It's almost over! We're almost free! Summer is here!
It's not almost over! Shut up with your chat! NO TOUCHING OR FRATERNISING!
I don't know about you, but I don't know who believe - the famously trustworthy and reliable gentleman currently in charge of the country, the simillarly reliable tabloid and right-wing press...It's all so tricky!
Still, it's a bank holiday weekend! Which, er, means that I am writing this on a day when I can pretty much guarantee no fcuker will actually read it (plus ca changezzzzzzzzzzz) - so I'll keep the intro mercifully short. If you do happen to see this, I hope you have a lovely three days off but that you don't do anything stupid like have a fcuking street party; if you don't, my wishes for you are largely immaterial so I shall keep them to myself (but know that they involve creative punishments and a long, long time).
I am Matt, this is Web Curios, and this is either the middle or the end of the beginning but not, probably, the beginning of the end (although it conceivably might still be in a more all-encompassing, pan-human sense).
OH GOD I WANT A BARBECUE SO MUCH IT PHYSICALLY HURTS.
By Salman Khoshroo
FIRST UP IN THIS WEEK’S MUSICAL SELECTIONS, THE NEW LIL SIMZ EP WHICH IS REALLY VERY GOOD INDEED!
THE SECTION WHICH WOULD LIKE TO FORMALLY, RESPECTFULLY AND SINCERELY ASK ANY BRANDS PLANNING ANY SORT OF ANTICIPATORY ‘WE CAN REBUILD THIS IF WE ALL WORK TOGETHER!’-STYLE INSPIROCONTENT FOR ANY POST-LOCKDOWN FUTURE TO PLEASE, PLEASE FCUK OFF:
- Facebook Is The Internet And There’s Nothing We Can Do About It: Yes, ok, fine, there’s perhaps a touch of authorial license going on my interpretation of the headline here, but at these strained and difficult times I think it’s still quite important to stare into the gaping, ravening maw of the Zuckerbergian gift horse to see exactly what’s lurking within its suspiciously wooden-feeling exterior (“Wood? Nah mate, real Arabian horse, that, honest guv”). Basically I can’t shake the feeling that we’re all going to emerge from...this even further in thrall to big tech than we were before, as evidenced by headlines like these; Facebook has launched (in a small, localised trial in Peru) Discover, an app which effectively lets users access limited quantities of text-based information from websites for free (as in, no data). This had previously been trialed as Free Basics in India and other countries, but this is a more wide-ranging service which is effectively designed as an entry-level portal to the wonderful world of the web for those shrinking percentiles of the global population who aren’t already hooked on 1s and 0s. What does Facebook get out of this? Well, aside from an unspecified amount of information on the browsing habits and interests of a whole new coterie of web users, it also gets to inculcate a load of people with the subtle-but-important message that WEB=FACEBOOK, which is sort-of important to them in the long-term. Am I being paranoid? Has my mistrust of the Big Blue Misery Factory begun to impede my ability to engage in rational commentary? I can’t even tell anymore tbh.
- Make Comedically Long Images On Insta: I fear that this is going to be wasted, what with this being a bank holiday and all, but HERE’S AN EXCITING AND VAGUELY-VOGUEISH THING YOU CAN DO ON INSTA RIGHT NOW! You can currently (I think this still works at the time of writing) use a small bug on Insta to post pictures of extraordinary length; this video shows you how. Basically if you’re a community manager you have a few hours til they shut this off to think of a BRANDED FUNNY for your client and win the fleeting-but-oh-so-comforting temporary online approval of literally thousands of clap-like-seal morons who have literally never seen anything better than, I don’t know, a REALLY LONG pint (“Can’t wait to have one of these on the next #bankholiday!!! #staysafe #isitoveryet”). I’m feeling positive about the industry I work in this week, can you tell?
- Twitter’s Rolling Out Its Threaded Conversations Thing: As trailed repeatedly since last year. It makes little practical difference to anything, other than making it marginally easier to follow the train of a multiparticipant thread, although given that every third conversation on Twitter at the moment seems to be people shouting into the ether about WHAT THE PEOPLE WANT AND FEEL you might want to give it a miss for a bit.
- Twitter Testing Profanity Warning Before Tweeting: Only a test, but given it’s sort-of worked a bit to reduce bullying on Insta, it seems reasonable that Twitter consider a similar sort of tactic to try and take a bit of the hate off the platform; it’s testing a feature whereby if you hit send on a message calling someone an ‘effing see’ you will be gently asked whether you’ve thought through the potential effect of those words on the effing see in question and whether you really want to say that. You will still be free to carry on defining the effing see in your own choice of anglo-saxon, but the idea is that you’ll pause and maybe take the opportunity to #bekind (oh god) instead. I think that this is obviously a non-terrible idea, though I equally worry that it’s going to see a resurgence in the sort of appalling compound tweeswears that were rampant a few years back as people try and get round the automated hatecatching software.
- Make Hirst Paintings On Snapchat: Kudos to Damien Hirst, who by creating a (fun and quite impressive) digital version of his famous ‘Spin’ series of paintings as an AR toy in Snapchat (snarkier critics than me might point and laugh at the fact that once again Hirst is trailing in the wake of Jeff Koons, whose AR balloon dog sculpture was the inaugural Snap art project a couple of years back) has managed to shamelessly demonstrate exactly how laughable that they have sold as well and for as much as they have. It’s really quite fun, though - select your colours, spin the canvas, hang it wherever you want - and, well, it’s something to do, isn’t it?
- Twitch Revamps Channel Pages: Useful for streamers, less interesting for anyone else; this redesign does make it easier to see a streamers past content, when they’re next live, etc, in a move that makes it slightly more adjacent to actual, old-school scheduled broadcasting.
- Insta Influencer Engagement Discovery Tool: Thanks to Alex for sending this to me; no idea how long this is going to work for, as Insta’s famously disinclined to let stuff like this exist for long, but while it does it might be of use; this Chrome plugin lets you analyse any Insta account you like for its average engagement rate; useful when trying to decide which relentlessly upbeat content-monkey you’re going to hire to shill your gambling site this week.
- The VICE Guide to 2030: Ordinarily I’d put this in the longreads section, being as it is a collection of writings and essays speculating on what the next decade is going to look like, particularly from the point of view of GenZ; on the other, the essays aren’t, if I’m honest, that interesting, and to my mind the main value comes from all the survey data that they’ve gathered to gauge young people’s attitudes to work, leisure, etc etc, now and in the future, which you can use to pad out all of your strategy work for any youth-focused brand for at least the next few months.
- Spotify Listen Together: This is a nice idea by Spotify, riffing both on the fact that SO MANY PEOPLE EVERYWHERE use it, and the fact that everyone feels a bit lonely and isolated right now; the site shows you instances around the world when two users started listening to the same song at EXACTLY THE SAME TIME, thereby illustrating something really important and fundamental about the human connection to music and each other (or something; sorry, I start to drift off at the high concept, in general). The ungrateful, selfish part of me wishes that there was a build here that allowed for the creation of temporary chat connections between two simultaneous listeners - maybe a 60s window, during which you were allowed to only communicate via song titles or something, just to try and limit the trolling potential - but that’s just me being greedy; this is really cute.
- Airbnb Talent: Airbnb, you may have heard, canned a whole bunch of staff this week, in one of the less-surprising events of the past few weeks. Its founder, Bryan Chesky, was widely-praised for the comms around it, and this statement in particular; on the one hand, it’s well-written, sounds sincere, and attempts to be reassuring to the remaining 75% of staff that there is a plan to secure the business and their futures; on the other, well, he’s still a billionaire (yes, yes, I know, fcuk off you tedious pinko, etc etc etc). Regardless, I think this site is a really nice touch - it’s effectively a shop window for all the staff that they have laid off, letting other employers who might be hiring browse a list of people who have Airbnb experience and who are now available. I feel the word ‘classy’ has literally lost all meaning through online overuse over the past decade, but this almost approaches it.
- The Gucci Mascara Hunt: Look, you may not think that the best way to finish off this brief section about updates to s*c**l m*d** platforms and general brand communications news is with a Gucci-themed bowling game in which you attempt to...er...roll over mascaras with a pink bowling ball, but let me reassure you that it really is (this is...not very good, but at the same time I spent 10+ minutes messing with it the other day, which suggests either that it’s got some sort of surprisingly-effective gameplay hooks or that my critical faculties have been forever-fcuked by the past couple of months).
By Gabriel Alcala
NEXT, HAVE TWO HOURS OF WHAT THE MAN WHO MIXED IT DESCRIBES AS ‘LEVITATING BONGO DISCO’!
THE SECTION WHICH MIGHT ACTUALLY CRY IF IT SMELLS BARBECUE THIS WEEKEND, PT.1:
- The COVID-19 Research Explorer: Academic-but-useful (if you’re an academic) resource from Google, this, which has created this search engine which is trained specifically on the 50,000+ scholarly articles related to COVID-19 and which is designed to respond well to natural language search queries rather than more traditional keyword-recognition-type ones. So, for example, you might ask it ‘what are the diagnostic markers of COVID and how do they vary by age cohort?’ (or you might if you knew what any of those words practically meant; not sure that I do tbh) rather than ‘COVID diagnostic age’, say. On the offchance that any of you REALLY want to delve into the research literature, or alternatively if you want another weapon with which to win the increasingly tedious online arguments about THE RIGHT STRATEGY, this is potentially helpful.
- The NHS Tracking App Code: It’s all on Github; if this stuff means anything to you, take a look. My timeline seems to be neatly-split between “I am NEVER touching this, Cummings is stealing all my data” and “everyone else already has your data ffs, stop being so precious about it”; fwiw, whilst I’m not personally wild about the idea of having another entity tracking my movements I think it’s important at times like this to distinguish between the party and the machinery of government (to whit: I think the Tories are cnuts and I despise this government and all its previous n iterations, but this is being run by the NHS and civil servants and I am, perhaps naively, still inclined to believe in a degree of separation between the institutions). Also, to that person who @ed me on Twitter with something along the lines of “well, but Google Maps doesn’t take all your data and use it to influence elections, whereas we know that this administration does nudge nudge wink wink” - erm, you really haven’t been paying attention to how any of this works, have you?
- BioVyzr: WE ARE ALL ALLOWED OUT AGAIN! Except we’re not! Yet! Still, regardless, we may well be allowed out again sometime, and so in preparation for that I present to you the BIOVYZER (God I love that spelling - so future! So redolent of the ‘XXXtreme!’ era branding of the early-2010s!), a crowdfunding campaign for which has smashed its funding goal by...lots with five days to go (at the time of writing). Basically this is a giant, clear dome that you wear over your head, making you look almost exactly like a 21C reboot of Lost In Space’s famous, clunking robot assistant ‘Robbie’. There’s a lot to love about this; the fact that they openly state uptop that they only have a ‘working demo’ of this rather than anything that’s actually ready for market or properly-tested (“I DON’T CARE SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY!”), the fact that they unashamedly use ‘unprecedented design for unprecedented times’, the fact that it happily shows BUSINESSPEOPLE in SUITS, smiling broadly as they prepare to leave the Terrordome for another productive day at the socially-distanced content mines...Honestly, if you showed this to someone from the 1980s they would tell you that it was a spoof product ad from Total Recall or something (fcuking hell, how much do I wish that it was just a spoof product ad).
- Hypercam: Are you still having fun playing with your Zoom backgrounds and bringing ‘funny’ mugs to show everyone at the 915 standup? Would you like something better? If you can be bothered with the slight jiggerypokery required to run the output from this website through your camera (it’s not actually that difficult and they tell you how), then you can add a wonderful touch of the cyber-surreal to your appearance at your next meeting. Hypercam lets you apply all sorts of odd, slightly-kaleidoscopic effects to your camera feed, turning your face into a sort of weird, infinitely-tesselated pyramidal Godhead, say, or a spinning cube moving infinitely through the void. Which will make a nice change for your workmates if nothing else. By Kim Albrecht, to whom credit and kudos.
- Alan Menken: Look, I know that Web Curios isn’t something which can ordinarily be said to bring much in the way of ‘joy’ or ‘lighthearted relief’ into the lives of its vanishingly-small readership, but I like to think that every now and again I buck the trend and bring you something that is genuinely happymaking. So it is with this website, celebrating the life and work of composer Alan Menken, who worked on musicals like Aladdin, Little Shop of Horrors, Sister Act...If you’re into singalong kids’ movies, or musical theatre in general, or just, generally, if you need a smol pick-me-up, click on the link - I guarantee you you will have a smile on your face within a minute (honestly, I REALLY mean this - it happened to me, and I am a miserable, hopeless, dreamless husk who fcuking despises musical theatre). Absolutely charming, and a really nice website to boot. Oh, turn the volume UP.
- Wonder of Wonder Art: Now turn the volume back down again; this is VERY LOUD. Still, it’s a fun little site that, if you can make sure that they have headphones in, your kids might enjoy; you can draw a simple 2d character and then watch as the site animates it to dance happily in digital space to a Hatsune Miku tune (that, in case you were wondering, is why I suggest you lower the sound). Infuriating within approximately 30s to my middle-aged ears, meaning that if you have <10s they will rinse this til doomsday.
- IN C: This is beautiful little looping piano toy; there was a similar one for Philip Glass a few years back, but this is all its own thing: “Play your own unique version of Terry Riley's "In C" with the help of five automated bot performers. Every bot plays the same sequence of 53 short musical patterns. Each bot will keep repeating the same pattern until you decide it should move on to the next. Over time, different musical and visual combinations will emerge.” Try having this open in a browser, fiddling a bit and then leaving it for a while, tweaking every five minutes; honestly, the effect is mesmerising and a pretty perfect example of how incredible rule-based compositions can sound.
- The All-In Challenge: When you hear the term ‘challenge’, what does it mean to you? Would you perhaps think that it involves doing something taxing, that pushes you mentally, physically or emotionally, something that you wouldn’t ordinarily do but which you want to achieve for...some reason or another? Would you think that ‘a famous auctioning off an experience with themselves’ counts as a challenge? No, me neither, and yet here we are. The All-In Challenges (NOT A CHALLENGE) is a US thing whereby a bunch of famouses have SACRIFICED themselves by offering up some of their time, or VIP experiences at one of their performances, for people to enter into a charity raffle to win, all in aid of efforts to support health and support workers during the pandemic. So you can buy a $10 ticket to win dinner with Mariah Carey, or a round of golf with Tiger Woods, or to cohost the Ellen show, or alternatively you can not do this and instead continue asking why it is that people who in many cases have net worths that run comfortably into nine fcuking figures seem to think that the best use of their time and money is exhorting people who very much don’t have that sort of money to part with some of it in exchange for the chance at a fleeting, stilted encounter with an actual celebrity. Up to you really.
- The OK Closet Clearout: Growing up in the UK in the 80s, America was still a shiny beacon of glossy excitement, and the place that you were very much convinced that England was a slightly-crap knockoff copy of; everything they did we did too, just on a significantly-smaller budget. So it is with the OK Closet Clearout; just like the All-In Challenge, it’s a celebrity fundraiser - except in this case, rather than a night of gossip’n’luudes with Mariah you get to big on a pair of spangly slingbacks once worn by Jane McDonald off The Cruise. Ok, fine, maybe not that exact thing, but with approximately two days to go til this ends there are some absolute BARGAINS to be had - Alexandra Burke’s DKNY coat, Craig Revel Horwood’s bowtie, SO MANY EVENING GOWNS OWNED (and, hopefully, well-laundered) BY KATIE PRICE!!! Honestly, get in there - you deserve a treat.
- Google Read Along: Parents, how’s it going? Feel like you’ve got the measure of this whole “I am with my kids all the time” thing? Don’t know why, but I think that the response to this might differ quite significantly along gender lines. Anyway, if you feel like you might have read The Tiger Who Came To Tea (or whatever the current obsession in your household is) more times than one human ought to have to bear, perhaps check out this BRAND NEW app from Google and consider outsourcing some of the more onerous, repetitious aspects of bedtime to a machine. “Read Along has an in-app reading buddy that listens to your young learner read aloud, offers assistance when they struggle and rewards them with stars when they do well – guiding them along as they progress. It works best for children who already have some basic knowledge of the alphabet.” I haven’t tried this, so usual caveats apply - I imagine that it’s very American (though there may well be localised versions, no idea), but if you can get past that then it seems like it could be a nice way of perhaps letting your kids do some self-directed reading practice; the Ts&Cs suggest that there’s nothing odd or nefarious happening with the app in terms of data collection, so take a look.
- Nebula 75: I feel the interest Venn Diagram between this and ‘adult men who like Doctor Who’ might be quite circular. Nebula 75 is a BRAND NEW Supermarionation production - for those of you who for some reason don’t remember, Supermarionation was the name given to the production techniques pioneered by Gerry Anderson in Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlett, etc, in which wonderfully-expressive but still, fundamentally, very, very wooden, puppets had all sorts of exciting, retroscifi-themed adventures. NEBULA-75 is “a short-form puppet drama that follows in the tradition of 1960s favourites while offering something brand new at the same time. Although team members from around the world contributed remotely to pre and post production, the entirety of the filming for NEBULA-75 was undertaken by a crew of three who happened to already live together in a small flat in London. Their living room was transformed into a makeshift movie studio – with bookshelves, cardboard boxes and other household objects becoming the interior of the show's hero spacecraft. This flat was also fortunately home to many of the puppets, props, and costumes that have been accumulated over the course of different productions.” Whether or not you have a warm, nostalgic, Findus Crispy Pancake-scented memory of lying belly-down on a carpet watching Captain Scarlett, or whether you’re really anxious for me to stop using references from a time before you were born, this really is a lot of fun, and there’s something endlessly-charming about the puppetry and the commitment to the whole thing.
- Cheers NHS: Can everyone just agree to stop the clapping now? It’s starting to feel a touch desultory and sad; perhaps (here’s a thought) we could all demonstrate our support for the NHS by, I don’t know, not behaving like feckless cnuts? And paying our taxes? Or, alternatively, but donating to this initiative, which lets you buy a takeaway for frontline staff, provided via JustEat vouchers. This is a nice idea, but I do feel slightly uncomfortable about the fact that once again it seems that the poor fcuks working to deliver this stuff are being gently forgotten and brushed aside. Still, if you want to put a few quid towards getting a frontline worker a pizza, this is a seemingly-efficient way of doing it (thanks to Josh for the tip).
- BBC Backgrounds: I said I wasn’t going to do Zoom backgrounds anymore, but then the BBC released these yesterday afternoon and, well, I relented. I haven’t checked through all of them, but there are various classics like the Queen Vic, the set of Playschool, etc etc. Slightly upset that they didn’t include the Broom Cupboard from my childhood, but then again I am a forty-year-old man and should probably stop with the tedious nostalgia for a time that I will never again know and a youth that is crumbling to dust as I speed away from it towards an increasingly-grey future.
- VOMA: Stuart Semple, who you will know from Curios past as the creator of anti-Anish Kapoor superblack paint amongst other things, launched this Kickstarter this week - it’s to raise the final few quid to finish building VOMA, described as “A fully immersive virtual art museum built to give anyone a chance to connect around great art.” Regular readers (ha!) will know that I’ve featured a variety of these digital art galleries over the years, most of which fall under the heading of ‘interesting concept but I don’t want to spend more than about 5 minutes here’. Details of the exact spec of what Semple’s planning and how it will work are scarce at this stage, but if he’s only after 5k you’d expect that this is nearly-done - if this whets your appetite, and you can afford a few quid, chuck him a fiver: “We are working on a gorgeous amalgamation of considered curation, visionary architecture, game design, CGI, and global community interactivity. We are making a digital institution that’s capable of showcasing art in ways audiences have not had the chance to experience before and if we are lucky, a digital legacy that will live for years to come.” So there.
By Helena Hauss
WHY NOT SPEND THE LONG WEEKEND GETTING ACQUAINTED WITH THE BACK CATALOGUE OF CLASSIC DC PUNK LABEL DISCHORD RECORDS, INCLUDING STRAIGHT EDGE GRANDADDIES FUGAZI? IT’S ALL FREE TO STREAM!
THE SECTION WHICH MIGHT ACTUALLY CRY IF IT SMELLS BARBECUE THIS WEEKEND, PT.2:
- The Pudding Music Challenge: The Pudding continues to make unparalleled data-y interactive experiment things; this is SUCH a clever idea. Tell it the year of your birth and it will test you on how well you recognise a bunch of different songs from when you grew up; based on the extent to which you do, the site’s compiling a database of which tracks have the most longevity and cross-generational appeal. Not only is it really fun to play with - I recalled far more than I would have expected to - but it’s a really smart way of gathering useful data. You could easily imagine using this sort of technique to create playlists for multigenerational car journeys, populated only by tracks that hit the recognition sweetspot across multiple generations. OOH, that’s a GREAT idea for an internet radio station - Roadtrip Radio, in which you plug in the preferred genres and ages of the travellers, and your destination, and it creates an appropriate playlist, long enough to get you to your destination, populated by tracks pleasing(ish) to all ears. SOMEONE MAKE THIS IT IS A GENUINELY GOOD IDEA.
- AR Bosch: Would you like to experience the grotesqueries from Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights via the magic of AR? You’ll need an iPhone to play with it, but there’s probably 5-10m of entertainment in here for you as you make the weird lizard-bird-things march through your livingroom for your amusement.
