44 minutes reading time (8840 words)

Web Curios 08/11/19

Web Curios 08/11/19

You know what? I have to say, despite my initial reluctance and general distaste for the whole thing, I've quite enjoyed the first week of the election.

Of course, it's partly the novelty of it all, and the fact that it's all still quite fresh (ignoring, of course, the fact we've basically been being campaigned at solidly for 3 years) - right now we're getting that slightly-odd politics high that you always get at the outset of a campaign; like being in a wind tunnel, fine, but one into which people are constantly lobbing icing sugar and amphetamines. Of course, the closer we get to December 12th, the more the sugar and speed will be swapped out for knives and bricks, but it's sort-of thrilling while it lasts, particularly as EVERYONE seems to be making a total pig's ear of it. 

But you're not here for that! What are you here for, exactly? Presuming the answer is 'stuff to fill the increasingly hollow and empty void between birth and death' then WOW are you in the right place - get used to the sound of this voice, because there's going to be around 8800 words' worth of it INSIDE YOU by the time you've finished. 

I'm Matt, this is Web Curios, and this is what the inside of my head feels like most of the time. 

By Maxime Imbert

LET’S KICK OFF WITH AN EXCELLENT MIX OF GRIME INSTRUMENTALS!

THE SECTION WHICH THINKS THAT BEING COMMISSIONED TO DO A REBRAND AND RETURNING WITH ‘THE COMPANY LOGO, BUT IN BLOCK CAPITALS, IS SOME PRETTY MASTERFUL GRIFTING:

  • Facebook’s New Brand: Ok, fine, it’s not a full rebrand - the new logo will only appear on Facebook’s family of products, to help users realise that the lovely, shiny, happymaking product they use to stare at a neverending stream of generic photographs of people’s existence, or to send an increasingly-desultory string of HILARIOUS messages to the Groupchat, are both in fact owned by the Big Blue Misery Factory itself. No relevance AT ALL to anyone, and yet it hasn’t stopped untold column inches being expended on the ‘news’, which rather suggests that we (by which I obviously mean ‘people like me’) really need to get a grip on ourselves.
  • Facebook Launches ‘Work Groups’: Slightly odd, this - I mean, why? - but here it is nonetheless. Facebook ‘Work Groups’ are, well, Groups - except there’s now a new setting that admins can apply to any Groups they administer to both limit the amount of personal information Group members can see about each other, and to enable Group members to message each other even if they’re not friends. Which is, I suppose, useful for colleagues who don’t use Whatsapp or Telegram or Email or whatever other fcuking communications platform you care to mention. This might as well be called ‘I don’t like you very much and I don’t want you to become any more of a part of my life than you already, unfortunately, are’ Groups tbh.
  • FB Launches Text Variant Ads: This is smart - as far as I can make out from the not-particularly-well-written description, this will let advertisers submit multiple variants of their ad text, for Facebook to automatically select which version to show to achieve the best results. As the post points out, there’s a potential cost implication; FB will need a reasonable amount of data to work with before this optimisation can start, meaning there will be a bare minimum threshold in terms of ad impressions you’ll need before it kicks in, but I can imagine that, at scale, this could be really useful.
  • Twitter Trails New Features: As the linked article points out, Twitter has become quite good at promising useful-sounding updates and then never actually delivering on the things. Still, this is a raft of new features which were pretty heavily-trailed by the company’s head of Design & Research, and which include the genuinely useful-sounding ability to toggle whether one’s tweets can be RT’d, the ability to remove oneself from a group conversation, block @mentions of your username without your permission, and to remove @mentions from old tweets (AN EDIT FUNCTION!!! Will you all shut up about that now? It’s a terrible idea). These all seem broadly sensible, specifically in terms of being able to limit the horror of other people, so we can look forward to none of them becoming reality til about 2023.
  • Twitter Rolling Out ‘Topics’ Feature: What with all s*c**l m*d** news happening twice now - once when it’s announced, and then again when it’s launched, because why WOULDN’T you want to read about it all twice?! - there’s every chance I’ve told you about this before; still, it’s SO exciting you probably want to hear about it again. Twitter Topics will let users follow...TOPICS! The idea being that you’ll be able to subscribe to interest areas to have relevant Tweets about stuff that you care about injected into your TL without the need to follow individual accounts. It’ll be interesting to see how the curation of said topic feeds works, and how it integrates with the existing ad product; given Topics are seemingly just interest categories, it doesn’t feel like it will change that much, though, honestly, I’ve not really got any idea what I’m talking about here.
  • Third-Party Apps Get TikTok Integration: You can now add ‘Share to TikTok’ functionality to your app! ISN’T THAT EXCITING??!?!?! On the one hand, this seems like a broadly-useful idea and is sort-of a no-brainer if you want to appeal to kids and have a suitable bit of software; on the other, though, I do wonder whether this is going to mark the point where TikTok slowly and inexorably starts looking like every other video platform in terms of aesthetic. PLEASE NO OMNIPRESENT AR FILTERS FFS.
  • LinkedIn Improves On-platform Translation: That’s really all there is to say, sorry. You want to be able to automatically translate posts from foreign into your native tongue? You want to be able to read your Ukrainian colleague’s daily updates on how they are KILLING IT, or the coruscating insights from your team in Shanghai about the Seven Things That Content Marketers Can Learn From Soup Dumplings? Fill. Your. Boots.
  • YouTube Launches Shopping Ads In Search: You want to be able to sell people stuff directly from YouTube search results? GREAT! In fact there are a few updates to YouTube ads in general, which you can read about here: they’re all focused on product sales, so if you have tat to flog in the runup to the most magical time of the year you may well want to click this one.
  • YouTube Launches SuperStickers for Creators: Honestly, this is one of the things I find most baffling about streaming culture; I get that you might pay someone for the service they provide in entertaining you, but the idea of spending actual cashmoney on a virtual sticker that will flash up in the chat in the hope that they will notice you...no, sorry, I can’t quite get my head round it. Still, if you’re a ‘Creator’ you can now give your fans the opportunity to buy SO KAWAII! little stickers which will show up in your chat as proof of their devotion and which will accrue you a small monetary reward as a result. MADNESS.
  • Whatsapp Launches Catalogue Feature: Ooh, this is a GREAT idea. Whatsapp’s Business version has just launched this feature, where any business can add a product catalogue to its Whatsapp account, enabling customers to browse their goods in-app; for businesses that don’t have a website, or that don’t want one, this is a very useful alternative; I can imagine this will be huge in the second/third world, but also for sole traders, markets and the like.
  • You Can Now Limit Who Can Add You To The Groupchat on Whatsapp: I find it hard to believe that any of you could begrudge your membership of the two-thousand doubtless HILARIOUS Groupchats that you’re in. However, if the prospect of being added to an additional two thousand (“MistleHOES!” “DICKS IN BLANKETS!”, “LET’S TRY AND GET ONE MEETUP IN BEFORE CHRISTMAS GUYS!”) fills you with a degree of pre-Christmas anxiety, then you will welcome this new feature which lets you determine who can and can’t add you to Groups. The wonderful thing about this, by the way, is that normies won’t know about it for a while yet, so you can continue to exert some sort of weird social tyranny over them by adding them willy-nilly, whilst happily absenting yourself from the horror.
  • Tumblr Launches Group Chats: Literally no commercial application I can think of here, but, well, Group Chats on Tumblr! The only really interesting bit here is that all chats will be publicly visible (although only invited users can participate), meaning, if Tumblr’s still, well, Tumblr, that this is going to become a GREAT place to source ‘WTF’ content (possibly about furries or otherkln - God, remember otherkin? GOOD TIMES) for Reddit or your desultory Buzzfeed article.
  • Shopify Launches Email Marketing Features: Do you use Shopify to power your online store? DO YOU? If you do, GREAT! You can now plug it into your email newsletter, which will pull inventory from your shop into your email, track sales and generally make it easier for you to flog your rubbish to the idiots who were stupid enough to hand over their details in the first place.
  • Adobe Launches Content Authenticity Initiative: Nothing’s really happening here yet, but the announcement is worth noting - Adobe and the NYT have announced a joint initiative to explore how best to implement a sort of travelling attribution and content modification tracker to stuff online; the principle being that it’s important to know who made online content, where it generated from and how, if at all, if has been modified as it traverses the web. They are very much at the ‘hey, look, we’re announcing a thing!’ stage of all this, but they’re actively seeking partners; one would imagine that there ought to be a variety of media institutions with a vested interest in contributing in some way. I don’t think I’ve ever thought this before, but this sounds a bit like the blockchain could actually be useful here.
  • It’s Our Time: Having used last week’s Curios to publicly rail against the tedious spectacle of middle-aged people on Twitter shouting at each other to REGISTER TO VOTE, I now include a link to...er...a ‘get the vote out’ initiative. It’s Our Time is a project asking ‘creatives’ in advermarketingprland to devote some of their time and effort to developing messages and materials that will motivate the young and environmentally-concerned to vote on December 12th. There are details on the site should you wish to get involved in some way; if you’re a bored team of designers, there are probably worse ways of spending a Friday afternoon (that’s a serious endorsement, right there).
  • Seeds of Dreams: This is really rather lovely, and quite smart to boot. High Street unguent-peddlers L’Occitane de Provence have launched this sweet little browser game, which takes vaguely-Tamagotchi-ish mechanics and lets you care for a selection of plants in a lovely, cutesy, lightly-Japanese-styled virtual garden. Even better, the more you play, the more likely you are to receive small, redeemable rewards, offering you discounts on the brand’s products. This is available in multiple territories, presumably with regionally-distinct offers for each, and is just a really smart piece of digital marketing (as well as being weirdly, compellingly addictive - or, at least more weirdly, compellingly addictive than what I was being paid to do on Wednesday morning).
  • The Best Illustration of the Madness of Venture Capital You Will Ever See: Seriously.

By Mi Ki Kim

NOW, WHY NOT ENJOY THE BLADE RUNNER SOUNDTRACK SEEING AS IT WAS BLADE RUNNER DAY THIS WEEK?

THE SECTION WHICH WILL BE HAPPY IF IT NEVERS SEES THE TERM ‘SH1TPOSTING’ EVER AGAIN, AND WISHES WE COULD GO BACK TO JUST CALLING IT TROLLING WHICH IS EXACTLY WHAT IT IS, PT.1:

  • The Three.js Library: Oh this is GREAT! A single website containing LOADS of examples of really excellent little webtoys, from simple wind simulators to little games to small art-type projects to full album websites; there are quite a few of these that I’ve featured in Curios over the years, including the GORGEOUS J Dilla ‘Donuts’ tribute site from about three years ago, but they are ALL worth revisiting. You could lose the whole afternoon here, and, should you be lucky enough to luxuriate in the joy of a working position with an unsurveilled computer screen, I suggest you do that very thing.
  • The Size of Space: There have been a variety of ‘Space - it’s really, really big; I mean, seriously, you won’t believe the size of it’ websites featured in here over the years, but this is very much the best one I’ve seen. You start with an astronaut and then scroll...and scroll...and scroll, until finally your facing the vast immensity of the cosmos and you feel very, very smol indeed. This will do nothing for your sense of self-worth if you’re already feeling a bit like an insignificant speck on the shoe of the universe, but should you be feeling a touch, well, grandiose today then it might be just the thing you need to take you down a peg or two.
  • Talk To Transformer REDUX: Yes, I know I featured this when it came out, but it’s been UPDATED! The GPT-2 neural net - the one where you plug in some words and it keeps writing for you, and which churns out surprisingly good copy as long as you don’t look too closely - is now supported by the largest version of its learning model, meaning it’s now even MORE sophisticated; you can read all the technical gubbins here, “... and, if you haven't already seen it, there are two versions of the image-recognition software that can be used to identify objects in photos: The free, in-built, 'Google-built' version, and the more powerful, proprietary, 'Apple-built' one. Which one do you go for? Which one should you buy? Which one are you?” That last bit, in inverted commas, was autowritten by the machine just now - whilst it’s obviously impressive it’s not that impressive, and it should make us realise that all the guff spouted by its creators at launch, when they talked about not wanting to release the FULL POWER OF THE MODEL into the world for fear of what ill it might wreak, was, well, guff. Still, we’ve now got a browser version of what is alleged to be the best writing AI ever invented; if you don’t attempt to get the machine to do at least part of your client updates this afternoon, you’re a coward and a weakling. I mean, come on, it’s probably smarter than most of your clients anyway.
  • Teachable Machine REDUX: ANOTHER re-up for an old link now (look, I’m sorry about this, but they are GOOD UPDATES and worth telling you about); I first featured Teachable Machine when it launched in October 2017, but it’s now been JAZZED UP and so is worth another look. Should you for some reason not have the same sort of encyclopaedic knowledge of links from 25 months ago as I unaccountably do, let me refresh your memory - this site lets you create simple machine learning models in-browser, so you can quickly and relatively easily make something that can, say, recognise different types of fruit, or recognise simple hand genstures. This new version has been updated to allow for more inputs and larger training sets, and is generally a bit shinier and more user-friendly than it was back in the day; there is SO MUCH to play around with in here, and for anyone mildly curious about how one goes about ‘teaching’ a machine to recognise, interpret and classify inputs (which, I promise, is SO much less dry than I made it sound) it’s a goldmine. Honestly, for the right type of curious tween this could be LOADS of fun; although, of course, they may well just end up creating some sort of bongo-delivery mechanism that works with hand gestures.
  • Google Cardboard Goes Open Source: Very technical and only of interest to the developers amongst you, really, this is the news that Google’s Cardboard project, having been shut down the other week, has now gone fully open-source; meaning if you want to create slightly-crap ‘VR’-ish experiences for use on a mobile then it has NEVER been easier. I’m being slightly unfair here - there were a few really cool things built on Cardboard, and this now affords anyone who wants to mess about with VR a relatively easy way of so doing. You’ll need to know coding, though, so don’t get any unrealistic ideas about your ability to suddenly make The Lawnmower Man or something.
  • Dog Vision: Would you like to experience the world as your lovely, faithful canine friend does? Well now you can, or at least one small part of it - whilst this website won’t let you experience the glorious nasal cornucopia of doggy existence, it will allow you to upload an image and doctor it so that you see it as a dog would. The main overriding feeling this gives me is ‘man, I’m really glad that dogs have amazing noses because their vision is RUBBISH’. Still, ROFF!
  • Friended: One of those apps that occasionally crop up and which make me think that perhaps its creators exist in a totally different version of the world to that which I do, one in which people are fundamentally nice and benign rather than, well, questionable, in the main. The premise of Friended is that there’s something wonderful about interactions with strangers online, but the mass nature of many networks renders the whole process a bit fraught and public and stressful. In this app, anyone can post whatever they like to the wider world - the gimmick being that all responses to that start new, one-to-one conversations, which means you can throw anything you like out into the ether and get individual replies from the world. Which, in all honesty, sounds like a dreadful concept - like opening your Twitter DMs to anyone who wants to call you names - but which they seem to think will lead to ‘openness’ and ‘honesty’ and ‘kindness’ and all that jazz. There doesn’t seem to be any sort of moderation in place to prevent users sending each other horror, but, wonderfully, they do ask that users sign up to the ‘kindness pledge’ before using it, which I am certain will stamp out any sort of nasty behaviour at all. The ‘kumbaya let’s all hold hands and love each other’ vibe is also slightly undermined by the fact that they’re trying to shill a £5 a month premium version - hey, what do you want, kindness costs, baby! iOS-only, should you fancy seeing what this particular corner of the online bearpit is like.
  • Huge Spiderman: A Twitter account in the persona of Spiderman, but incredibly swole. This is almost certainly some sort of fetish account, fine, but there’s something oddly pure about this massive Spiderman tweeting out things like “banned from club penguin”.
  • History TikToks: Another in the list of ‘very unexpected but equally excellent things on TikTok’, this is a wonderful Twitter thread collating examples of a recent meme in which TikTok kids do short skits enacting moments from history - so, I don’t know, the treaty of Versailles, or Pearl Harbour or something. I think one of the reasons TikTok fascinates me and terrifies me so much is that this is a style of humour and communication I simply can’t do - I mean, I’m not a particularly funny person at the best of times (should you want to tell me RIGHT NOW how much Curios makes you...well, not ‘laugh’, fine, but maybe ‘smile through thin lips’, that would be great), but this brand of visual gag is SO beyond me that I’m just slightly awed at the fact there are so many people worldwide able to tap into it. Anyway, if there are any teachers reading this there HAS to be a way you can integrate TikTok into your classes, although I guess perhaps you don’t want to turn your pupils into even greater attention-seeking clowns than they are already.
  • Ethena: I quite like the strapline to this new business: ‘sexual harassment training your employees won’t hate’ is an admirably honest assessment of how much anyone enjoys any sort of HR training process, and a pleasingly low bar to set themselves. The thinking behind it is that most sexual harassment training in the workplace features laughably-stilted videos in which Karen from accounts gets goosed by the photocopier by Scurfy Jim from planning, whereas Ethena’s materials will be a bit more nuanced and fitting for modernity. I sort-of hope this is of no use whatsoever to any of you, but, well, just in case, eh?
  • Crying Sephora: Lovely/sad/odd art project by Connie Ye, in which she pulls custimer reviews from the Sephora website - the caveat being that all the reviews feature mentions of tears or crying. There’s a whole Phd thesis to be written about the relationship between makeup and emotion in modern femininity, but, presuming you’re not in the market for any of that jazz, this remains a weirdly poignant and strangely voyeuristic window into womens’ relationship with their cosmetics.
  • The Excel Drum Machine: Do you think you’re good at Excel? Do you think you’re special because you know lookup charts and pivot tables and you can MAKE GRAPHS and JUGGLE MULTIPLE DATASOURCES? Pah! You are NOTHING! Go away and don’t come back until you can do what this absolute lunatic has done; to whit, make a functioning drum machine in a fcuking spreadsheet programme. WHY??? Still, it’s quite amazing - you’ll need to download the file and open it in actual Excel rather than Google Sheets, but once you’ve done that you can basically noodle around to your heart’s content. The wonderful thing is that if you have headphones in then it will be near-impossible for anyone to be able to tell what you’re doing; your colleagues will think you’re doing some fiendishly-complex datawrangling exercise whereas in fact you’ll be desperately attempting to program the drum fill from ‘In The Air Tonight’. You can see a video of how it all works here, should you need instructions, but I suggest you just download it and go for it.
  • One-Sentence Breakups: A Twitter thread in which people describe their worst breakups in one sentence. Some of these are silly gags, but a surprising number are genuine, kick-in-the-guts devastating. Also, I really want to know the story behind the simple-but-properly-intriguing “After him, I smelled of garbage for days”. If nothing else, there’s a wealth of writing prompts here should you need the inspiration / exercise.
  • The Last McDonald’s: “In 2009, McDonald’s closed in Iceland and on October 31st that year, Hjörtur Smárason bought the last McDonald’s hamburger in the country. Smárason kept the burger, accompanied by fries, in a plastic bag for three years during which it remained unchanged. The hamburger, which still shows no signs of decomposition is now exhibited at Snotra House in Þykkvibær.” 10 years on, this website keeps a webcam trained on the burger and fries so that you too can track its eerie non-decomposition for yourself. If I were in charge of an office, I would have one television which was permanently tuned to this - I think it is ART.
  • Peppa Pig LIVE: It’s perfectly possible that every single one of you with small kids will already be aware of this and will not thank me for reminding you of it; if not, though, this could be a godsend. A YouTube channel that does NOTHING ELSE but stream Peppa Pig, 24/7 - you can literally put this on your phone, give it to your child and leave it to basically starve to death as it falls into the Peppa attentionvortex forevermore. If you don’t have kids, why not try putting this one one of the office televisions and hiding the remote? I reckon you could probably get them to evacuate the place after three hours of this stuff on a loop.
  • Sidebearings: Are you interested in fonts? OF COURSE YOU ARE! Would you like to learn more about them, and about typography design and all sorts of associated things, courtesy of this beautifully-designed website which collates all sorts of information and resources about type; as its creator acknowledges, it may be a bit basic for the more experienced designers amongst you, but those still learning might find quite a lot of useful bits and pieces in here.
  • Why The Fcuk Was I Breached?: As we’re doubtless all aware, cyberattacks are happening at an unprecedented rate at the moment; if you’re a company with valuable data knocking about on your servers, expect to be targeted...well...now, basically. When the inevitable happens and you get pwned (SUCH a contemporary reference there, Matt, you zeitgeist-surfing bastion of modernity! ffs), why not turn to this website which will generate your very own excuse as to why it happened. “The fcuking competition used hacking drones to transfer 7 petabytes of data. But we have since hired external consultants, so it will never happen again.” Seems legit tbh.

By Rachel Campbell

NEXT UP, HOUSE WITH LEO ROTH!

THE SECTION WHICH WILL BE HAPPY IF IT NEVERS SEES THE TERM ‘SH1TPOSTING’ EVER AGAIN, AND WISHES WE COULD GO BACK TO JUST CALLING IT TROLLING WHICH IS EXACTLY WHAT IT IS, PT.2:

  • Drone Registration: This is, fine, VERY BORING, but you might want to know about it. It’s soon going to be a legal requirement in the UK to register ownership of any drone in your possession, presumably in order to prevent any repeats of last year’s Gatwick funtimes, or to make it harder for people to airlift 2 kilos of China White into HMP Park. If you have a drone, register it here; if you’re planning on getting one for someone over Christmas, register it here. Or, of course, don’t, if you fancy being a wild and crazy outlaw operating on the very fringes of society, it’s entirely up to you.
  • The 200 Word RPG Challenge: This is ACE - the 200 Word RPG Challenge is, er, a challenge whereby people try and create the best roleplaying game they can within the limitations of a 200-word ruleset. ‘Role-playing’ is quite a loose designation in this case - there are a few in here that are very much of the classic d’n’d-type variety, but equally there are loads of odd, esoteric, curious creations, games about trying to pick people up in nightclubs or playing American Football or being at work. Honestly, if you like the people you sit near at work then this is a GREAT way for you all to pass the rest of the day together. If you don’t like the people you sit with at work, then maybe YOU are the problem, not them.
  • Dots Bot: In the latest iteration of ‘X...but CREATED BY A BOT!’, we have this lovely little project which presents a variety of different mobile wallpapers...CREATED BY A BOT! These are all free and downloadable and vaguely-reminiscent of mid-20th century abstract impressionism, and will make a nice change from the photo of your family which you grudgingly keep on there in case your spouse picks up your phone.
  • Songsterr: Not a particularly novel site, but a seemingly VERY comprehensive one - Songsterr lets you see guitar tabs for over 500,000 songs, along with accompanying video resources to help you learn how to play Stairway to fcuking Heaven (actually it’s probably not that anymore - what’s the modern go-to example of ‘the sort of tediously cliche guitar bit that everyone who fancies themselves as a bit of a muso plays whenever they pick up an instrument’?).
  • Decisionise: Are you currently on the horns of a dilemma? Are you torn, uncertain of whether to stick or twist, to stay or to go, to TAKE THE RISK or stay put like the craven weasel you know in your heart you are? If so, Decisionise could be the help your addled, confused self needs. The site lets you input your problem, the potential benefits and disbenefits, and then performs a calm, cool-headed calculation about which option will afford you the greatest benefit based on the information you’ve given it. Let’s be clear - this is not any sort of magical AI-powered scrying machine, delving into your psyche with spindly digital fingers to pluck out the deepest truths from the warp and weft of yourself. It’s morelike a digital version of Bertie Wooster’s ‘Credit/Debit’ column assessments of his own situation, often undertaken when in a prison cell - but, still, it’s actually not a bad exercise to go through when weighing up a couple of different options, not least as it forces you to think quite methodically about the potential costs and benefits of each. Try it with the decision about whether to stay in your current relationship! Who knows what you’ll learn about yourself!
  • Compliance Signs: We’re getting to the point now when you probably ought to start maybe thinking about what pointless tat you’re going to buy your nearest and dearest in an attempt to bridge the growing emotional divide between you; if you’re in possession of at least one friend or family member who’s notoriously difficult to buy for then, well, why not try something from this AMAZING site, which offers the opportunity to purchase any one of a staggering range of regulatory compliance signs! Want something that reads “CAUTION: FALLING OBJECTS” or “CARELESS DRIVING COSTS LIVES” to give to a baffled partner or relative in six weeks’ time? GREAT! Honestly, who wouldn’t want to receive one of these?
  • Alf.io: A ticket reservation system, but one that’s all open source - free, secure, and seemingly a great alternative to Ticketmaster et al, this is worth a look if you do events, etc.
  • Dekks: “Presentations, but not on Powerpoint (or Keynote)!” is something I am genuinely bored of reading about, mainly because none of the alternatives are ever any less bad than Powerpoint (which, frankly, is no mean achievement). Does anyone remember that period about 10 years ago in agencyland in which every time there was a vaguely interesting-sounding pitch for a halfway-cool client, some bright spark would inevitably say something like “Why don’t we do something really creative with this pitch, yeah, like making it in Prezi?!”, and then everyone with a working knowledge of exactly what a fcuking nightmare, sickmaking, car-crash of a horrorshow Prezi is would spend the next 10 minutes trying to walk back from the horrifying workprecipice that you suddenly all found yourselves on the edge of? Yeah, well, it was HORRID. Still, Dekks looks like it might be genuinely useful - collaborative, modular, easily-compatible with modern multimedia formats and embeds and the like...it’s not quite ready yet, but they’re taking signups for early access if you’re interested in the potential for a future with no more .ppt in it (please God).
  • Animals on the Playing Field: The photo series you didn’t know you needed but in fact very much do need indeed. O ROFF! O MAOW!
  • Blot: Another in the recent series of ‘extremely minimal website offerings developed seemingly as some sort of personal challenge’, this may well the the simplest way of setting up a website I’ve ever seen. Blot lets you create a site simply by adding files to a folder - text files become the copy, image files become the pictures, you can use simple markdown for formatting...it’s surprisingly flexible, and as a means of keeping a minimal web presence updated seems like a smart solution (if, probably, a bit more fiddly than is strictly necessary).
  • Spleeter: Ok, so this requires coding knowledge but if you have it could be the most fun thing you see all week. Spleeter is a tool published by Deezer (you know, the streaming site that isn’t Spotify) and which lets you isolate the individual elements from any track you feed it. Want to pull the drum line from Eye of the Tiger? Want the vocal from Wannabe? GREAT! It’s not perfect, and you won’t be able to make club-quality tracks from the output, but if you don’t mind slightly rough edges then you can have SO much fun using this. Will this lead to a resurgence of the mashup? I do hope so - back in 2001 I worked at the House of Commons whilst doing my MSc, and spent most of my time there using the uncommonly-good (at the time) internet connection to download every single mashup I could steal off the internet before going to a club in a basement on Rathbone Street where people like Freelance Hellraiser and Osymyso would play their latest cuts each week. It was called, I now recall, ‘Bastard’, which makes me inordinately happy; if you’re interested, I just found this account of the ‘scene’ (ha) which has given me a right nostagiafrisson.
  • Reflectacles: Shipping in April 2020, apparently, these are a new brand of glasses deisgned specifically to fcuk with facial recognition software; the various models they’re peddling will, they claim, block most forms of 3d facial mapping and 2d recognition tech. They’re not super-cheap - $150ish - but then again WHAT PRICE ANONYMITY?? Only joking - no such thing anymore!
  • Game Chronicles: The latest in the seemingly-endless procession of websites created by Japanese aviation company ANA and designed to, er, persuade everyone that Japan is COOL! I’ve featured a few on here before, and this latest one is as charming as ever - it’s a side-scrolling platform game which takes you through the history of videogame development, with coins giving you historical snippets about various games and consoles developed in Japan, and additional content in the form of interviews with game designers and the like. If you’re into your games history, this is rather lovely - the platforming’s gently diverting, and there’s something oddly-compelling about collecting all the factnuggets. Fun!
  • Five Secrets: I don’t want to tell you too much about this - read the description from the site, and then go and spend five minutes slowly fiddling with this ‘game’. It’s LOVELY: “A gentle afternoon ritual, summoning your grandmother who passed away some years ago. If you can figure out the four rules, you can see her one more time. Each object carries its own significance, both to you personally, and to the summoning ritual.” Even the slightly plinky soundtrack is delightful.

By Ana Minimoshvili

FINALLY IN THIS WEEK’S MIXES, AMBIENT & VAPOURWAVE MIXED BY DJ NOVA!

THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS IS SADLY OUT OF TOWN THIS WEEK!

THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!:

  • Marin Mushrroms: You want an Insta feed of beautiful mycological photography? YES YOU DO! Mushrooms are very cool.
  • Andrew J Rae: Andrew is an artist and illustrator with a lovely style of vaguely-cartoony illustration; I found this feed thanks to his recent series of photos in which he adds fantastical elements to images of people staring at their phones. So good; I reckon there’s a campaign in this if you fancy commissioning him.
  • Hunger 4 Words: This is sort-of amazing. Christina Hunger is a speech language pathologist who’s set her dog up with a soundboard - there are a bunch of buttons on there, each which when pressed says a word - Ms Hunger is attempting to get her dog to ‘talk’ to her using the buttons, much in the same way that scientists have done in the past with apes and (I think) corvids. It’s impossible to tell whether the (very cute) dog in these videos has any idea at all about what it’s ‘saying’, but let’s imagine that it knows exactly what it’s doing (in which case, the video in which it just keeps saying “LOOK! LOOK! LOOK!” is the most perfectly doglike chat EVER).
  • The Museum of Anything: A new Insta feed by the people behind the excellent ‘Things Magazine’, this will be a collection of interesting objects and accompanying words and, if it’s anything like their other output, will be pleasingly art-ish.
  • Red Dead Modders: Grand Theft Horse, aka Red Dead Redemption II, is out on PC now, and as with all PC games there’s a vibrant modding scene attached to it. This feed posts some of the best / most interesting examples of mods being developed, including a lovely line in skeletal steeds for your intrepid outlaw to command.
  • Johnson Tsang: Thanks to Rich for this one - Johnson Tsang makes genuinely unsettling sculptures of faces which may remind you of the cover to ‘Music for the Jilted Generation’ but, er, in clay.
  • Mregfx: Jaw-dropping motion graphics work. So, so impressive.
  • The Sh1tty Food Blog: Crap food photos come to Insta. You can guess the type of thing, I am sure, but very little will prepare you for that hotdog/gherkin abomination which is almost like an act of violence against the mind.

LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:

  • The Drone Wars Are Here: On the current state of conflict across the middle east, and how the theatre is increasingly being characterised by its status as the first, real-life, on-the-ground testbed for the new warfare, and what that means for both actors and acted upon. It’s not that the use of drones is new - after all, it’s almost 20 years that the US has been deploying them in one form or another - and more that now everyone has them, and this parity of resource has made some fundamental differences to the nature of combat and how both the fighting and the politics functions.
  • The Crisis in Physics: Any of you who read the Three Body Problem will feel a slight frisson of fear at this (briefly, the novel imagines a scenario where human scientific progress is artificially-halted by an alien race); I am no physicist, but even I was able to broadly understand the thrust of this argument, which, broadly, is that there is a problem in physics - and indeed in broader scientific progress - due to scientists having effectively cul-de-sac’ed themselves by exploring dead-end maths. “All these wrong predictions should have taught physicists that just because they can write down equations for something does not mean this math is a scientifically promising hypothesis. String theory, supersymmetry, multiverses. There’s math for it, alright. Pretty math, even. But that doesn’t mean this math describes reality.” Really interesting.
  • On Rawls: Anyone who’s had the misfortune to spend any time with me will have heard me wang on about John Rawls and the veil of ignorance; this essay, taking as its starting point a new biography of the man, outlines his theories for those of you unfamiliar with them, and examines how they might perhaps be reexamined nearly 40 years after they were published. What I’ve always found fasinating - and a little depressing, if I’m honest - is the lack of any sort of big-ticket blockbuster followup theorists to the big hitters of the mid-20thC. There were the multiculturalists of the 90s/early00s, fine, but I can’t think of any new thinking (when I say ‘new’ I mean ‘post-70s’ that has any of the power or resonance of Singer, Rawls et al. Can anyone point me at something that would change my mind about this? I’m sure this is my ignorance talking rather than the fact that noone’s thought anything worth bothering with for four decades.
  • The Cancelled Club: Thanks to Barack Obama we’re STILL talking about ‘cancel culture’ (Ok, boomer!). This article takes a slightly different slant, looking instead at some of those who’ve been most prominently ‘cancelled’ (in the US) and how they’ve ended up finding an odd sort of kinship with each other; I find the central question (or at least what I took from this to be the central question) of ‘is it a good idea for us to force all these people into a common club of opposition?’ quite an interesting one, but, even more, I want to be able to eavesdrop on what all these people say when they’re together.
  • Are Neighbourhood Watch Apps Making Us Safer?: Or, ‘the unintended and unexpected side-effects of all this surveillance tech being employed at a local level’; this is a really interesting look at how communities are changing as a result of their adoption of tech like Ring and Nextdoor, and how these services are having the (presumably unintended) consequence of highlighting and exacerbating underlying tensions and inequalities from postcode to postcode. This is all in the US, but given Amazon’s planning to roll out it’s Neighbourhood Watch-type functionality for Ring in the UK next year, it’s not unreasonable to see this as a potential taste of what’s to come. There’s something really interesting about the extent to which community character shifts when it’s taken online; although, I suppose, one might equally argue that anything that engenders any sense of community is a broadly-positive alternative to the atomisation of modern urban living over the past 20 years or so.
  • TikTok in Pakistan: Yes, I know, ANOTHER TikTok piece - and yes, I know, the first part of it goes over all the stuff you already know about how it works and what a phenomenon it is - but this one’s interesting precisely because it does such a good job of explaining the app’s broad appeal. The range of people using it in Pakistan, or at least the range described here, is wonderful - from rural villagers to wannabe film stars to the standard procession of memeing kids, there’s a wonderful sense of the freedom afforded to people by an app that needs literally nothing from you other than your ability to do something on camera. I know that the algo is very much the point of TikTok, but if I could set it up to show me only stuff that didn’t come from the West, for example, I would be far more interested in it.
  • What Is AppleTV+?: Or, “are you going to want to shell out another fat wedge every month to watch this stuff?”. This is a pretty good explainer of the business model and seeming strategy behind Apple’s new subscription service, and how it might affect the streaming landscape in the short-to-medium-term.
  • The Mainstream Media and Games: A good appraisal of the generally p1ss-poor state of videogames writing and criticism in the ‘mainstream’ media (God I hate that term), looking at what has been tried before, what worked and what didn’t, and looking at the major publishers’ latest efforts to try and turn games into something that even people who don’t play games might want to read about. Credit to them for calling out the Guardian, who back in the day when I did games PR were basically the only paper to actually bother taking the things semi-seriously. I do think that there’s a real opportunity to get some good, non-games writers onto this sort of stuff, writing about games in the way they do about anything else; alternatively, one of the broadsheets could just give Nate Crowley a weekly column and be done with it. Obviously ALL the editors of the nationals read this newsletterblogthing, so expect this dream to become reality in no time at all.
  • How To Make an Emoji: Or, more accurately, how to go about making one and then submitting it to Unicode for approval in the official pantheon of emoji. This made me think about what a significant degree of power this is - the ability to create a new, canonical form of human expression is pretty fcuking amazing. EVERY SINGLE CREATIVE TEAM READING THIS - make it your mission in 2020 to submit at least ONE emoji for consideration. It is far more impressive than a Cannes fcuking Lion.
  • Welcome to Asgardia: I always used to refer to asteroid-bothering ex-parliamentarian Lembit Opik as ‘elbow-faced sexpest Lembit Opik’, as a result of his being (in)famously handsy and having a very, very wonky face; I recently learned that his wonky face is the result of a very serious injury, though, and feel bad, so will from hereon in only be referring to him as ‘sexpest Lembit Opik’. Anyway, sexpest Lembit Opik is no longer cropping up in obscure indie music videos or fingering Cheeky Girls; instead, he’s heading up the nascent parliament of newly-imagined SPACE NATION Asgardia! That’s right, a SPACE NATION! It’s not currently in space, or indeed much of a nation, and there appear to be one or two problems with the model, both ethically and institutionally (want to join what appears to be a massive space impregnation programme, ladies? One imagined by a slightly odd-sounding Azerbaijani millionaire? No, I didn’t think you would tbh), but that doesn’t appear to be doing much to dent Lembit’s enthusiasm. This is wonderfully bonkers - credit to the man, if nothing else, for his indefatigable enthusiasm for weirdness.
  • The Story of Threatin: You may recall Jared Threatin from last year, when he became moderately notorious for having seemingly invented a career for himself as a rockstar - fake reviews, fake music videos, and a real world tour in which he’d bought all the tickets in advance to kid the venues that he was popular, but during which he played to crowds in single digits. WHO IS JARED THREATIN? This is a fascinating article, in which the author meets Threatin and tries to get to the bottom of the story - it’s uncertain whether he succeeds, but it’s a great read. Threatin is apparently hoping to return to play London this month - anyone fancy going? I mean this entirely seriously.
  • The Strange, Sad Story of Ken’s Crotch: I honestly had no idea that the strange, sexless lump sitting between Ken’s nicely-sculpted thighs had been the subject of quite so much wrangling and hand-wringing; nor indeed how oddly tied-up it was with the story of the original model for the Ken doll’s first incarnation. This is a great story about commerce, society, sexual politics and the difference a couple of milligrams of injection-moulded plastic can make; there’s a moment in it where it will be almost impossible for you not to imagine an anatomically correct Ken and, well, just lean into it.
  • NHL Dentists: If you’re squeamish about teeth and dentistry, I strongly advise against you clicking this link. No, seriously. There are words like ‘stubs’ and ‘nubbins’ and ‘enamel dust’ and ‘shards of bone’ and ‘exposed nerve endings’. The rest of you, though, ENJOY - it’s pretty viscerally horrible, but the writer’s obviously getting a kick from all the different ways they can find to describe someone with a mouth like a punctured tin can (a phrase once used to describe X Factor contestant Rik Waller; one of two reality TV contestant descriptions I will always remember, the other being a Big Brother contestant whose breasts were referred to as being ‘like two carrier bags full of orange juice’, which I WISH I had come up with myself).
  • The LRB: Technically a profile of Mary Kay Wilmers, the editor of the London Review of Books, but just as much a profile of the publication as the person behind it. I adore the LRB, even though I had to stop subscribing as it made me feel guilty (I read a LOT, but even by my standards that dose of highbrow every week was a bridge too far); this article does a wonderful job of explaining quite what makes it special, and does an equally good job (perhaps because it’s written by a US journalist) at pinpointing the very peculiar sort of upper-middle-class North London intellectual environment which it is so utterly redolent of.
  • Omurice: Thanks Alex for this piece, which is a sweet little love letter to the Japanese rice omelette, a comfort food staple and something that will be familiar to you if you’ve ever read Haruki Murakami. I love this sort of writing, all about the very specific pleasures associated with a single thing, and all the different memorypoints attached to it.
  • The Muse at her Easel: I didn’t look at the byline when I read this, but now that I look I see it’s Zadie Smith again which explains why it’s so excellent (HOW IS SHE THAT PROLIFIC AND SO GOOD, DAMN HER? I mean, I write a lot, fine, but it’s all crap). This is a review of Celia Paul’s memoir Self-Portrait, in which she discusses her career as an artist but also her relationship with Lucien Freud; Smith uses the review as a chance to examine the relationship between muse and artist, and the peculiar power dynamics that it engenders. What’s interesting to me about this is the gravity Freud exerts throughout; Smith is clear that her essay is about Paul, and Paul’s novel, and yet Freud can’t help dominate the account. Wonderful, wonderful writing about a genuinely fascinating subject (in all senses).
  • How To Play Games Sober: An unexpectedly wonderful piece of writing, about what it’s like to get sober and continue doing something that you always associated with being drunk. The ‘play games’ bit here really is immaterial; you could substitute ‘knit’ or ‘watch football’ and the piece would still work and the prose would still be excellent. Really, really good, and unexpectedly so given it was published on Kotaku.
  • Destroying the Ancient D1ck: This is Jenny Slate, absolutely one of my favourite writers at the moment, talking about the patriarchy and spicy food and the ancient laws inscribed by the Mespotamian king that characterised gender relations for millennia. This is angry and smart and very funny, and you will enjoy it a lot.
  • Bright Leaf: On why the author loves smoking so much. This is not only beautifully-written, but it’s so nice to read someone unashamedly talking about how much they enjoy something they shouldn’t, with no trace of guilt or real regret. The descriptions of time whilst smoking are almost perfect - that sense of a moment of separation or dislocation from the present, of self-indulgence and slightly-transgression. Glorious.
  • In The Dream House: Finally in the longreads this week, this is an extract from Carmen Maria Machado’s new novel, which explores the abusive relationship she had with her first female partner. It’s not, I promise, as bleak as that description sounds (although, fair enough, it’s not a barrel of laughs); the extract shifts between vignettes and genres swiftly and elegantly, and the writing throughout is just perfect. I am about to buy and absolutely inhale this book this weekend - you may feel the same after reading this.

By Maya Ben David

AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!

  1. This is an odd, slightly wonky, heartbreaking little song and video, about the death of the artist’s mother. It’s really not my sort of thing AT ALL, but I found it hugely affecting and the video had me slightly in pieces. It’s called ‘Janet’, by MT Hadley:

  1. Next, this is Thom Yorke with ‘Last I heard (…He Was Circling the Drain)’, and the video is not only a beautiful piece of animation but also the most November thing it is possible to imagine:

  1. Thanks to reader Gerard Raatgeep who sent this in, saying that these people deserve more views and he likes their ‘happy vibe’ songs. He is right! They do deserve more views! This is pleasingly woozy and a bit homespun, but it’s genuinely charming - the song’s called ‘Broken Things’, and it’s by That Kid Is You:

  1. Next, if you like cooking then you will LOVE this - basically like one of those Lurpak foodporn ads but with real cooking and more meat and viscera. This is BEAUTIFULLY shot and generally gorgeous - it’s called ‘Degustes’:

  1. Finally this week, this reminds me of an odd mix of early Jamie T and the Libertines, which may or may not appeal (but certainly places it in a very specific period in the mid-00s); this is by Badgirl$ and it’s called “Next Up II” and it’s sort-of terrible but also the best thing I heard all week and OH LOOK IT’S THAT TIME AGAIN AND I NEED TO GO AND PUT SOME CLOTHES ON AND HAVE A SHOWER AND SAY BYE! BYE! BYE! SEE YOU NEXT WEEK! BYE! I HOPE YOU HAVE A FABULOUS WEEKEND, OR IF YOU’RE ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE WHO SAVES CURIOS FOR MONDAY AS A BARRIER AGAINST THE WORKING WEEK THAT YOU HAD A GOOD WEEKEND AND THAT YOUR WEEK LOOKS OK AND BASICALLY WHAT I AM TRYING TO SAY IS THAT I WISH ONLY THE BEST FOR YOU AND I HOPE TO SEE YOU AGAIN NEXT WEEK BUT EVEN IF I DON’T I WON’T BE RESENTFUL OR ANYTHING TAKE CARE I LOVE YOU TAKE CARE I LOVE YOU BYE!:

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