49 minutes reading time (9780 words)

Web Curios 09/11/18

Web Curios 09/11/18

Well thank GOD that's all done with - the culture wars are over!

AHAHAHAHAHAHA NO THEY ARE NOT THEY WILL NEVER END! As we move into a new reality, one in which the ostensibly simple fact of a press conference can usher in a spittle flecked debate about the very nature of truth, it dawned on me this week that, more than anything else, it very much feels right now as though the whole world has a hangover. 

You know what I mean - those very particular hangovers where you're not in any imminent danger of being sick, but your eyeballs vefy much have that 'damp orbs rolled in sand and then replaced' feel about them, and the lights are blinding and angled too low and the grouting in your mouth is coming loose and the sounds have sharp edges and everything is just colossal and jagged and simply TOO MUCH. Those. It feels like the world has one of those. 

So. Ready yourself to receive your weekly panacea, your bromide, the words and links which will once again convinvce you that the bad stuff is only online where in fact online is the only safe place there is, and meatspace is where The Bad Things happen; take this, all of you, and eat it, for these are my words which I have given up for YOU - TAKE MY SOOTHING, SACRAMENTAL CURIOS INSIDE YOURSELVES AND LIVE FOREVER (you will still all die). This, as ever, is WEB CURIOS!

(oh, and by the way, Imperica is launching a Patreon to fund its magazines and other gubbins - don't worry, I won't see a penny of this, this is about the website as a whole and not me, so feel free to contribute with impunity. If you've ever thought 'gosh, wouldn't it be nice to support an art and culture endeavour online with a couple of quid a month then, well, LOOK HERE!)

lenz geerk

By Lenz Geerk

LET’S START THIS WEEK’S MIXES WITH SOME EXCELLENT DEEP CUTS AND RARITIES AND GENERAL ODD STUFF FROM SADEAGLE!

THE SECTION WHICH SUGGESTS IT SHOULDN’T HAVE COME AS A SURPRISE TO ANYONE THAT FACEBOOK’S POLITICAL AD TRANSPARENCY STUFF DOESN’T REALLY WORK:

  • Facebook Ads Now Support 1:1 Image Formats: It’s...a slow week in s*c**l m*d** news this week, so apologies in advance for leading with an even-more-underwhelming-than-usual story this time around. Still, from the point of view of being able to use the same image assets for your Insta and FB campaigns it’s...no, actually it’s still incredibly boring, isn’t it? Look, I promise it will get better, just bear with me ok?
  • Facebook Launches ‘Test Event’ Tool: Have YOU ever suffered the crippling embarrassment of having set up a Facebook Event (NB - this is an ‘event’ in the Analytics sense, as in ‘tracking people who you send to your website from Facebook via the Pixel’, rather than in the ‘hi we might have a party if enough of you say you will attend so please God don’t just do the usual thing and hit ‘maybe’ as a matter of course as then we’ll all be in some sort of horrible party limbo’) and setting it live and then realising that you’ve fcuked something up and OH GOD THE SHAME? No, of course you haven’t, because of course everyone reading this is far too important to do the frivolous executional stuff and instead spends their days huffing on the heady glue of STRATEGY; still, though, you might find this useful to alert the poor Junior Account Executives or your caged code monkeys to this, as it could prove useful and might mean that you don’t have to beat the soles of their feet with the brambles again this week.
  • Instagram Prototyping School Stories: On the one hand, Instagram is widely acknowledged as being a dreadful hotbed of bullying if you’re a kid, and Instagram’s attempting to address this through AI moderation and suggestions that maybe one ought to spend less time on one’s phone (see Curios passim); on the other hand, Instagram’s also attempting to get academic institutions on board with using Insta through a specific ‘Schools’ product. What do YOU think Facebook cares most about? HM. Anyway, Insta for Schools is a collaborative creation prototype, the idea being that schools could set up a Story which students could contribute to - security measures to prevent this becoming a total cesspit include only kids tagged as being students at a given school can contribute, and that all submissions would be moderated by a human eye to prevent the predictable series of videos mocking the unpopular kids which would otherwise result. Do you think this is going to be a good thing? Do you? Oh, and while we’re on Insta, it’s also recently launched Hindi language support. And it’s considering allowing Stories on the platform to have a deep-linkable URL for use off-platform. Now you know EVERYTHING!
  • Facebook Portal Privacy: Facebook Portal is finally shipping, and Facebook have as a result seen fit to offer this clarification about the exact nature of the data it will collect on users and how it will tie into the ads ecosystem. Except, well, this post is still pretty obfuscatory - whilst it acknowledges that users’ specific Portal usage will be logged and used to tailor ads shown to them on other platforms, it makes literally NO MENTION AT ALL of the fact that the Ts&Cs, when you dig into them, clearly suggest that it will also track information about who you contact, and how, and for how long, to build out the knowledge graph of your connections and to then use that information to build a bigger advertising profile. Given the fact that it’s this specific element of it that various people flagged immediately at the product’s launch, it seems a touch remiss of them imho. Anyway, if you want another way for Facebook to know stuff about you in exchange for, er, a cameraphone in your house then WOW is this the product for you.
  • Chrome To Block All Ads On Websites Running Crap Ads: Literally just that, and, as I always like to note, this won’t affect any of you fine folk.
  • Tencent Launching Own Version of Snap Specs: It does rather feel like Snap is the small child in the playground, whose lunch money keeps getting stolen by the bigger kids and who’s growing increasingly slim and wan-looking as the malnutrition takes hold. Still, it’ll be interesting to see whether this move from Tencent, and the subsequent promotion of the hardware across China, makes wearable camera glasses any less creepy/ridiculous and any more of a mainstream thing (I don’t think it will, but I have long proven myself to be a know-nothing bozo).
  • Data Reportal: Well THIS is useful. Bookmark this, send it your planner and data people, CELEBRATE ITS EXISTENCE. Data Reportal is a...er...portal which acts as a gateway to/repository of all the social media/digital use stats compiled by We Are Social, Hootsuite and Kepios; you know, the ones I occasionally link to in here with some sort of disparaging ‘copy and paste these numbers in order to help you make whatever point you’re trying to make’ line. Anyway, if you want to access numbers on, I don’t know, mobile phone usage in Guam then this is GOLDEN - honestly, so useful.
  • Instagram Stories Research Report: It’s a piece of PR puffery, fine, but it’s also potentially helpful; this is compiled by Buffer, who analysed a whole load of branded Insta stories to compile this report which purports to tell you what works and what doesn’t; whilst there’s quite a lot of wooly / obvious stuff here (people look at Stories outside of work hours! Post to hit them on their commute!), my friend Fritha pointed out that this sort of stuff is often really useful to persuade senior people that they might want to try experimenting with A New Type of Thing, and she is right. Anyway, if you want some proof points to suggest that your client or employer might want to jump on the Stories bandwagon, this probably contains said proof-points.
  • A Template App for Insta / Snap Stories: This one’s called ‘Unfold’, and it lets you make really pretty Stories really easily. iOS-only, as is...
  • ANOTHER Template App for Insta / Snap Stories: This one, which is called Mojo. Seemingly does exactly the same stuff as Unfold, but with a slightly different aesthetic - try both! Try neither! But don’t think too hard about the weird inherent contradiction between the original idea of Stories as a personal, ephemeral communication medium being slowly professionalised and homogenised to the point where everyone’s stuff is going to look the same! Oh, and if you thought ‘hey, you know what, there’s probably a market in apps which help people make less sh1t Stories!’ then you were right and you are now TOO LATE.
  • Mish Guru: This, though, is the SERIOUS Stories software - if you are a PROFESSIONAL CONTENT CREATION FACTORY and want a piece of desktop software which will allow you to Storyboard, schedule, edit, export, etc, whilst also offering you project management-type functionality to enable the collation of video from multiple sources, manage uploading and all the rest, then this is probably right up your street. It’s a paid thing, fine, but if you make a lot of this stuff and don’t really want to have to keep editing the bastard things on your phone then you might want to take a look.
  • Who Cares?: Another in Web Curios’ occasional series of ‘research reports which have been turned into shiny websites with varying degrees of success’, Who Cares? is a ‘brand empathy report’, whatever that means (it’s all in Portuguese so, er, I’m not 100% certain), but I’m more interested in the website design; on the one hand, it’s stylistically well-defined and has a really strong look and feel, but on the other it’s VERY busy and it’s quite hard to work out what it’s saying, and then you click on the ‘Results’ section and the floaty score map appears and it’s almost lovely but then you realise that you can’t quite read it well enough...I wanted to like this a lot more than I did, is the upshot, but it’s still better than anything I could make so, well, I’ll fcuk off and shut up.
  • Big Lavender: Finally in the boring section all about corporate wankery, have some frivolous light relief in the shape of the latest big budget digital webtoy by Old Spice; this time, to promote some new noseflavour of smellgel which apparently is perfumed with lavender (which apparently doesn’t have the same geriatric or queeny connotations in the US that it does here), they’ve created a first-person shooting gallery-type thing, where you have to shoot the lavender and avoid whatever other crap they tell you to avoid. Stupid, obviously, but really well-made; as ever with Old Spice, the production values are superb; it’s odd to think that this is the sort of thing which 20 years ago you would probably have to pay actual cashmoney for on the SNES. Anyway, SHOOT THE LAVENDER (but you might want to mute the slightly infuriatingly shouty sound).

ziyah gafik

By Ziyah Gaifk

NEXT, ENJOY THIS 25TH ANNIVERSARY BBC ESEENTIAL MIX BY PAUL OAKENFOLD!

THE SECTION WHICH WOULD REALLY LIKE SOMEONE TO GET THE WORLD A BEROCCA, PT.1:

  • Overexposed 1948: This is lovely and well-made and I LOVE the voice-over work. Overexposed 1948 is a site which tells the story of the B-29 Superfortress Overexposed, which, for those of you less familiar with aviation history than I am thanks to my cursory reading of the site, was a plane which was made famous for its work on the nuclear tests on Bikini Atoll in the mid-1940s. In 1948, the plane crashed in Derbyshire leaving no survivors; the site presents a series of 360 photos, which you can navigate through and explore, while all the while giving you the first person account of one Serviceman Alsopp, who was first on the scene of the crash. This is simple but SO effective; the voice over work really makes it, and is an excellent reminder that a lack of decent audio is often one of the (fine, many) reasons why 360 work falls down. If you’re wondering how it works and what to do, just listen and look and you will eventually see interactive points in the images - click them to move around and see the site from different perspectives. I really, really like this.
  • Byte: This isn’t launching til next year, but, well, it’s Vine 2.0! It’s going to be a new looping video app, and it’s made by one of the creators of Vine, and it was going to be called Vine2.0 back in the day but now it’s not, and, er, that’s literally all I know! Or all that anyone else knows! But! You can sign up and get alerts! This...isn’t that exciting! Sorry!
  • Politics and Design: Thanks to Dan for sending this my way; this is filterable database of every single candidate logo from the recent US midterms campaign. Students of design will find a lot to love in here, but even those such as me with no aesthetic sense whatsoever should find this fascinating. There are...a lot of candidates, and as such a lot of logos, and a lot of really underwhelming graphic design. What’s notable is the extent to which there’s an orthodoxy in terms of palette and font throughout this, so much so that anything that doesn’t vaguely conform to that general template automatically stands out as a little bit mental. Special shout out to Elijah Cummings who ran for Congress in Maryland and thought, for reasons known only to him and his campaign manager, that this would be a suitable font in which to render his surname. Still, he’s doing God’s work, so, well, MORE POWER TO YOU, ELIJAH.
  • Birthtube: The web, like the rest of the world, is a rich tapestry of interests, passions, wants and needs, and there are corners of it which, it may well surprise you to know, I have never been (or if I have, I have worn a disguise). The birthing web is one such corner - I’ve never had cause to investigate the world of birth videos and advice and doulas and waterbirths and all that jazz what with being utterly childless and what with the fact that, well, unless you have a very specific reason to watch videos of childbirth there would be something quite weird about watching videos of childbirth, I think. This week, though, all that changed when I stumbled across Birthtube - a site which, for all I know, might well be the go-to portal for anyone looking to get a bit more of a real-world look at the whole messy business, but which I had no idea existed. MY WORD the technicolour glory of the human reproductive experience!  The pinks, the purples, the yellows, the creams, the...the browns! I know all men say this - and if we don’t, we really should - but HOW DOES ANYONE DO THAT MORE THAN ONCE? Or even once, to be honest. This whole site is basically a front for birthing services, presumably in the US, but WHO CARES when you can enjoy the miracle of life happening right in front of you. I haven’t seen a birthing video since I was at school - going to Catholic state school in the 80s meant you got quite a lot of exposure to slightly...iffy things, like an actual video of very late-stage terminations which I don’t advise anyone ever seeing, and a full-on birth video featuring a woman with very 1970s pubic hair and, as I recall with pretty visceral horror, very full bowels. Does this sort of thing still happen in schools? I sort of feel it oughtn’t. Anyway, BIRTH! LIFE! MIRACULOUS!
  • For The Web: I love the web. Honestly, it’s obviously a sort of terrible thing for all of use, and in many respects my addiction to online life has rendered me even more of a stumbling inadequate when it comes to interpersonal interaction in meatspace (dirty, smelly, inefficient meatspace) than I would have been otherwise, but at the same time I honestly cannot imagine what I would do with my life were it not for the fact that I was lucky enough to be born (white, male, cis, able-bodied, middle-class, fine) into a generation where ‘I sort of mong around online and I’m a bit better at Google than you’ was enough of a jobdsecription / skillset to get you a job (let’s not call it a ‘career’, for God’s sake, that’s just a job that’s gone on far too long). Anyway, I presume that at least some of you feel the same as me and as such you might be interested in this project; it’s part of the Open Web Project and is seeking contributions and thoughts on how ace it is and how it’s changed your life for the better - “We’re asking web lovers like you to tell us about their web: the good and the bad, in many languages, and from as many people as possible. On the web’s 30th birthday next March, we’ll be releasing a film which tells a wider story about how central the web is to our daily lives and why that makes it worth fighting for.Tell us your story today to help us write ours. Post your video on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to tell us why you are #ForTheWeb.” DO IT!
  • More Imagined Famouses: 2018 has very much been the year in which the reality of our post-truth future has hit home and we’ve been forced to confront the fact that in all honesty we’re not going to be able to take anything we see on a screen at face value by 2020 (at the latest tbh). This video is the end result of this paper, all about training a GAN to invent faces out of nothing, having been trained on a massive corpus of famous people’s fizzogs. Just watch the video - it’s 30s long and jaw-dropping and you will be amazed that you recognise these people and yet don’t - and then go and read the paper which you won’t understand but which is worth a look because of the incredibly, almost comically, brief and cursory two-paragraph bit about ‘ethics’. HA! ETHICS! AHAHAHAHAHAHA!
  • No UFO: Have you ever wanted a website on which you can investigate the history of UFO sightings in New Zealand? Would you like it to be designed in startlingly current hipster minimalist fashion? WELL HERE YOU ARE THEN! Sadly lacking in photographic evidence (there’s a shock), there are some wonderfully batshit reports in here of ‘cigar-shaped objects’ (which may or may not be solar sails, as we now know) and the like, though fewer than fans of stereotype might like of sheep abductions. Still, the design work here is really nice and far cooler than it needs to be.
  • Notabilia: Another in the occasional series of ‘pleasing dataviz-type projects using Wikipedia data’ which I stumble across every now and again, this collects the longest discussions on Wikipedia which have led to article deletion, creating a beautiful visualisation of the ways in which discussions between editors branch and fork and lead to either a conclusion or a whole new branch of debate; the meat of this will, fine, be largely of interest to Wikipedians, but the viz stuff here is a really interesting way of presenting intellectual shifts and branching patterns of thought which might be useful in other areas or disciplines.
  • The Time Machine Atlas: This is a bit slow, but bear with it - this site lets you look at Venice as a map (so far, so less good than Google), but allows you to visualise the manner in which the city’s architecture and layout has changed over the centuries, running you through the years and showing the changing face of the lagoon and surrounding area. When Google invent time travel and we can look at this for the entire world, what a day it will be.
  • B-Laze: Do you like smoking weed? Of course you do, everyone likes smoking weed in 2018! Do you like it so much that you’d like to drop over £2k on a device to let you smoke it whilst looking like someone from the mid-90s? If so, GREAT - the B-Laze is a truly preposterous device, claiming to be the world’s first LASER BONG! Let’s take a moment to think about words that shouldn’t probably be concatenated for reasons of health and safety - ‘naked’ and ‘falconry’, for example, or ‘razorwire’ and ‘tightrope’, or ‘tabasco’ and ‘enema’ - and then let’s add ‘laser’ and ‘bong’ to that list. Baffling. Oh, and it’s internet-connected and can be controlled through an app. Just IMAGINE.
  • The AI Anchor: One of the classic unfunny gags that people make about people in media is about newsreaders - “I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU GET PAID TO READ!”, I imagine people (taxi drivers) saying to them all the time, “ANYONE CAN DO THAT!”. Sadly that’s now absolutely true, except it’s not just ‘anyone’, it’s ‘a synthesised digital avatar’ - showcased this week by Xinhua, this is a virtual newsreader who, using what they call ‘AI’ but which isn’t, let’s be clear, AI at all, will read whatever is typed for him to read, with a totally simulated voice and realistic mouth movements; I’m sketchy on the exact detail, but I wonder whether the presumed ‘AI’ element is to do with an eventual ability for software to automate the writing of the digipuppet’s script from AP alerts or somesuch. Anyway, Huw Edwards, Riz Lateef, YOUR DAYS ARE NUMBERED.
  • Public Interest Technology: This is serious and perhaps quite niche, but also the sort of thing that I imagine some of you might find useful; it’s a list of resources and thinking about the role of technology in civil society - to quote the site, ““public-interest technology refers to the study and application of technology expertise to advance the public interest/generate public beneits/promote the public good.” Campaigners, activists, anyone working in or around the intersection of government and tech, will all find it useful.
  • Game Changers: This is a LOVELY site by ESPN, taking a series of individual elements from basketball - dunks, three pointers, etc - and charting how different players throughout the history of the sport have evolved and redefined said element, taking the sport in different evolutionary directions. Featuring a lovely interface, nice animations, and some great clips demonstrating each player’s unique take on each element, this is a really cool piece of webwork which I would LOVE to see done for football - imagine how cool this would be to use for analysis of players, say, or specific moves like the trivela or rabona or somesuch. DO IT SOMEONE PLEASE.
  • The A-Z of the Designers Republic: In the late-90s, even if like me you could barely draw a circle let alone aspire to a career in graphic design, The Designers Republic was THE coolest graphic design shop in the world. OK, fine, it was also the ONLY graphic design shop you’d ever heard of and that was solely because of the fact that they designed the look and feel of Wipeout on the PS1 and as such you saw their logo every time you sat down at 6am to work through the comedown on a Sunday morning, but. Their influence on a certain type of aesthetic can’t be underestimated, though - that dense, hyperstylised look and feel, ‘borrowing’ so much from Japan and the far East and yet weirdly VERY English - and is still instantly recognisable even now at a distance of two decades. Anyway, this is a Kickstarter raising money for a full-on glossy retrospective book of their work, and I imagine if you work in advermarketingpr and are my age then this is probably the sort of thing you’ll be half-tempted to get. I guarantee that if you do you will end up doing coke off it at least once, BECAUSE THAT’S THE SORT OF PERSON YOU ARE.
  • Air Freshener Club: I honestly don’t understand this site AT ALL, but it is fcuking massive and contains, amongst other things, a series of patterns to knit crocheted air freshener covers so, well, here you go!
  • Popular Pups: My girlfriend complained that there were no cats in here last week which suggests that she doesn’t really get the vibe here. Still, by way of small compensation, have this Twitter feed of lovely dogs (sorry Saz, slow week for cats).
  • Cartoon Collections: Do you want a place where you can browse and purchase cartoons by some of the most famous and successful strip cartoonists in the US, originals from the New Yorker, Esquire and the like? OH GOOD. For the right sort of person there’s probably some excellent present potential in here.
  • The Film Reroll: Blah blah blah I don’t listen to podcasts blah blah blah. Anyway, I haven’t listened to this one either, but I heard the premise and fell slightly in love with the concept; the schtick is that each episode involves a classic film script being played out as a D&D-style roleplaying game, managed by a DM, with people playing through - effectively turning old films into slightly weird, geeky improv sessions. The description that REALLY sold me, though, was that of the latest episodes, in which the presenters roleplay Friday 13th - except the players think that they are in fact roleplaying an 80s frathouse comedy. SUCH a perfect idea, and so clever in terms of maintaining character for the horror movie - I could almost be tempted to listen to this (except, realistically, I probably won’t).
  • Specification Gaming Examples In AI: Another one of these occasional lists of ‘mad stuff that AI has done which follows the letter of its goal-led programming but in a way that is genuinely surprising or creepy’. Some of the stuff in here is amazing - witness the note on the AI being trained to play Road Runner as successfully as possible, which simply reads: “Agent kills itself at end of level one to avoid dying in level two” which is basically some sort of dark nihilist philosophical credo right there, or the genuinely chilling “In an artificial life simulation which required energy to survive but giving birth had an energy cost, one species evolved a sedentary lifestyle which consisted mostly of mating to have children which would then all be eaten (or used as mates to produce more edible children”. What was that we were saying about ‘ethics’?
  • Invaderz: A game of Space Invaders in which each wave of aliens is an evolution of the previous wave, based on those types of alien which survive the longest taking their genes forward. It’s a bit crap as a game, but the premise is really interesting - it would be fascinating to see whether this sort of tech could be applied over the course of a proper game, with enemy civilisations developing based on how you fcuk them up over the course of the game. MAKE IT!

lucan coutts

By Lucan Coutts

NEXT, HAVE A SPOTIFY PLAYLIST OF THE ORIGINAL VERSIONS OF FAMOUS COVER SONGS YOU MAY NOT KNOW WERE COVER SONGS!

THE SECTION WHICH WOULD REALLY LIKE SOMEONE TO GET THE WORLD A BEROCCA, PT.2:

  • Videogame Clocks: You know that ‘Clocks’ art installation that does the rounds every few years, turning up in a city and giving the inhabitants and tourists the opportunity to marvel at the artistic endeavour that led Christian Marklay to stitch together thousands of film clips into a seamless, second-by-second visual compilation? Yeah, well this is a Kickstarter for exactly that, but using clips from videogames instead. On the one hand, this doesn’t really need to exist; on the other, why not? The man behind it, Duncan Robson, acknowledges that it won’t really work as a clock, but, well, fcuk it, it’s ART. He only wants £1800-odd quid and there’s a month left, so this may well make it - GOOD LUCK, DUNCAN ROBSON!
  • 19C Japanese Firework Catalogues: I can’t really tell you a whole lot more about this, largely as the site’s all in Japanese, but if you’d like to browse a selection of scanned catalogues of fireworks manufacturers from old Japan then, well, fill your boots. There’s such a lovely aesthetic to all of these, and they are all available to download as (huge) PDFs in case you want to.
  • Women at the Midterms: In case you’re a pinko lefty liberal like me who needs to be reminded that there is a general move towards better representation for women and minorities in politics and public life and that in fact, by certain measures, stuff is getting better (honest guv, don’t cry) then this selection of photos of women winning seats in Congress for the first time will be a balm to your bruised soul. These are genuinely cheering after another bruising week in other people’s politics.
  • Demobaza: I am, I think I’ve alluded to here before, a total fashion refusenik, a shambolic excuse for an adult, a man so scared of buying clothes that I basically buy the same stuff in the same sizes off the internet each year and hope noone notices I basically only have three outfits. Occasionally I see stuff like this and I imagine what it would be like to be beautiful and confident and stylish - or, in the specific case of Demobaza, what it would be like to be the sort of person who can get away with dressing almost exactly like what I imagine a future version protagonist of the Assassin’s Creed videogame series would dress like. This is MENTAL fashion, sort of a bit Mad Max-y, a bit Assassin’s-y, a bit...er...shroud-y, and obviously anyone wearing it in real life would probably look like they were trying too hard, but, er, does anyone think I could carry this stuff off? Tell me honestly.
  • Bloqboard: Bored of all your cryptocurrency? Have you realised that your 400 Ethereum tokens are NEVER going to make you rich? No fear - now the blockchain has USURY! That’s right, thanks to Bloqboard you can now lend out your crypto at a terrifying vig, although why the everliving fcuk anyone would ever want to take out a loan in crypto - famously illiquid, and even more famously unstable - is absolutely beyond me. Still, CRYPTO!
  • Kitchen Butterfly: I’m a sucker for a well-written cookery blog, and this one came across my field of vision this week and I then lost about 20 minutes reading back through the archives. Kitchen Butterfly deals specifically with Nigerian food, so if you want recipes and essays about the culinary classics, food culture, and the like, this will see you right.  
  • Notable Changes in North Korea: North Korean photoessays have become somewhat passe in recent years, with access to the DPRK becoming slightly less difficult than it used to be; most typically focus on the weird, staged, empty nature of the cities as seen by tourists, but this collection instead focuses on depicting some of the more modern evolutions of North Korean society, and is as a result far more interesting than your typical ‘oh look at the Kim worshippers’ stuff. The KFC analogue in particular is interesting, as is the use of advertising hoardings to instead display inspirational sunset photography which - and this isn’t something I thought I’d say about Mr Jong-Un’s regime - is something we could do with copying here a bit, maybe.
  • Adios: Are you one of these people who simply CAN’T COPE with emails and distraction and stuff, and who are CRIPPLED with anxiety every time that new mail sound/indicator pops up on your desktop (PROTIP: TURN OFF THE ALERTS YOU MORON)? You might, then, find this useful - Adios is a Gmail plugin which lets you set specified times during the day at which your new emails will come through, in theory granting you some respite from people’s tyrannical demands for your attention.
  • Factcheck.me: An interesting project, launched last week, aiming to explore and examine manipulation of news and issues by third party actors. The initiative’s mission statement reads as follows: “Today, we’re launching launching Factcheck.me to empower those who check the facts. In the midst of a crisis, Factcheck.me can be deployed to start listening and give a birds eye view of the digital battlefield.As of today, Factcheck.me tracks bot activity, amplified images, and viral links.” Anyone can suggest a topic for them to track using their software and investigative techniques - it’s a US initiative and so their initial work has been focused there, but it’ll be interesting to see if this gains traction whether there’s demand for wider investigations. I do wonder whether they’ll reveal more about their methodologies as time goes on - regardless, if you’re interested in journalism and news and veracity and related issues (and, really, you probably ought to be a bit), then this is worth keeping an eye on.
  • Funkis: Funkis is a font designed in 2015 which has been updated as a customisable webfont here in 2018 - “The most exciting aspect of this new version is the possibility to customise its design according to common principles found in geometric sans serifs. Funkis A references strict geometric designs with pronounced circular forms and closed apertures. Funkis B has softer curves and open forms that end at approximately 45°. Funkis C harkens back to architectural designs with straight, horizontal transitions and finials. Each of the three basic variants can be outfitted with sharp corners. Furthermore, you have the choice between circular and square dots for punctuation and diacritics. A final option is the possibility to add ink traps for using Funkis in smaller sizes.” Look, YOU might not think this is exciting but I guarantee that somewhere there is at least one designer who’s rubbing their hands across their thighs in barely-contained erotic reverie at the thought of this - I do this for THEM, not YOU.
  • Learning To Dress: Another ‘wow, machine learning really is mad, isn’t it?’ moment - watch in this video as vageuly humanoid CG figures, equipped with arms and heads, ‘learn’ how to put on CG jumpers, just like real people. There’s something so hugely uncomfortable and uncanny-valley about watching these virtual entities develop skills; I think we’re probably about two or three years away from a version of The Sims in which all character development happens like this, with environmental learning - just IMAGINE how creepy and awful and brilliant that will be.
  • The CG Society: This is, apparently, a networking platform for CG artists - if you want a showcase of some truly incredible examples of computer-generated art and design, this is the place to look (not least as you can contact them if you sign up for membership, making it a decent place to commission work if you’re into that sort of thing).
  • Tweets Will Save Us: Silly/clever game which takes Tweets in realtime and places them into a simple browser version of Missile Command - you have to blast the tweets out of the air before they impact on the Earth’s surface and kill us all. The gimmick here is that different types of Tweets have different impact - Tweets from verified users cause more damage than Tweets from us normies, Tweets containing angry or violent language cause more damage than those without, etc. DO YOU SEE THE POINT IT’S TRYING TO MAKE?!? Not subtle, fine, but it’s fun for a few minutes and the point it makes is valid if not startlingly original or insightful.
  • Chinese Whiskers: O LOOK IT’S LOTS OF PHOTOS OF CATS AND DOGS TAKEN IN AND AROUND HONG KONG OH RUFF OH MAOW!
  • The New York Municipal Archives Gallery: Ahem. Let me defer to the site here: “Welcome to the New York City Municipal Archives Online Gallery of over 900,000 images. Selected from the world-class historical collections of the Archives, most of these unique photographs, maps, motion picture and audio recordings are being made accessible for the first time. Visitors are invited to explore and search the collections individually, or across all collections by keyword or any of the advanced search criteria. The gallery includes many complete collections; for others, only representative samples are currently on display. Visitors are encouraged to return frequently as new content will be added on a regular basis. Patrons may order reproductions in the form of prints or digital files; most images can be licensed for commercial use.” A wonderful resource to get lost in, especially if you have any familiarity with NYC.
  • Eve’s Robot Dreams: Last up in this week’s selection of miscellaneous weblinks is this Twitter feed, representing this quite incredible Indiegogo fundraiser. Let’s take a look at the copy: “Eve's Robot Dreams is the first consent-focused robot brothel in the world. Guests can visit in the futuristic cafe where they can get to know the world's first companion robots. After they have met, guests have the option to spend time with their favorite robot in a private room. Guests can begin building a relationship with their new companion by downloading the Realbotix app on their phone. When they visit Eve's they can either interact with the companion bot that they have already started to get to know, or with one who they haven't yet met. Founded by Unicole Unicron, a robot ethicist and writer for Realbotix's Real Doll X product Harmony, Eve's is a conscious endeavor. Eve's interior will be designed by artist Marina Fini as a healing space.” There is...SO MUCH TO LOVE (and despair at) in here; the idea of a robot brothel as ‘a healing space’, the idea that this can in any accurate way be described as ‘consensual’, or that ‘consent’ is a meaningful concept for an inanimate object, or indeed that there’s a whole subset of men who, apparently, will only want to fcuk a robot if there’s a possibility that that robot might, in another world, have made the choice not to fcuk them...MY MIND, IT BOGGLES! Anyway, the Twitter feed is about as SFW as you’d imagine, but I’d advise you at the very least to click the Indiegogo fundraising link and see the thumbnail image they’ve chosen for the promo video. It...it really screams consent, doesn’t it?

guodong zhao

By Guodong Zhao

FINALLY, WHY NOT GIVE THE NEW, ORCHESTRAL HANSON ALBUM A GO? YOU WILL BE PLEASANTLY SURPRISED!

THE (VERY EMPTY) CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!:

  • Somenerv: Digital art, illustration, and motion design by Nataniel E. Rodriguez-Vera. Nice work in here.

THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!:

  • Dennis Muragari: Muragari is a Kenyan artist, working in woodcut and depicting contemporary scenes with traditional techniques. He’s ace, and this is a genuinely cheering feed.
  • Tinyhat Skatelife: So apparently this is a ‘thing’ in skater culture - that is, the habit of wearing a tiny beanie perched on top of your head - and this Insta feed takes that and effectively uses it as a starting point to parody some of the more basic skating tropes. Basically a lot of skateboarding jokes, which you may or may not find funny depending on whether you in fact know anything about skateboarding.
  • Chris Henry: This feels a bit influencer-y, and I don’t normally feature stuff like this, but LOOK how well-curated Henry’s grid is here. It’s an aesthetic marvel, damn him; sit back and admire the consistency of colourpalette in play here.
  • Julian Baumgartner: An AWESOME feed, this, by Baumgartner Fine Art Restoration - apparently “the oldest and now second generation fine art conservation studio in Chicago, established in 1978.” A perfect use of the medium, this posts slow demonstrations of the restorer’s art, which are SO satisfying to watch that I might do nothing else for the rest of the day.
  • VICE Reports: This is interesting - a new feed from the VICE stable, which as far as I can tell is set up as a new reporting vertical purely on Insta, focused on getting young people’s opinions and thoughts on issues of the day. Launched just over a week ago, it’s light on content at the moment but it’ll be interesting to see if they keep it up and if they do anything interesting with the format.
  • Tattooed Face Squad: People with tattooed faces. Man, there are a LOT of people with tattooed faces.

LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:

  • Underrated Websites: An EXCELLENT and kilometric Reddit thread featuring people’s recommendations for the most underrated and yet essential websites out there. Aside from my genuine baffled hurt at the fact that NOONE saw fit to mention Imperica and Curios - IT’S LIKE NOONE READS THIS STUFF OR CARES, AT ALL! - this is a great resource of new, classic and weird stuff, some useful, some not, but definitely worth a browse if all these links aren’t ENOUGH for you, you INGRATES.
  • Fascism Is Not An Idea To Be Debated: It does feel rather that we ought to have come to the end of this debate by now - and yet, here we are. Still, if you want a reasonable, well-written and cogently argued antidote to ‘we must give these views exposure so we can vanquish them in the marketplace of ideas!’ rhetoric then this might serve you well; take a moment to think back at the past week, month, whatever, in global or local politics, and then read this: “It is frightening to think we could be entering the civil war mode, wherein none of the differences and disagreements can be hashed out in discussion. It is quite possible that there is no resolution to the present situation until one side is thoroughly destroyed as an ideological power and political entity. If that is the case, the inescapable struggle requires that anti-fascist forces clearly identify the enemy and commit to defeating them, whoever they are, whatever it takes.”
  • Orban and Press Freedom: Another piece pointing out what a genuinely terrifying regime Hungary is currently labouring under - you don’t think we’re seeing a very real resurgence in actual, proper fascism? Honestly? Take a close look at this, and at Salvini, and then have a close read of this article and read the lines that talk about how it’s not that journalists are afraid they’re going to be shot, just that they are going to lose their jobs, and then look at the way Trump tries to treat the press, and join the dots a bit. Crikey.
  • How We Got To Yemen: Seeing as we’re at the top end of the longreads, where I tend to concentrate on the serious and real-life stuff, it’s worth also linking to this superb overview of how the Yemeni conflict arrived at the point we’re currently at; it’s...not a cheering read, obviously, and it’s very long, but as an explainer as to the nature of the proxy conflict it’s a comprehensive one. In common with much else this week, it doesn’t feel like this is going to stop anytime soon.
  • The Right on LinkedIn: To be honest I don’t really believe this - it feels like a bit of a reach - but I despise LinkedIn with a passion and as such the idea of its self-publicising GaryVee fans being overrun by Trumpian rhetoric makes me very happy indeed. Apparently - according to this piece, at least - Trump supporters are struggling to find traction on Facebook and as such are turning to LinkedIn to share their MAGA memes and their pro-Donald guff, thereby discomfiting all those who are only there to CRUSH IT and SUCCEED and stuff. I might start experimenting with some Ickeian conspiracy theory stuff on there to supplement my ceaseless self-promotion; I’ll let you know how I get on.
  • How Hiphop Learned to Pose: Not so much of an essay as a photoessay, this is nonetheless a lovely exploration of photography in hiphop, presenting contact sheets from some iconic (sorry) photoshoots from artists past - from the full series of shots from which the infamous ‘Biggie wearing a crown’ cover was taken, to the various version of the Stankonia cover that OutKast took, these are wonderful.
  • New Apple Maps: I’ve featured a previous entry in this essay series before, but this is a new, in-depth look at the differences between Apple and Google’s mapping technology, based on analysis of the latest edition of Apple Maps which was recently released. Whilst on the one hand I can imagine that the thought of reading a few thousand words about different mapping methodologies doesn’t appeal all that much, on the other this is a genuinely interesting series of explanations about how the two companies are both doing the mapping and then using AI to turn it into digitally viable product, and contains some smart observations based on this on who’s likely to win the mapping race.
  • The Decivilising Process: This is SUCH a wonderfully English, snobbish, curmudgeonly piece of writing, by Adrian Wooldridge who writes Bagehot in the FT and who, in this column for 1843 Magazine, laments the decline of civilised society. It’s obviously massively tongue-in-cheek, except that it isn’t, at all; this is pretty representative of the tone, so if you can’t laugh at/with it then I suggest you skip this one: “I recently had the misfortune to sit next to a quivering man-mountain on a train who proceeded to slurp a Coke, demolish a Big Mac, munch fries and spill ketchup onto his beard while giggling at a film on his super-sized iPad. His only concession to the fact that he wasn’t in his own sitting room was to wear headphones.” BRING BACK THE CANE!!
  • The Rise of Voice Texting: About three years ago I featured a Motherboard piece in here about the popularity of WhatsApp voice messages as an alternative to texting in Brazil (this one, in fact! Except it was Argentina, dammit); this piece looks at the rising global popularity of ‘voice texting’ something which, let’s be clear, if anyone ever tries to do to me results in them getting a 24 communications block because WHAT SORT OF PERVERT DOES THAT?! Unless there’s a very specific reason that requires you to speak to me, there is no way in hell I want to have to listen to a meandering recording of you um-ing and ah-ing your way towards NOTHING WORTH COMMUNICATING WHATSOEVER. I’m right about this, aren’t I? I know I am.
  • The Tech Gap of Internet-Connected Schooling: This is obvious when you come to think of it - I just hadn’t thought of it. This article looks at the growing problem of the tech divide along class/poverty lines resulting from the increased reliance on digital technology for homework - when you’re expecting kids to have internet and computer access to complete homework, you’re making automatic assumptions about access to these services which vary massively across economic lines, and even though everyone has a phone with reasonable internet access these days, not everyone has limitless data and not everyone has access to a keyboard-enabled device to write on...I’m slightly ashamed that I hadn’t thought of any of this before.
  • Can You Curate A Town: God, this is SO New York Times - a profile of the people who are taking it upon themselves to ‘curate’ the regeneration of a dying town in upstate New York. Artists, the idle rich, cultural influencers, all banding together to inject money and a defined aesthetic to an otherwise unremarkable and faded small suburban community, much to the bemusement of the local residents. It’s so PERFECTLY rich Manhattan, this - the slightly patronising ‘but we’re helping!’ wide-eyed incomprehension at criticism, the tone-deaf lack of understanding of the invasory nature of their actions, the fact that you just know that this is going to become a rich person’s THING in coming years...Amazing.
  • Where Do Sex Bots Go When We Die?: I feel reasonably safe in my assumption that most of you won’t have given too much thought about what might happen to someone’s sexy robotic companion when the type-2 diabetes finally overcomes them. Well, it depends, is the answer - this (actually very sensitive and fairly-written) article interviews various sex doll owners about their plans for care of their significant other after they’re gone; I started reading this doing the usual sniggering-behind-the-hand that tends to come with this sort of article but, honestly, it’s surprisingly affecting (but obviously still very, very odd).
  • You Are A Goddamn Adult: YES TO THIS PIECE. A scathing review of internet sensation Jonny Sun’s latest ‘book’, written in collaboration with Lin Manuel Miranda, which is nothing more than a collection of twee life affirmations repurposed from Sun’s Twitter feed and which, as the article points out, continues the seemingly neverending and exceeedingly patronising trend of famous, rich and successful people telling us ordinary peons how important it is to PRACTICE SELF-CARE and MINDFULNESS and TO LIVE IN THE MOMENT and FCUK OFF YOU FCUKING CNUTS LEAVE ME ALONE AND STOP PRESUMING THAT JUST BECAUSE YOU HAVE ATTAINED A DEGREE OF WEALTH AND INFLUENCE IN ONE SPECIFIC AREA OF YOUR LIFE THAT YOU THEREFORE HAVE INFINITE WISDOM TO IMPART TO THE REST OF US. This, basically: “It’s difficult for me not to identify a heaping dose of cynical smarminess in media that infantilizes the reader to this extent, particularly when it adopts the same cloying tone that Zoloft commercials and millennial-targeted ads have been using for years. Increasing openness about mental-health struggles in media and entertainment has had the unfortunate side effect of creating an opening for marketers to superficially “raise awareness” about depression on branded fast food Twitter accounts while maintaining plausible deniability that their sole intent isn’t to manipulate and exploit. Miranda and Sun’s foray into self-help stretches this plausible deniability to its absolute limit; when a book’s lesser-known co-author’s biography includes the phrase “currently a doctoral candidate at MIT, an affiliate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, and a creative researcher at the Harvard metaLAB,” and they are trying to sell you eight-word tweets and shaky line drawings of children tying their shoes, how can you not feel pandered to?”
  • The Skimm: An interesting profile of violently successful daily news digest email newsletter lifestyle brand thing The Skimm, which if you’re an under-30s woman you are probably already a fan of already. If you’re not aware, The Skimm is a daily digest email presenting the things you NEED to know that day to present the normal, functioning adult’s facade you’d like people to think came naturally to you, all packaged in hyper-millennial language and with a healthy dose of brand/lifestyle selling woven in to boot. It’s a VERY smart operation, and I can’t begrudge its creators their success, but there is a line in this piece about it being aimed at a generation who treat their lives as an exercise in successful project management which ran very true and depressed me no end.
  • Death of a Bookman: This is a fabulous portrait of a London that no longer exists, a publishing industry that no longer exists, an arts landscape that no longer exists...Philip Dosse was the owner and publisher of dozens of art industry magazines, from Books & Bookmen to Plays and Players, and a true eccentric, and this is a beautifully-written memory piece about him and his life and London publishing in the 60s, 70s and 80s, and how it all fell apart. Beautiful and elegiac and sad and weird, this is a perfect piece of history.
  • James Mclean and the Poppy: A profile of Northern Irish footballer James Mclean and his refusal to wear a poppy on his kit for personal, religious, political reasons, and how that has led to him being the most vilified man in the Eglish game for a few weeks each year. Every year around Remembrance Sunday, and increasingly as we get further away from the great wars of the 20th Century, I become convinced that we have a deeply unhealthy relationship with the conflicts we’ve been involved with; this piece does nothing to disabuse me of that notion. Seriously, imagine reading this as an outsider and thinking anything other than ‘this is MAD’.
  • One Month In The LA Betterness Cult: A brilliant piece on the oddity of the LA wellness scene, in which the author finds himself being initiated into a rebranded health cult from the 1970s and meets some genuinely mad people. Last time I saw my friend Adam I asked him in passing whether he’d seen any weird, dark stuff up in the Hollywood hills and he said in somewhat blase fashion that he’d been at this party once where people kept on popping to the basement and NEVER COMING BACK and there was a definite The Informers-style vibe about the anecdote is all I’m saying. This is funny but also very, very odd.
  • Joel on Red Dead Redemption 2: Do you want to know what I have been experiencing in my journey into the life and world of the virtual cowboy? Joel explains it better than I ever could - if you don’t understand how or why videogames exert this pull on people, this is one of the better explanations.
  • On The Edge of 17: An essay in which the female author remembers her teenage tearaway boyfriend, and all the things she didn’t tell herself, or let herself know, about him. Superb writing about being young and stupid and in love and how sometimes you only realise things about the person you were and the things you were doing with a distance of decades.
  • Psychopaths and the Rest of Us: You have, I am sure, read The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson - imagine if that book had had a better editor and a sensible word cap and you’ll have an idea about this article, describing the author’s encounters with psychopaths online, in a specific psycho chatroom (I am genuinely devastated that he doesn’t reveal the url at any point), and then subsequently on prison visits. Per everything ever written about psychopaths, expect to interrogate yourself quite hard after this one.
  • My Posessions: Lee Randall, friend of Curios, and I were discussing last week’s piece all about the Museum of Human Memory on Twitter the other day, and she mentioned that she’d written this for Aeon about possessions and identity and memory, and I love it and you should all read it to. A gorgeous piece of writing about the extent to which stuff defines us, and, by contrast, about how without stuff we can occasionally appear somewhat inchoate, to others and to a degree to ourselves.
  • I’m Black So You Don’t Have To Be: On blackness, and code-switching, and the differences in the concept of blackness and black identity across generations in the UK. I am, obviously, not black, so can’t speak to the the veracity or otherwise of the experiences here outlined, but it’s a superbly-written essay by Colin Grant.
  • The Crisis of Intimacy: Superb, on the web and who we are and how we relate to each other: “The crisis of intimacy is not some accident, some coincidence with the rise of smartphones and social media. It is so hard to see the specific outlines of the relation, and not just because of the standard difficulties of establishing the true meaning of statistics. Who can see their own distortion clearly? Amara’s Law, which states that we tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run, is true of human fate in general. In history, as in our intimate lives, the decisions we don’t consider are the ones with the most profound consequences. A mother’s off-handed remark. A party attended at the last minute. These shape us in ways paralyzing to contemplate. Kranzberg’s Law — “Technology is neither good nor bad, neither is it neutral” — has the good sense to acknowledge the inevitability of misunderstanding. It’s why time is the ultimate twist ending. It’s why the consequences of technology are never what anyone thinks they are.”
  • Waugh: Finally this week, a long short story by Bryan Washington, about a group of male prostitutes living and working together in New York. This is so good, and a perfect way to spend 30 minutes this afternoon with a cup of tea. Go on, you deserve it.

maisie cousins

By Maisie Cousins

AND FINALLY, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:

  1. Let’s start with something old but which I have only just found. Long-term readers may recall my slight obsession with some VERY old-school internet content in the form of a series of stories about one man’s obsession with the idea of Roy Orbison being wrapped in clingfilm. There is now a short film on the same subject. WATCH IT:

 

2) Next, have a 90-minute film of the Earth, shot from orbit, in realtime. Put this on a big screen, get the laser bong out and, y’know, EXPAND YOUR MIND:

 

3) Next, this is the most incredible Rube Goldberg machine I have ever seen. No hyperbole, this is INSANE - watch and marvel:

 

4) Hiphop corner! Atmosphere’s album ‘When Life Gives You Lemons, Paint That Sh1t Gold’ is still one of my favourites of the 00s, as well as being one of my top 10 titles; this is his latest single - bit of a slow burn, but give it a minute or so and you’ll get the vibe I think. I am very much a fan of this man’s style - this is called ‘Graffiti’:

 

5) UK GRIME CORNER! MORE MANGA! This is a whole 37 minutes of him all over the RinseFM grime show and he is, as ever, superb:

 

6) Last up this week, a hymn and an exhortation and an excellent lesbian pop love song - this is by King Princess and it’s called ‘Pussy is God’ and BYE BYE BYE HAVE A LOVELY WEEKEND AND I WILL BE BACK NEXT WEEK AND IN THE MEANTIME YOU TAKE CARE AND WRAP UP WARM AS IT’S STARTING TO GET COLD OUT AND MAYBE YOU COULD SPEND THIS WEEKEND MAKING A BIG VAT OF NOURISHING STEW AND PERHAPS STARTING TO MAP OUT YOUR CHRISTMAS SHOPPING OR WHATEVER IT IS THAT WILL MAKE YOU HAPPIEST HERE IN EARLY NOVEMBER, BECAUSE THE MAIN THING IS THAT YOU FEEL OK AND RELAXED, OK? OK! I LOVE YOU! BYE!:

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Motion design in digital experiences of the future
Fascism is not an idea to be debated, it's a set o...

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