- This Fursona Does Not Exist: It’s like 2019 all over again! As if we’ve just traveled back in time 12m, this is another of those “Hey look! A whole bunch of Xs, generated by an AI!” websites, where in this case ‘X’ stands for ‘cartoon drawings of anthropomorphised animals, drawn in the style of those ‘fursona’ portraits that furries get done of their animal alter ego’. Want a seemingly-infinite parade of grinning, in-many-cases-unpleasantly-sexual-looking cartoon critters staring at you? Fine, you weirdo, click away (NB I know that furry fandom is mostly not in fact about sex at all, but you have to agree that a weird and distressing number of these cartoons have ‘come-to-bed’ eyes) (does my thinking this mean I’ve crossed something of a line? Is...is...this a Rubicon?)).
- Scunthorpe Sans: Another silly-but-very-well-executed idea by Matt Round at Vole, who’s invented a font based on the old Parliamentarian spellcheck fcukup (for those of you who don’t recall, back in the early-00s an overzealous profanity filter on the House of Commons servers meant that a lot of email for the Honorable Member for Scunthorpe was never delivered); the idea is that the font automatically detects when its being used to write BAD WORDS and redacts the offending letters - except for Scunthorpe, which it leaves intact. Lovely, and the sort of thing I might ask Website Owner Paul ‘Imperica’ Squires to install on here so that I could stop having to bowdlerise myself for the profanity filters (and also, so that Curios might look like a lovely-yet-nonsensical blackout poem).
- Cut & Paste AR: This is just a video demo, but the potential applications are amazing. I won’t try and describe it; just watch, and think about all the AMAZING things you could do with this, and then think about all the terrible things that will end up being done with it. Honestly, this is slightly jaw-droppingly future.
- Marco Polo: This is a nice idea, and might be worth investigating for people who struggle to arrange videocall times, or whose potential interlocutors might struggle with setting it up on their computers. Marco Polo is a video walkie-talkie app (this is a bad description, fine, but bear with me); it’s basically an asynchronous videomessaging service, where you communicate with call-and-response video. Record a video of yourself, send it to your friend via the app, they respond when they have a chance. Nothing that you can’t theoretically do on other apps, but I imagine the very pointed single-function ‘THIS IS HOW THE APP WORKS JUST DO THIS ONE THING’ simplicity might be appealing / useful to certain demographics.
- Puzzlebreak: So how’s all this digital, at-home arts entertainment working out for you? I know someone who did the Moulin Rouge Secret Sofa thing the other week, which apparently ended up being a sort of weird, softcore Zoom-based bawdfest - is that what it’s like? I’m going to try and attend a Nina Conti gig on Sunday, which I imagine will be incredibly awkward and quite possibly personally-humiliating, so I’ll let you know how that goes. If you’re in the market for some slightly more gentle digital fun, this might be an interesting option - Puzzlebreak is an escape room in Seattle which has gone FULLY DIGITAL in lockdown, and is offering Zoom escape rooms, with a live host/gamesmaster, for teams to try - I found this via a glowing writeup somewhere, which praised it for being family-friendly, well-organised and lots of fun, so if you fancy it and can make the appalling time difference to the UK work, might be worth a go (you have to pay, obvs, which is only fair).
- Pinnit: Would you like your calendar reminders and ‘to do’ items to appear as unbudgeable notifications on your phone’s lockscreen til you’ve completed them? No, sounds awful, but that’s exactly what Pinnit does, creating yet another constant reminder of your own weakness and laziness and inadequacy each time you try and procrastinate. The only possible reason I can conceive of to bother with this is to install it covertly on someone else’s phone to then make it start posting a series of increasingly aggressive demands of its owner; perhaps, though, you are a better-if-weaker-willed person than I am and might find it personally-useful.
- Spiritbomb: In a week in which it was announced that digital pinup-type creation Lil Miquela has signed with a talent agency, it seems appropriate to signpost the next evolution of the ‘virtual talent’ concept - VIRTUAL MUSICIANS! Ignoring the fact that this isn’t a new idea at all - hello Hatsune Miku, hello Gorillaz, this is so beautifully, perfectly mad. There’s no actual music on here yet - that will come later, let’s worry about the important stuff first, like the digital avatars and their vibe and their ethos. No, seriously, listen to this - do you reckon you’re going to be a fan of ‘iZi.i’ (I would make more fun of the name were it not seemingly entirely on trend with the Muskspawn), who’s described on the site as “BORN FROM THE APOCALYPTIC TIME-SPACE SCHISM - PROGRAMMER OF THE DEMIURGE ANTIDOTE - FUTURESHOCK-PROOF PEDDLER OF ECSTATIC NOISE”? Or do you think that ANTI-FRAGILE is more your speed, their vibe being thusly encapsulated: “DIETY [sic] OF RENEWAL GROWING FROM DETRITUS - LONE OMNISCIENT CONNECTIVE TISSUE”. This is properly bonkers, but I for one am absolutely stanning for each and every single one of these crazy CG kids.
- The Google Lockdown Triathlon: This came to me via Alex Micu, and after escape rooms is the latest creative use of Google docs I’ve seen since quarantine, using Google Slides to create a multiplayer ‘triathlon’ that you and some colleagues can play. It requires a little bit of setup, but is really nicely done, uses the tech in a couple of neat ways, and is a far better use of your time than whatever you actually did at work this week.
- Yourself Online: Slightly amazed that there aren’t more of these services. Yourself Online is a low-cost reputation-cleaner for socials, which promises to help you clean up the filthy footprint of your disgusting digital past so as to help you appear squeaky-clean to potential employers, spouses, etc. No idea how effective it is, but I couldn’t help imagine when I found this that it was actually a front for a massive blackmail sting, which would be quite funny imho.
- The Diary of Anne Frank: Speaking of Zoom entertainments, this is a really interesting idea which works far, far better than you might expect. Park Square Theatre is a venue (and company) in Minneapolis which has repurposed its production of The Diary of Anne Frank and produced it entirely via Zoom instead. It’s available to watch for free as a videorecording on the site; either in two halves or scene-by-scene; it takes a little while for you to adjust to the concept, but the particular nature of the narrative means that the direct-to-camera windowed delivery actually suits the script rather well, and I found myself getting unexpectedly drawn in after 15m or so. Aside from anything else, it’s a really good example of how to bend the videocalling medium to your will; well done everyone involved, it’s really clever.
- Find Your Local Football Team: This site uses Voronoi diagrams to help you identify which football team is geographically-closest to any given location, thereby letting you determine once-and-for-all whether or not someone is a glory hunting scumbag or a proud supporter of their actual local team. Pointless, other than as a tool by which to really wind up a very particular sort of person on Football Socials.
- Textradio: I can’t remember who it was, but someone produced a platform variant of this a while back; the idea being that you could record text conversations and then play them back in realtime, so you could see what was being typed in a conversation, getting a feel for rhythms of thought, etc, via the pace of the writing, as well as taking in the ostensible meaning of the words. I find the cadence of typing a really interesting indicator of thought, personally, and the idea behind this site - interviews conducted in a Gdoc, replayed in realtime so you can read the interview but also see the errors, the retractions, etc, as they happened - is fascinating to me.
- Most Common Words: Trying to learn a language but not a fan of Duolingo, Rosetta Stone et al? This might be worth a look: “An effective way to start learning a language by learning the most common 1000 words. Learn the top words in Spanish, French, German and more and progress faster than ever before.” I can’t vouch for the ‘effective’ bit, but the rest seems true (this is the standard of journalistic rigour I hope you’ve come to know and love round here).
- Mac-a-Mug: A bit of oldschool Apple Mac emulation here, specifically to give you the chance to design a mugshot in the style of the graphics of crap old Apples in the bad days before Steve made it all OK again. Your mileage on this will vary largely depending on either your nostalgia for the graphics and interface or your ability to actually make decent-looking stuff out of what is basically a mugshot version of MS Paint; if you’ve a modicum of skill, though, there’s an hour or so to be had designing new, old-school criminal avatars for yourself and everyone you know.
By Jordana Kalman
NEXT, CAST ASIDE YOUR SHAME AND INHIBITIONS AND JUST ENJOY THIS TRULY STELLAR COMPILATION MIX OF LATE-90s/EARLY-00s BOY AND GIRLBAND POP WHICH YOU WILL WANT TO HATE AND WHICH YOU WILL NOT BE ABLE TO HELP BUT FIND STRANGELY ALLURING!
THE SECTION WHICH MIGHT ACTUALLY CRY IF IT SMELLS BARBECUE THIS WEEKEND, PT.3:
- Magic Puzzles: It’s been...what, seven weeks? However long, it’s likely that you might be running a bit low on entertainments, particularly the non-digital sorts; I imagine the appetite for ‘let’s make a fort out of spaghetti!’-type projects is perhaps slightly less than it perhaps was a month ago, put it that way. Still, if you’re in the market for FRESH FAMILY FUN, you might want to look at this Kickstarter for a three-in-one puzzle, which has a whole load of additional mystery metagame stuff built into its design. If you’re the sort of person who fondly remembers Masquerade and wishes they still did things like that, this might be right up your alley; it does look really quite fun, very intricately-plotted, and it’s smashed its target with a month to go, so looks likely to actually get made. Obviously when it might actually show up is unknowable, but I think it’s reasonably safe to predict that jigsaws are going to be a popular pastime for a little while yet.
- Re.ply: This is literally Curiouscat for people who are too embarrassed to have a Curiouscat. I have nothing else to say about it.
- Rainy Day Kids: Thanks to stranger on Twitter ‘Mister Bruce’, who sent me this project they’ve made collecting potentially-useful sites and projects and things to keep kids busy during thes...no, sorry, I can’t be bothered to find a way of expressing the now, make up your own. Anyway, if you’re after another selection of things to do online with your kids that may pass enough time for you to maybe do something that isn’t kidwrangling, this could be useful.
- Rally: Rally is ANOTHER videocalling platform, whose single identifying factor appears to be a Houseparty-ish ability to move easily between conversational spaces as the mood takes you, much as though you were moving between groups of people at a party. Included less because I think it’s a particularly novel application of the technology, and more because I’m interested in the different ways that these platforms are going to try and replicate some of the serendipity and organic movement of real life interactions in digital spaces.
- The GTA Aliens: There’s no sensible way of explaining this - in the videogame Grand Theft Auto Online, players have recently taken to amusing themselves by dividing into two opposing factions, green aliens and purple aliens. Allegiance to either faction is connoted by donning a green or purple jumpsuit in-game, grabbing a baseball bat, and running around beating seven shades of virtual crap out of the other side - that’s literally it. This is a TikTok account run by a member of the green faction, and, honestly, there is something so wonderfully, Keystone Cops-ishly, Benny Hill-esque about watching green and purple videogame men have at each other with sticks. Have...have I been online too long? Maybe I have. Anyway, if your brand has a significant overlap with ‘people who play GTA online’ you can get some low-effort traction by declaring yourselves Team Green or Team Purple - there, that’s your ‘work relevant’ snippet, happy?
- Global Question of the Day: Unexpectedly-compelling site which each day poses a different, simple, multiple-choice question of its visitors, recording the answer and country of origin of each submission to build up a picture of what the world thinks about stuff. At present it’s all relatively low-stakes things like ‘favourite colour of the rainbow’ or ‘best spice girl’, but I’m really hoping they’re going to pivot to things like ‘do you consider man to be free?’ or ‘how many days after the plane crash would you start looking hungrily at the remaining survivors?’ as the site develops.
- Go Book A Trip: This is a really lovely concept by online independent US bookseller bookstore.org; it’s presented as a travel website, offering you trips to a variety of exotic and far-flung locales, at suspiciously-low prices… Click on a destination, however, and discover that OH NO IT’S A BOOK BOOKS HELP YOU TRAVEL IN YOUR MIND DO YOU SEE???? A really nice little idea and execution, this.
- Cruising ‘72: Pure 70s Americana in this photoset of teenagers cruising up and down Van Nuys Boulevard, which according to this piece was THE place for teens to come and show off their cars and their hair to each other while they attempted to find somewhere to do some fingering. These are wonderful photos, but the main reason I’m including them is that looking at these I was struck for the first time about quite how much 17 year old kids right now are missing out on; it’s hard not to look at these and think back to whatever you were doing in your 17th, 18th, 18th summer and feel incredibly sorry for those unable to go out and do really, really stupid things in pursuit of sex and cheap highs.
- All Of Star Wars, With Toys: Do you like Star Wars? Great, click this link! Honestly, it’s impossible for me to find any enthusiasm at all for anything to do with Star Wars - another thing the internet has definitively killed! - but, for those of you for whom the original film is still some sort of Proustian object, this detailed and obsessional (almost) shot-by-shot recreation of the movie using photos of toys (no, really, I promise this is a lot better than it sounds) will probably scratch some sort of primal itch.
- The Stanford Pupper: STILL looking for a lockdown project? Why? Everything will DEFINITELY be back to normal soon! Regardless, if you’re one of those GLOOM-MONGERS still expecting us to be stuck indoors for a little while longer yet and after a long-term engineering project to not only keep you occupied by also to equip you with a quadripedal robot companion then this will be PERFECT for you. Stanford University has published this guide to building an open-sourced little dogrobotthing - a bit like the Boston Dynamics ‘Spot’ robots, but significantly smaller and (at least in the promo video onsite) significantly less reminiscent of a Black Mirror murderbot. You’ll need to spend a few hundred quid on parts to make it, which I appreciate puts it out of the reach of some, but if you can afford it and you’re the sort of person for whom instructions like ‘solder the hydraulics CPU to the motherboard casing’ (yes, I know that that’s nonsensical, please don’t point it out) hold no fear. NB - as ever with these things, Web Curios accepts no liability for potential future sentience and eventual uprising of the Stanford Pupper.
- The Design Squiggle: This was new to me as a concept, but it’s rather wonderful. The design squiggle is a concept proposed by Damien Newman, who came up with it a way of illustrating the design process; you’ll look at this and think it’s a p1sstake, but I promise that the longer you think about it the more it makes sense and starts too look like one of the better illustrations of design, or indeed any creative process, that I’ve seen. If nothing else, this is one to save in your folder of ‘IMAGES I CAN USE TO SOUND LIKE I ABSOLUTELY KNOW WHAT THE FCUK I AM TALKING ABOUT BUT WHICH ARE INTERESTING ENOUGH THAT I ALSO LOOK LIKE I’M SLIGHTLY LEFTFIELD AND THEREFORE ‘CREATIVE’’ (all of you working in ‘strategy’? I know you have one of those, don’t lie to me).
- Boxabl: The concept of this isn’t new - buy a whole, self-contained dwelling which you can have delivered to you, ready-assembled, to plonk wherever you like, dropped off a flatbed truck - but I very much liked the shiny-if-implausible graphic of how the house unfolds, and I figure that this sort of thing is going to become more popular as people look to move their ageing relatives into closer proximity with them in an era of social distance, whilst at the same time definitely not actually wanting said parents inhabiting the same house as them.
- Open Processing: I know that I always make fun of those of you who try and improve yourselves in any way - I am a charming and supportive friend! - but I also know that a few of you are using this time to try and learn a few new skills, and I applaud you for it (no really! I genuinely do!). Those of you who are dabbling in code - or indeed those of you who have already dabbled and are now ankle-deep in the digital waters of Perl or whatever (man, that metaphor really didn’t need to be there, did it?) - might like Open Processing, which is ‘a community of designers and coders focusing on algorithmic design’. There are all sorts of examples and resources on here, but the most interesting bit to my mind is the gallery of live examples that other users can upvote and discuss; there’s so much interesting work here, and so many snippets of gorgeous algodesign to explore. Even if you’re not a codeperson yourself, should you have any interest in what code can make then this is definitely worth exploring a bit.
- Animal Meditations: Thanks Rob for sending me this - I am about as likely to meditate as I am to be canonised, but for those of you of a more reflective and self-caring outlook, you might enjoy this: “Animal Meditations are guided meditations that take listeners inside the experience of being a specific animal in their habitat. Calming and otherworldly, the meditations are exercises in imaginative empathy, connecting the listener to the consciousness and experience of wild animals.” I presume ‘the experience of being a specific animal in their habitat’ doesn’t extend to, say, ‘the experience of being a rabbit being chased by a hungry fox’, as I don’t imagine that would provide the reflective experience they’re advertising; presumably, though, it’s all ‘oh you’re a sleepy dormouse on an ear of corn, feel your earth chakra connect’ so you’ll be fine.
- Violate Geneva: A Twitter account recording whether or not videogames let you break the Geneva Convention whilst playing them. A distressing number, it turns out, absolutely do. Not only funny, but a surprisingly-effective way of learning exactly what the articles of the Geneva Convention in fact are, and thereby of becoming a slightly-better person than you were beforehand.
- The Etymology List Generator: READERS WHO LIKE WORDS AND LANGUAGE! This will absolutely be your favourite thing on here this week, longreads excepted - a site by Angela Pasquino which, wonderfully, lets you plug in any word you like and then offers you ALL of the translations of said word, helping you explore its etymology, seeing how different languages cluster, and helping you gain a topline understanding of how it moves and evolves. It is SO interesting; Pasquino launched it recently and was overwhelmed by the interest; she’s currently seeking small donations and/or tech assistance to help keep it stable and working under the weight of traffic, so if this is a project that appeals then I’d encourage you to offer whatever help you’re able.
- VirusPatterns: My friend Paul sent me a photo the other day of a “5G CONSPIRACY” poster which, amongst other EXCELLENT claims, included the frankly jaw-dropping ‘fact’ that there are no such things as ‘viruses’ and that their very concept is something cooked up by the mainstream media and the lizard elites to keep the good, honest people of the world scared and in thrall. So, er, now you know. Still, if you’re vaguely interested in the LIES, this is an interesting site that uses lightly-interactive video to help you explore the shapes of different viruses (THAT DON’T EXIST) and how their shape determines how they function and what they do. Honestly, this really is fascinating (AND UNTRUE) and is actually quite a nice example of how to present video in an easily-navigable way (LIES).
- Selfie 2 Waifu: Upload a selfie, get a version of yourself as a wide-eyed anime-style woman, or ‘waifu’ to use the parlance of some of the worst people on the internet. On the subject of ‘waifu’, by the way, can I please recommend the article on the concept and its relation to the Japanese concept of ‘otaku’ and ‘hikkikomori’ in the latest Imperica mag? It’s good, honest.
- Design Your Own Animal Crossing Island: I think I featured one of these prior to the game’s launch, but this is MUCH shinier. Even if you’re not in possession of a Switch or in thrall to Nook, you can still get involved with the landscaping ‘action’ via the medium of this browsertoy which lets you create very authentic-looking ACNH islands in a vaguely Sim City-ish way. Either you can use this to create your own idealised world to imagine inhabiting as the world goes to tits or, more amusingly, you can use this to create a perfect-but-better replica of a partner’s island, pointing out to them how much more awesome it would be if they only made it the way you suggest. Up to you really.
- Vertigo: I don’t really want to explain this too much. A tiny little short story-in-a-smol-game-type thing, this is exquisite imho. Very simple, but beautifully-written and the music really works.
- Satellite: I am pretty certain I have included this, or a variant on it, before, but fcuk it; these are extra...no, FFS MATT STOP IT! Ahem. As I was saying, you may recall this from a Curios past, but it appeared again this morning and I lost 20 early minutes to it before I managed to escape its gravity (DO YOU SEE WHAT I DID THERE???). Satellite is very simple - you just have to keep your ship in orbit around the planet for as long as possible. Except it’s not simple, at all, and you will keep on coming back to try and eke out another few revolutions. Simple but compelling, I can’t promise it will keep you sane but it will definitely pass some time (which is all we’re hoping for these days, right?).
By Lorenzo Gritti
LAST UP IN THE MIXES, CLOSE OUT THE LONG WEEKEND WITH THIS SLIGHTLY AMBIENT-Y FUNK MIX BY JOHAN SOLO!
THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!
- Megaestruturas: Only one this week, but it’s a good one; this is a Spanish (I presume) Tumblr collecting designs and illustrations of imagined mass-habitation structures from the past. Some of these designs are GREAT, all of them are very reminiscent of the orange-and-brown 70s, and quite a few might be worth revisiting in an era in which we’re all potentially killer viral nodes.
THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!:
- Ixta Belfrage: This week I have started feeling the absence of restaurants SO KEENLY (I know, I know, middle-class woes, no violins); this Insta feed, property of chef Ixta Belfrage, who works with Ottolenghi as a recipe developer, honestly made me do a very smol hungry sad, but in a good way. GOD I MISS DUCK SOUP.
- The Nook Street Market: Honestly, whilst I couldn’t actually give a fcuk about the actual mechanics of playing the game, I find everything about how people are using Animal Crossing totally fascinating. This Insta account is that of Nook Street Market, which is an outfit designing and selling clothes for use in the game, often replicating real brand designs, and, I think, occasionally in collaboration with the actual designers/labels. If you’re not in part interested in how this is finally normalising a trade in digital goods amongst a whole new coterie of people then, well, you’ve probably got a fuller and more rounded life than I do, fine.
LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:
- All Your Questions on Corona, Answered!: Not really! Instead, this is a fabulous piece of writing by Dave Eggers in the New York Times this week, perfectly-skewering the maddeningly-inconsistent rhetoric from almost everyone in a position of authority (or, frankly, not in one) about WHAT SHOULD BE DONE and WHAT SHOULD HAPPEN. Perfect timing, really, after this week’s display of quite stellar central control of the press apparatus by No.10 (as a brief aside, whilst I don’t doubt that the frontpages on Wednesday about the shagging doctor were in-no-small-part helped along by No.10, I’d probably point at the total sh1tshow they’ve made of communicating what may or may not be happening on Monday as evidence that perhaps we shouldn’t give them quite so much credit for being master manipulators of the media) - here’s a taster but, honestly, please do read the whole thing, it’s superb: “P: So why are we easing restrictions? A: Something something the economy? P: Excuse me? A: Mumble mumble the economy maybe? P: We don’t understand. A: Listen. People are fatigued. They want to go back to work. They want to shop. More than anything, they want to roll balls toward white pins and make loud bang-bang sound. And then possibly end up with a tube inserted in their trachea, helping them breathe while their lungs cease to function, until they almost invariably die and die alone.”
- What Happens Next?: Leaving aside here that the only possible answer to this question is “I have no fcuking idea and neither do you; please stop opining on this with the same air of confidence you tend to use when discussing Liverpool’s chances in next season’s Champion’s League”, this is an interesting and actually-quite-helpful interactive which offers quite clear explanations on the sorts of steps that have been taken worldwide to date, and the options for next steps, along with some lightly-modelled interactive elements to help illustrate how different policies might affect likely outcomes over the coming months. Obviously this is just that - ‘illustrative’ - so please don’t use this to go around making huge claims about ‘what the science says’ as a result. Just use it as a way to learn a bit more about what sort of the terms being bandied around practically mean, eh?
- Potential Futures: In the same way as talking about ‘how we feel’ as though ‘we’ were some sort of monolithic entity whose collective response can be predicted and summarised by any cnut on Twitter (doesn’t stop them trying, though!), talk of ‘what the world will be like’-post Corona is sort of moot as there will be a variety of different futures for different people and countries depending on a wide range of factors. This piece in the Atlantic looks at a few different ways in which differential solutions to an afterlockdown world might function, specifically Wuhan, Seoul and Denmark. Interesting, but not wholly congruent with the Johnsonian rhetoric this week (WHODATHUNKIT?).
- Fast Fashion and COVID-19: A brilliant essay in the LRB which examines the impact of the pandemic on the people right at the bottom of the fast fashion supplychain. Us not going on Summer holidays means ASOS, Boohoo et al are all having to adjust their business models to accommodate for the drop in revenue; which, in turn, means that the people in Bangladesh who stitch a lot of their garments are seeing large-scale contracts cancelled, leading to a huge knock on effect for some of the poorest people in the world. You might well be a better person and more coherent thinker than I am - it wouldn’t take much - and might already have thought through all of this stuff, but, personally-speaking, this was something of an eye-opener and made me consider the wider ramifications of the ‘rona far more than I had done prior.
- How Airbnb Might Transform: This is a couple of weeks old now, and so obviously predates this week’s layoffs; still, the thinking behind it, about how Airbnb might conceivably restructure and refocus to salvage some of its business and make itself at least semi-viable in the medium term, is interesting. Its author, Jelke Bosma, offers some clever ideas about how partnerships with civic institutions and global organisations could enable Airbnb to fill its inventory whilst pivoting to a less-uncertain model; it’ll be interesting to see whether any of this ends up coming to pass at any point.
- A Pretty Spectacular Story About Masks: It’s fair to say that the pandemic hasn’t been good for the Trumps (although it’s even fairer to say that it’s been significantly worse for the rest of the country); the only potential bright spot of this whole mess is that it’s conceivable that it might cause That Man to lose, though whether or not there will be an election in November is pretty moot at presnt imho. One of the most amazing stories that’s been slowly coming to light is the astonishing degree of incompetence, corruption and stupidity (thanks Jared!) that’s characterised the country’s attempts to secure protective medical equipment; I promise you, this story (courtesy of editor Paul - thanks Paul!) is worth reading, even if you don’t think you want to read another story of chancers trying to make a quick buck off of death.
- How to Finish the Basketball Season: As people here in the UK try and work out if they can finish the football season, which has a mere 8-odd games left, spare a thought for the people of the NBA, which would need to somehow manage to find a way of playing 259 separate matches to get to the end (people in the UK who don’t like football - if you think its blanket ubiquity is bad, honestly, compared to basketball in the US you have seen nothing. The basketball really is constantly happening, and possibly will continue even after we as a species have long-departed). This ESPN piece examines exactly how that would work, which would include players being quarantined for a minimum of three months while the games were played at a frankly-insane sounding schedule. This is a truly mad logistical nightmare, and the thought of even having to start thinking about how to make it work brings me out in genuine hives.
- The Hiphop Gigs of Insta Live: A really interesting piece about how hiphop’s old guard have discovered Instagram Live during lockdown, and how the whole scene is pioneering new forms of communal entertainment via the DJ sets that are doing massive numbers each night. There’s a lovely line in here about Zuckerberg dropping in one night, like a nightclub impresario popping his head into the back office to check the takings on a Saturday, but the most interesting things is how this is going to develop; BELIEVE that this, combined with the thing about ‘you will soon be able to set paygates up for access to Lives’ that Insta announced last week, and normalised ‘pay-to-access-this-digital-event’ is nearly upon us. Oh, as a bonus on this sort of topic, this is an interesting VICE article about Turntable.fm and how there’s an appetite again for shared-space collaborative listening that isn’t currently being served well by anyone (but which if Fortnite doesn’t end up dominating, at least for a bit, I will be amazed).
- Inside The Clubhouse: I haven’t written anything here about Clubhouse yet, mainly because I can’t get an invite and so am sulking (also, to be clear, I don’t particularly want to try it); still, it’s become buzzy enough to warrant a slew of thinkpieces and so I feel honour-bound to include at least one so that, when it becomes a global sensation in July, you can all say ‘I saw it on Web Curios two months ago!’ to the now-familiar sound of everyone else not giving a fcuk. Clubhouse is a an audio-only chat app, which seemingly works like Houseparty; you can listen in to other people’s conversations if invited, be invited to participate, etc, and this article basically presents it as a way of being able to get access to all the cool, influential people you’d never be able to meet or approach irl. Which is a nice idea, but probably only actually works right now because its total userbase is approximately 30,000 who live within 50 miles of Cupertino; what it looks like when the great unwashed get in is probably very different. Still, as another model of what a future communications platform might look like, it’s an interesting one; I am basically resigned to the fact that all the stuff I like is on the way out, as we pivot even further away from ‘reading and writing’ as preferred communications methods here in the early part of the new millennium.
- Welcome To The Big Market: No, with one ‘g’ - PUT YOUR TIGHTS BACK ON AND PUT DOWN THAT WKD FFS! (did anyone get that joke? Anyone? ffs). The Big Market is the world’s largest VR marketplace, effectively a sort of big shopping mall in which various VR creators hawk their wares as literally hundreds of thousands of punters, mainly from the far east, browse and shop, all in VR. Astonishing, mainly as a proper ‘fcuk me, I feel so behind and so in the past and so much like I will hate and fear the future’ slap in the face; seriously, read this, then tweak the prose in your head slightly and it’s basically Neuromancer, except this is literally right now: “My avatar was immediately placed in the lobby of a traditional-looking conference center with a massive SoftBank booth like you might see at CES. I followed a ramp out into a sprawling urban landscape with multimedia billboards and blimps displaying ads for Audi vehicles and other brands. I saw a booth for Netflix, and before my connection fell apart I was able to stumble into a fully-simulated 7-Eleven convenience store with a few avatars for sale on display. I couldn’t hear any of the other users speaking, and there were only 30 of us scattered across such a large space; for being such a massive event, it felt eerily quiet and lonely.”
- Tolstoy’s Kids Books: This made me laugh a lot - I had no idea that Tolstoy had written children’s literature, but the discovery that he did and that it was very...Tolstoian in its nature pleased me no end. This piece offers a brief runthrough of some of his sunnier tales - I won’t spoil it for you, but suffice it to say that if you found Vronksy to be a bit too much of a lighthearted joker, and yearned for a bit more general bleakness and miserablism from Mr T’s work, you’ll be in luck with these. Oh, look, here, have this one, but please go and check the others too: “The Little Bird.” A boy catches a bird in a cage. His mother says he shouldn’t do that. He leaves the door of the cage open. The bird flies out, straight into a glass window, knocking itself out. It suffers for a few days, then dies. The end.”
- Britain’s Imperial Dreamcatchers: One of those wonderful stories that encapsulates the sheer madness occasionally glimpsed at the heart of empire. In this case, it’s the story of an LSE anthropologist who decided that he wanted to conduct a large-scale analysis of the dreams of the people of the British Empire to see what could be learned about the psychic commonalities that existed amongst different peoples, but who didn’t like what he discovered about the peculiarly-Freudian relationship between many of the subjects analysed and the Empire itself. It feels like this is just waiting to be turned into an historical novel or longform poem or something; there’s SO much in this to unpack, I think.
- The History of OK Soda: I’ve definitely mentioned OK Soda in here before - if you recall, it was Coke’s mid-90s attempt to tap into Gen-X slacker cool, and it went about as well as you’d expect. This is an interesting overview of its genesis and how it was marketed, and a useful thing to have in your pocket next time someone presents ‘brand does millennial ennui’ as somehow innovative.
- Being Butch: On ‘butch’ as an identity in lesbian culture, and what it means; this is something I knew literally nothing about, and I found this piece fascinating and moving in equal measure; also, the accompanying fashionshoot photo is a killer.
- Dropshipping: This is a week old, so you might have seen it already; it tells the story of various people from around the world who are hanging out in Bali trying to make money out of dropshipping businesses (whereby you connect buyers with inventory without ever holding stock; effectively trying to make cash through simply being a front-and-shipping outfit, with no manufacturing or permanent stock liabilities), and not really quite making it. It’s really nicely written, and skewers all the stereotypes you’d expect; the flipflop-wearing, sunglasses bros, late to the party on a wave of confidence, the jaded old stager who’s out of the game, and the locals looking slightly-bemusedly at the kids who pass in and out in search of...what? If you take anything from this piece, it’s that by the time you’ve heard about this sort of thing it’s almost certainly too late to get rich as a result of it.
- The Proboscis Monkey: A profile of the proboscis monkey, a beast you’ll recognise because of its massive schnozz; this is lovely, and taught me SO MUCH about rainforest ecology and conservation, and made me wish very fervently indeed that I was the sort of person who could find fulfilment and peace by being in, and helping with, nature, rather than instead being a muddled bag of addictions and neuroses who’s terminally hooked on information.
- Wh0res at the End of the World: Do email filters mind the word ‘wh0res’? No idea, but let’s err on the side of caution. One of the interesting side effects of the past few months has been how it’s affected our relationship with sex and sexwork. I imagine pr0nhub has seen traffic the like of which it could previously have only dreamed, and there are all sorts of crazy stats doing the rounds about OnlyFans’ user growth, as the world and its mother decides that it too can make a living w4nking for strangers, and there’s been a lot of interesting writing by sex workers and adjacent people about how they’re coping in a time which you might think spelled thedeath of their income stream. This piece is from the point of view of such a worker; the author’s a cishet woman who talks openly and emotionally about how her job and relationships and feelings of safety have fluctuated over the course of the pandemic, and how this might all affect our conception of sexwork and the rights of sexworkers. Interesting, thoughtful and smart.
- Secret Museums: A beautiful essay about coming to terms with your sexuality via the medium of bongo; this is so, so lovely, and sad, and really wonderfully written.
- How We Got To Sesame Street: Finally this week, it is a truth known to all that it is literally impossible to feel bad about anything when thinking about Sesame Street. So this is a history of the show, as told in the New Yorker. I promise, it will cheer you right up, and might prompt you to go and watch some old episodes which I can heartily recommend as a way of chasing the blues away while you get very, very stoned. All together now, “Sunny day, sweeping the - CLOUDS a-way!”.
By Haruhiko Kawaguchi
AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:
- First up, a home-shot quarantinevid by Glass Animals, for their rather good new track ‘Dreamland’:
- Ok, this isn’t usually my sort of thing - it’s a barely recognisable cover of ‘Heaven is a Place on Earth’ by Belinda Carlisle, of all things - but, honestly, combine this with the video, which is all made up of found footage from old VHS tapes, and the current, y’know, situation, and this absolutely fcuking totaled me when I found it. The song is by Matthew Ryan, the footage found and edited by Tom Serchio, and it’s honestly heartbreaking (in a good way):
- This is by Negativland, and it’s called ‘Not Normal’, and, well, it isn’t:
- One of the most happymaking things I saw this week, remix kings The Hood Internet, featured on here at various points in the past, return with the latest in their attempts to remix ALL the music of a given year into a single 3-minute track. This is 1985 - if you are old, ENJOY THE TIME MACHINE (and if you’re young too, obvs):
- UK HIPHOP CORNER! This came to me via Joe Muggs’ excellent newsletter; this is by Dreya Mac, it’s called ‘Skippin’ and it’s SO GOOD, seriously:
- Last up this week, the latest Kinect-y, oddly pointillist representation of East Asian living by Ruben Fro; I featured his video of Vietnam in the same series, and this, of Dong Xuan market in China, is equally gorgeous. I would love to see a longer-form piece in this style, or a music video, or something. Anyway, regardless, THAT IS IT FROM ME I AM DONE BY EVERYONE BYE I LOVE YOU BYE I HOPE YOU HAVE A LOVELY LONG WEEKEND AND THAT YOU ARE ALL ABLE TO ENJOY AT LEAST A SMALL BIT OF SUNSHINE AND THAT YOU ALL STAY SAFE I LOVE YOU SEE YOU NEXT WEEK I AM OFF TO HAVE A LIE DOWN AS IT TURNS OUT I AM FEELING THE POST-CURIOS BURN A LITTLE THIS WEEK TAKE CARE I LOVE YOU SEE YOU SOON I LOVE YOU BYE!: