve seen in an age of explaining exactly why things feel quite so fraught at the moment when it comes to the intersection of on- and offline power struggles. Possibly the smartest thing in here this week.
- The TM Landry Con: This is heartbreaking, and a quite remarkable piece of journalism. You may have heard of TM Landry, a school in Virginia in the US which in recent years had developed a reputation as the poster-child for poor black children achieving unprecedented academic success - you may have seen viral footage of kids discovering they’ve got into Harvard, say - and which, it turns out, has been a massive con trick for years, involving some quite remarkable intimidation and abuse of students who were bullied into perpetuating the fiction of the school as some sort of outlying bastion of miraculous excellence. Brilliant work by the reporters here, but I very much wish this weren’t true.
- The Palm Oil Catastrophe: A look at how US policy unwittingly led to the global boom in palm oil production and how as a result it set environmentalism back decades. The main takeaway from this - other than that palm oil’s a Bad Thing and that wow, we’re really screwed, aren’t we? - is the degree to which unwitting bad consequences are so often perpertuated by short-sighted or underinvestigated policy decisions which seemed like a good idea at the time OH HAI 2015 CONSERVATIVE PARTY MANIFESTO WITH YOUR COMMITMENT TO AN EU REFERENDUM!
- Prisoners of Memes: Whilst everyone is, unsurprisingly, focused on China as the most frightening ‘terrifying state using digital techniques to control the citizenry’ out there, one mustn’t forget the sterling work being done by Narendra Modi in India; this piece looks at half a dozen young Indians who’ve been jailed or sequestered by the state for posting material on social media critical of the government or local officials. That’s normal and fine, isn’t it? Isn’t it?
- The State of UX 2019: Do you want a really long and involved investigation into coming trends in UX design? Do you? Unless you’re a webdesigner you almost certainly don’t, but, well, you can have this anyway.
- On Tumblr’s Bongo Ban: Buzzfeed’s Katie Notopoulous casts a fond, reminiscent eye back at the culture of pr0n on Tumblr - she’s not the only writer to have penned a eulogy for all the furry throbbers that are soon to disappear into the great digital oubliette, but this was my favourite piece. What was interesting about Tumblr, something I’ve seen mentioned by lots of commentors, was that its status as a slightly niche, marginal online community made it a safe and accommodating space for lots of people to explore niche, queer sexual identities for the first time in a way they might not have been able to do anywhere else; personally I think this is another step towards the dequeering of culture - and to all of you those who’ve penned pieces about how 2018 has been ‘the queerest year ever’, well, yes, but you could equally argue that it’s been the most mainstream queer year ever, and you ought to be able to see why that’s potentially problematic. Oh, and if you want an insight into why this is suddenly happening now, this is such a thing.
- Instagram Party Accounts: This week’s despatch from the frontlines of teen culture - apparently if you’re hosting a big party and your a teen, you might consider setting up a special Insta account for that party and using that as a means of creating a guestlist, setting parameters, etc. I love stuff like this, platforms getting bent to fit the shape that users need; I also feel we’re about a week away from a ‘Insta Party Account Highlights’ meta-Insta and this trend dies again.
- The Best of What’s New: By way of a brief moment of respite from my standard, tired litany of complaint at the state of everything, this is Popular Science Magazine’s list ogf the 100 best innovations of 2018. Some you will have seen, some you will barely be able to believe, all will give you a brief moment of techno-utopian optimism before you realise that this stuff continues to be about as equally distributed as it ever was. Still, SHINY NEW TECH!
- TikTok Is Fun: This is someone else’s observation, but I forget whose (Jason Kottke, maybe?) - every few months, the mainstream media does a piece where they talk breathlessly about a NEW THING that is bringing the CAREFREE FUN back to social media. It’s Instagram, with it’s authenticity! It’s Snapchat, with its ephemerality! It’s TikTok, with its carefree frivolity! Proof that TikTok has BROKEN OUT, this is an NYT piece explaining it to confused 40somethings who still need to feel current and painting a picture of it as a fun, carefree playspace rather than an app which is already being reported as riddled with predators.
- Fifteen Unconventional Uses for Voice Tech: If you have a line item in your ‘2019 prep’ to-do list which says ‘think of some interesting stuff to say to clients around voice tech’ then you could do worse than read this; Nicole He recently taught a course in voice tech at NYU, and this is her writeup of the projects that her students came up with. The breadth of use cases here is superb, from a Google voice assistant with a personality, to a voice-controlled AR pet, and there’s loads in here that you can steal - or, if you’re a better person, hire one of Ms Ye’s students to work on for you.
- Albums of the Year: There are an infinity of these lists out there, as per, but I’m linking to The Quietus’ selection as it’s a wonderful publication with awesome writing and it’s one of the more eclectic lists out there, containing as it does Janelle Monae, Brockhampton, and Tropical Fcuk Storm. Lovely, and contains the added bonus of embedded tracks for each album.
- Bowel Movement: A Guardian longread on the science of sh1tting, inspired by the Squatty Potty, the crapping stool whose unicorn-and-rainbow-turds-featuring ads you’ll doubtless remember from a few years ago. Yes, fine, it’s all about defecation, but it’s interesting and contains the excellent fact that in the 20th Century German toilets used to feature small shelves where one could inspect one’s fecal deposit, which does rather make one wonder about the extent to which national identity is in fact really a thing after all.
- The Way Home: “Where do you feel most at home? Maybe you’re nostalgic for where you’re from. Maybe you couldn’t wait to leave. Maybe home is where you’ll sleep tonight. Maybe you’re still searching. In a year when migrant children have been sent to live in a tent city, rents for a San Francisco apartment reached an average of $3,750, and wildfires destroyed entire communities, the question of how people find and define “home” has never felt more urgent. We asked 34 photographers to travel across the West, capturing stories about home for our first all-photography issue. Look. And listen — audio footnotes invite you to hear from many of the people you’ll meet in these pages.” There’s an accompanying load of supplementary content on the paper’s Insta feed too, along with an accompanying physical exhibition taking place in SF; this is a superb piece of journalism.
- When Did The 90s End?: A forensic exploration as to exactly when the time period we can now look back on as the culturally distinct era ‘The 90s’ ended. Was it 9/11? Was it Sex and the City? This is a bit archly pomo, fine, but it makes some excellent points, not least the one about ‘cool’ being a term that has literally no meaning in 2018 and whose currency’s death can be mapped pretty much exactly against the day the 90s died.
- Overcelebrating Life Events: Hung off the ‘news’ story about that couple who wanted to do an elaborate baby reveal video and ended up setting fire to a large swathe of their State, this piece looks at the increasing trend towards lavish celebrations for events that would previously have gone unremarked. Finding out the sex of your child? CHECK! Getting divorced? CHECK! Baby showers and multiple stag and hen and STEN dos and proms and 21sts and 30ths and 40ths and menopauses? CHECK CHECK CHECK! It’s an interesting read, but can also equally be summarised as ‘because Instagram’ - basically if you work with a brand that can reasonably tie itself to a LIFE EVENT you can probably make a reasonable amount of money out of idiots who are willing to bankrupt themselves celebrating made-up events for the Likes.
- How To Recognise a Fake Image: The best thing about this is that, given the pace of technological improvement in this field, all the advice in here will be out-of-date by the time I finish typing this sentence. Still, if you want a quick primer on what to look out for when trying to spot an AI-generated fake this isn’t a bad place to start - the point about the hair is a genuinely useful one, seeing as I imagine that it will be one of the harder issues to fix.
- Chrissy Teigen’s Anti-Goop: I haven’t quite managed to work out how Chrissy Teigen managed to become one of the most famous people in the West - I mean, yes, she’s obviously funny and smart on Twitter, but what was she known for before that? Anyway, I could Google that and obviously haven’t, so ignore me; this piece is sort-pof about Teigan, but more about the manner in which a certain type of slightly sloppy, relatable ‘authenticity’ is now one of the most powerful brand signifiers you can have. Can we please, please retire the word ‘authentic’? It is so heavy with layered meaning that no sentence can carry its weight any longer.
- That Paltrow Interview: Here’s the contrast to the last piece - if you’ve not yet read it, that yoga quote is as bad as you think it is.
- Bra Theory: This is, fine, a corporate blogpost about the learnings from three years of trying to run a high-tec bra measurement and manufacturing business, but it’s ALSO one of the better ‘founder’s journey’-type pieces I’ve read in an age; it’s full of honestly useful and interesting notes on the mistakes the author made building their business, considerations they wish they’d made, all that sort of jazz, and it also contains all the insights you’d ever want about the customer journey people go through when looking to buy a brassiere.
- Don’t Pretend You Can’t See Us: The best piece I read this week about the Gilets Jaunes in France and what the movement means, to the extent it can be said to mean anything coherent at all. It paints a good picture of the weirdly incongruous political faultlines that exist within movements of this type, as oppositional politics of the traditional left and right find themselves allied together against the nebulous threat of ‘globalism’; it also contains a couple of excellent digs at Handsome Manu over in the Elysee. It works in decent contrast to pieces such as this one in Buzzfeed which have very much gone with the ‘It’s Facebook Wot Done It’ line, in a manner that fundamentally misunderstands the way Groups work on the platform. If you're a member of a Facebook group then the content from that group is more likely to surface in your feed as of this year, so it's perhaps likely to intensify group bonds and create more fertile breeding grounds for broader campaigning. On the other hand, the Buzzfeed article implies that stuff from groups - which in these cases are in the main closed - leaches into the newsfeed of others, which isn't true. I mean, far be it from me to defend Zuckergerg’s Big Blue Misery Factory, but let’s be fair about it.
- Token: This is a great piece, if depressing. The article looks back at black actors who had bit-part roles in some of the biggest shows of the 90s and hears their stories, of being a marginalised and often invisible part of the very, very white world of network TV in US America. The difference between the situation then and now is striking - and yet even now, representation isn’t what it could or ought to be.
- Remembering Bourdain: Anthony Bourdain feels like a resonant one this year; this is an oral history-style recollection of what it was like working on his TV show over all these years, along with scattered other reminiscences from other parts of his life; what shines through more than anything is the curiosity he expressed for almost every aspect of his life. Read this and then go and eat something tasty.
- Goodbye Rookie: I was honestly saddened by this. I didn’t imagine when I first came across Tavi Gevinson as the prematurely-old-looking precocious child in the frow sitting next to Anna Wintour at NYFW that a decade hence she’d be wrapping up a long-running and acclaimed editorial project she’d started at just 15. Shows what I know. This is Gevinson’s ‘Goodbye’ editorial, and I can’t stress what a good piece of writing it is; professional, personal, funny, sad, she touches on changing culture, the realities of business and online publishing, trends and ephemerality and self and, oh, all sorts of stuff. I am honestly in awe of this child; she writes SO well and SO smartly and everything she does makes me feel like some sort of knuckle-dragging troglodyte by contrast.
- A History of Dance Dance Revolution: I imagine there are some of you who have a degree of DDR expertise hard-wired into your muscle memory as a result of misspent teenage weekends in the arcade. I was just a little too old to catch the craze (and, er, too arryhthmic), but this is a lovely piece of nostalgia looking back at the era when no arcade was complete without an Asian kid with frosted tips making absolute mincemeat of the cabinet.
- Terrible Occult Detectives of the Victorian Era: I didn’t know this, but apparently there was a late-18C craze for oddly-named detectives coming to gribs with THE SUPERNATURAL, all seances and ghosts and ANCIENT RITUALS; this is an overview of some of the best (worst) ones, and contains some true gems. “Sometimes his enemy is the ghost of a jester, sometimes it’s Irish people, and sometimes he splits the difference and it turns out to be a crusty old sea captain hiding in a well and a naked ghost baby.” See? Who doesn’t want to read that?
- Trapped At Sea With The Crypto-Bros: Laurie Pennie does another very good observational hatchet job whilst again seemingly managing to centre herself in the narrative; I don’t know any other writer that can do the whole ‘these are awful people and yet I found myself weirdly at home with them because I too am a strange outsider living in the liminal spaces between accepted social norms and mores!’ thing in quite the way she does, and I’m not 100% sure I like it; still, she does write very well, and the portrait of the madness of the crypto pyramid sales world is sort of charming, although it feels rather as though she’s pulled some punches at various points for reasons I’d be interested to find more about…
- My Beautiful Death: An artist reflects on what her art has done to her. I don’t want to say much more than this; it’s beautiful, but you need to see for yourselves.
- Lunch With My First Love: Beautiful account of meeting up with a significant ex after 20 years of not seeing each other. I won’t spoil what happens, but this captures absolutely the peculiarly happysad feeling of meeting someone years down the line and realising, actually, we could have been happy together. Maybe not perfectly, maybe not sufficiently in the end, but a bit. Made me cry, just in case you were wondering.
- Slaughterhouse: There’s a peculiarly affectless quality, I find, to English prose translated from the Dutch, and so it is with this excellent essay from Granta in which the author Arnon Grunberg visits a number of slaughterhouses across the Netherlands, meeting the workers and killing the animals and all the while observing the mechanics and the process and the oddities. This is...cold, mostly, and yet pleasingly so, like a scalpel or sawblade.
- Favourite Quotations: This is a lovely exercise; Doug Warner has been collecting his favourite quotations for years, and here he arranges them into a roughly-thematically-ordered sequence, working almost as a conversation. SO MANY GREAT QUOTES, and the format makes them sing; this is ace.
- The Empathy Exams: What it’s like to play a medical patient. Except, obviously, it’s really not about that at all. This is a glorious piece of personal writing by Leslie Jamison.
- Dating in my 50s: Finally this week, you MUST read this - it’s funny, wry (yes it is, although I know that ‘wry’ is something very rarely seen in real life) and self-deprecating, and you can read London between every line, and it makes me wonder all sorts of things, about what it must be like being a former beauty, former rockstar, former someone, and what it’s like when all that goes and you tentatively look to see what’s left. Viv Albertine was guitarist in the Slits, and this is an extract from the second part of her memoir published in May this year. Exceptional.
AND FINALLY, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!
- This is a 10-minute megamix of the songs of the year, and, oddly, it’s not terrible! Contains 144 songs, so challenge your children to find all of them:
4) Next up, fittingly in THE YEAR OF AI, the first song ever to feature on Curios with an AI vocalist. This is by Holly Herndon, it’s called ‘Godmother’, and the vocal is performed by an AI called ‘Spawn’, “a project two years in the making. The pair first showcased their creation this past April in Berlin, where the artificial neural network reproduced the voices of her parents and interacted with the sounds made by guests at the installation. Spawn improvised and learned from her environment. And now the rest of the world can hear Spawn sing.” It’s, unsurprisingly, HORRIFIC:
6) Last up this week, have another AWE-INSPIRING collection of Duplo Thomas the Tank Engine trains doing stunts because, frankly, it’s soothing and we all need it. THAT’S IT FOR THIS WEEK GOODBYE EVERYONE HAVE A LOVELY COUPLE OF DAYS OFF AND TRY NOT TO GET TOO STRESSED ABOUT THE CHRISTMAS SHOPPING OR THE IMMINENT PROSPECT OF SPENDING TIME WITH YOUR FAMILY IT WILL, I PROMISE, ALL BE OK, SO WHY NOT TREAT YOURSELF TO A MINCE PIE OR MAYBE EVEN A SMALL GLASS OF SHERRY YOU’VE EARNED IT I LOVE YOU I LOVE YOU TAKE CARE TIL NEXT WEEK BYE!: