I went to the seaside last weekend. It was LOVELY, apart from the racist graffiti (residents of Broadstairs - you're right, it is OK to be white, and literally NOONE is attempting to tell you otherwise! I promise! Also, looking around, I'm not 100% convinced that it's you who need to worry about being unwelcome) and the seemingly endless seas of undulating pinked flesh peeking between poorly-inked expanses of stretched tattoo. Oh England, how you sparkle in the sunshine! We're...we're a really ugly people, aren't we?
Anyway, said long weekend meant that, I tell you, it was a STRUGGLE to drag together enough quality content for this week's newsletter; fortunately though, the web has once again provided, meaning I get to present you with a metaphorical tray laden with equally metaphorical digital delicacies - look at my happy, hopeful countenance as I hold up my findings for you to peruse and appreciate! You couldn't not read Web Curios, could you? It would be like kicking a spaniel in the face - you're not that sort of person. I know you're not. So, come on, get stuck in, there's 8,000 words and several hundred links to get through, and one of us wants to get to the pub sooner rather than later. INGEST MY LINKSOUP! TAKE ME INSIDE YOU! THIS IS WEB CURIOS!
[Oh, and in a slight departure from the norm - sorry - I am also going to take this opportunity to plug the forthcoming London International Festival of Theatre (LIFT), which starts in a few weeks' time and with which I am involved to a tiny degree. The lineup is honestly amazing, takes place at venues across the city, and features performers and playwrites from all over the world, performing pieces that have never been shown in London - do take a look. If nothing else, you really ought to check out the thing with the pigeons, which will be MENTAL]
By Robin De Puy
LET’S KICK THINGS OFF WITH ANOTHER LOVELY EPISODE OF ‘INTERNATIONAL AIRSPACE’, THE ECLECTIC AND WONDERFUL LONDON FIELDS RADIO SHOW!
THE SECTION WHICH VERY MUCH ENJOYED THE GOOGLE PEOPLE’S ABILITY TO KEEP A STRAIGHT FACE WHILST BASICALLY SAYING “ALL THIS TECH WE’VE BEEN PEDDLING’S A BIT ISOLATING, ISN’T IT? HERE’S SOME MORE TECH WE’VE INVENTED TO SOLVE THIS; OH AND BY THE WAY BY USING IT YOU’LL BE POWERING THE FUTURE AI SUPERBRAIN WHICH WILL ONE DAY TAKE OVER THE WORLD, BUT DON’T WORRY ABOUT THAT NOW”:
- A List Of All The Google Announcements: Well, at least the day one announcements; they are ALL HERE. It’s mostly AI stuff, in the main, and not that much of relevance to advermarketingpr drones at this stage; you’ll have seen and heard the spectacular Duplex (and if you haven’t listened to the demo you really ought to; it’s spectacular and incredibly creepy), but there’s also an update to Maps which introduces a whole load of new features to direct you to exactly the same places as everyone else (the future market for intensely-curated off-grid experiences is going to boom - one of the perks of being very rich in the next 50 years is going to be not having to rub shoulders with the algorithmically-led underclasses, like now but even moreso), and a bunch of AI photoretouching stuff. My FAVOURITE bit, though, is the fabulously disingenuous Google Wellbeing project - a raft of updates to Android OS and YT and other bits and bobs, all designed to stop us wasting so much of our PRECIOUS LIVES as a result of technology...through the use of more technology! Leaving aside that small point, or indeed the irony of a company whose billions and business model are built on people spending as much time as possible online telling people to, er, spend less time online, the very SMARTEST bit of all this is that Google’s new tools to help you stare at your phone less are ALSO, coincidentally, tools which help it keep its massive AI projects developing at superspeed and superscale. As our search data and browsing habits become less financially important than what we can do to train neural nets and hasten the development of AI-led product suites, so Google gently, almost imperceptibly, begins to nudge us in the direction of just that, as though we were just some sort of 7billion-strong horde of bovine plodders, waiting to be manipulated into action by profit-motivated supercorporations (as IF!). You sort of have to admire them, really. Sort of.
- Google’s Doing Ad Transparency Too!: These are ALL THE RAGE (and, er, not currently doing anything worthwhile, if the current Irish furore is anything to go by), and this is Google’s stab at protecting THE INTEGRITY OF DEMOCRACY - to whit: “We’ll now require additional verification for anyone who wants to purchase an election ad on Google in the U.S. and require that advertisers confirm they are a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, as required by law. That means advertisers will have to provide a government-issued ID and other key information. To help people better understand who is paying for an election ad, we’re also requiring that ads incorporate a clear disclosure of who is paying for it...This summer, we’ll also release a new Transparency Report specifically focused on election ads. This Report will describe who is buying election-related ads on our platforms and how much money is being spent. We’re also building a searchable library for election ads, where anyone can find election ads purchased on Google and who paid for them.”
- Useful New Tools For Facebook Lives: If you’re a large-scale publisher - say, the BBC or similar - the inability to cross-post Lives to multiple owned Pages simultaneously has long been a right pain. NO LONGER! There’s some other stuff in here too but it’s too technical for me to care about and so, as if by magic, I don’t!
- Facebook Launching Its Own Bitmoji Clone: I never really understood the appeal of Bitmoji as I am a funless husk of a man, but recently my friend Luke discovered them and now occasionally communicates via images of him dressed as a very gay unicorn and I’m slightly converted as a result. Anyway, Facebook is launching its own version at some point in the future and there’s probably going to be the opportunity to give them branded clothes or something, because OF COURSE THERE FCUKING IS.
- Facebook Launches Political Ad Authorisation Process: This is a necessary step in the right direction; if I understand it correctly, any organisation wanting to advertise on national-level trigger issues (abortion, gun control, the environment, etc) will be required to undergo some degree of registration / approval from Facebook before being able to do so. Imperfect, fine, but if this leads to a situation which makes it easier to discover who’s behind which adverts - not just the Page name, but an actual, named individual or organisation - then it is A Good Thing.
- Facebook Is Doing Something Blockchain-y: Hang on, maybe this means it’s not all utter rubbish peddled by chancers to the credulous! Although there’s no actual detail on exactly what they’ll be doing, so perhaps don’t ICO yourself just yet. Although speaking of ICOs, I would p1ss myself were Marty to suddenly pivot to blockchain.
- Better Messaging For Businesses on Instagram: “Starting today, businesses will have a better way to manage their messages. Now you'll see important new customer messages in your main Direct inbox, instead of in the pending folder. You can also star and filter your conversations to come back to messages you want to follow up on. Additionally, in the coming weeks we'll begin testing quick replies so that you can easily respond to common questions.” Good, isn’t it? ISN’T IT??? Ingrates.
- You Will Apparently Soon Be Able To Add Music To Insta Stories: This will only make them worse, I can confidently predict.
- Insta Stories Adds Emoji Slider Poll: Whilst this sort of boils my p1ss rather - I mean, emojis and a simple engagement-bait mechanic? Be still my throbbing spleen! - I reckon this is going to be HUGELY popular and overused by brands to the point of complete oversaturation within a matter of weeks; it’s a content unit for stories that let’s anyone insert a sliding scale poll, with SUPER HAPPY and SUPER NOT HAPPY emoji at either end, to let your braindead content-tappers inform you as to whether they feel (IDIOT’S FAVOURITE) CRYING WITH LAUGHTER or only SCEPTICAL HAND ON CHIN about, I don’t know, your latest abortion of a fast food meal deal or Kylie Jenner’s perineum or somesuch. DRIVE ENGAGEMENT BUILD LOYALTY DESTROY OUR ABILITY TO DO ANYTHING OTHER THAN TAP AND SWIPE LIKE THE PASSIVE, IDIOT MEDIA JUNKIES WE ALL ALREADY ARE!
- A Massive List Of Useful Digital PR Tools: Worth a look and possibly a bookmark, this - a whole bunch of online tools and services, from planning to monitoring to analysis to editing...some are free and some are not (I would complain about this not being clear, but to complain about anything here seems cnutily churlish in the extreme in the face of the fact that someone bothered to compile this at all, so I shan’t), but it’s a really useful resource and memory-jogger; there were several really useful things on here that I had totally forgotten about.
- Nike React Runners: I look at this, and I see an advermarketingpr industry that has reached the very end when it comes to superficially interactive product websites. Seriously, take this - you click through, you choose from a few variables describing what Nike React trainers feel like (on which point, if I know what they feel like, these brand new shiny trainers, wouldn’t that imply that I already own some and might not be in the market for some more?), like maybe feathers or, er, basketballs; you then choose a running style that most closely matches yours; you then pick a colourway… And THEN, you lucky, lucky Nike fan, you get presented with...er...a slightly odd, jauntily-running avatar comprised of those elements you initially said the shoes felt like, running in the style you picked, in your colours of choice. You can name it! You can share it! WHY WOULD I BOTHER! It’s neither cool enough nor fun enough to bother with, and feels very much like an agency recycling an old idea for the bucketload of Nike cash being dangled at them to increase engagement with the brand or whatever. I mean, if you want to create a spastically-running...thing...made out of feathers and basketballs and call it ‘MONGO’ then this might be the missing piece in the otherwise-complete jigsaw of your happiness, but in that case I’d perhaps suggest you might have other issues that need looking at.
- The Searchable GDPR Text: If you’re the sort of company likely to have BIG GDPR ISSUES and you’re only just getting round to thinking about it now then, well, AHAHAHAHAHAHA YOU POOR BASTARDS. Nonetheless, this is the text of the legislation, made all friendly and searchable and designed to let you easily search it for the bits that might apply to you; might be useful as you scramble to make sure that your professional and (I hope) hugely metaphorical arse is covered from all conceivable angles.
- When The Internet Is Down: You may remember back in February I featured a magazine based on the same idea as this site, which was only viewable / readable when the device on which you were trying to access it was offline; you may also recall I suggested that KitKat rip it off any pay me (or, more fairly, Chris Bolin who’s the brains behind it) some royalties. They didn’t, but French agency BETC (whose work I’ve featured before this year, I think) did, in service of a French broadband provider Bouyges Telecom; it’s really nicely done, damn them, and a really nice plug for their client’s internet offering. Kudos to them, though less kudos for not crediting what was very clearly the original inspiration.
By Meo Xian Qui
THE SECTION WHICH JUST DREW ALBANIA IN AN OFFICE EUROVISION SWEEPSTAKE BUT DOESN’T KNOW ENOUGH ABOUT THE SONGS TO DETERMINE WHETHER THAT’S TWO QUID WASTED, PT.1:
- Google Tour Creator: Another one in the seemingly endless series of WEBTOOLS IN THE MODERN WORLD which you will initially look at and think “oh, how cool!” and then, if you’re anything like me, then go on to remember all the various other companies that used to offer services like this and which will now go out of business because of Google. Although then you’ll probably remember that they were all a bit crap, and that this isn’t really enough to build an entire business on, and in fact maybe it’s all just BUSINESS DARWINISM and you ought to get on with describing exactly what it is that this thing does before you lose everyone just a few lines in STOP IT MATT. Ahem. Google Tour Creator is a neat GoogleToy which lets you create lightly interactive (effectively annotated) 360 panoramic views of anywhere you like, which will exist on their own URL and can be embedded wherever you like online. There are some VERY tedious examples on the site, but you could theoretically do some quite nice stuff here (and, if not, you can undertake minor acts of corporate terrorism by hiding rude annotations in parts of the photo you don’t think anyone will look. DO IT!
- The Ononeon: A website presenting headlines from the real world in the style of The Onion - all the news that, when read cold, sounds too preposterous to be true - but in fact is! Today’s “this would be funny were it not such a giddy combination of terrifying and depressing” smorgasbord includes gems such as “Republican who claims Holocaust was orchestrated by Gay Nazis wins enough support for Massachusetts Governor primary.” (TRUE STORY!) and “World of Warcraft Currency Is Now Worth 7 Times as Much as Venezuela's Cash” (ALSO TRUE STORY!); is this website amusing? I don’t know, I’ll let you know when I stop gawping in horrified wonder at quite how odd everything is.
- The Emoji Scavenger Hunt: Another Google toy! Open this on your phone and MARVEL as it fires up a game which presents you with a series of emoji and then asks you to find stuff with your phone’s camera which represents said emoji - when I tried it it asked me for computer monitors, mugs, that sort of thing, but I rather hope it occasionally throws in curveballs like aubergines and horses. Don’t, as ever with these things, think too hard about the reason this exists, which yet again is to train the Google AI Brain to better recognise stuff so as to better be able to rule the world in the future. Let’s be clear - this is a front for a very, very menial image recognition task that you’d pay
- Art For Global Goals: This REALLY annoyed me, so I’m going to briefly share that annoyance with you. “After years of effort”, the website portentously intones on loading, “The United Nations agreed on 17 global goals for a better world by 2030”; you, the user, expect that maybe you’ll, I don’t know, go on to learn something about these global goals and how you might be able to help achieve them. BUT NO! Instead you’re taken to a SUPER-SHINY, almost fashion house-esque, site which is seemingly designed to showcase a series of paintings made by artchild Leon Löwentraut, each representing a different one of the aforementioned global goals. Now, I don’t doubt that the UN is better versed in the general improvement of global circumstances than I, and that Leon’s motives in collaborating on this are pure (though I also note that not all the proceeds from the sales of the works here referred to will go to charity, which, well), but there are things about this that really seem, well, just a bit stupid really. The UI gimmick is that users make ‘virtual brushstrokes’ on the site to unlock bits of content, and that the combined brushstrokes taken by all visitors to the site will be compiled into an artwork by Löwentraut on the project’s completion; the instruction to the user, though, to ‘Brush through and erase the 17 issues that lay at the heart of these goals’ is, well, nonsensical and pretty fcuking stupid. Is this a better idea than creating a website which actually, you know, told people about practical things they could do to help achieve the UN’s global goals? No, no it is not. Still, REALLY shiny website.
- Fanbits: MORE BLOCKCHAIN! Fanbits is a weird concept which lets creators make collectible digital artworks or artefacts, in limited series, with this limited edition status ENCODED ON THE BLOCKCHAIN! (it sort of feels like I need the caps to capture THE BREATHLESS EXCITEMENT OF THE BLOCKCHAIN but I promise I will stop now as it’s irritating me too). It uses Ethereum, and there’s a secondary market for trading in these limited edition things, and I suppose that there’s some comfort in knowing that your limited edition sketch of an anthropomorphised raccoon twink wearing a ball gag and a slightly trepidatious expression really is only one of three ever to exist, but, well, take a look at the work. Hm.
- Evil Corp: A new project by Alfie Dennen, who long-time readers might remember was behind the lovely Bus Tops project back in 2012; this is a soon-to-be-Kickstarted boardgame in which you get to play as one of the giant tech behemoths of the strangely familiar parallel future in which the game is set? Want to enslave the entirety of Northern England to act as packers for your giant network of fulfilment centres? Want to colonise Mars, take all your rich friends with you and then strip-mine the Earth for resources so you can live the Playboy lifestyle your bullied-at-school past feels you somehow deserve? Want to run your very own Big Blue Misery Factory? This will be RIGHT up your street, in that case. Obviously all similarities to current titans of business are entirely coincidental. Obviously.
- Google Pose Detection: Tech demo of the pose detection API - let it access your webcam, then step back and make some shapes and watch, impressed, as the software tracks your full-body movements. Then take a moment to think back a decade ago to Kinect and how mental it is that you can now do the same stuff in-browser, and then think a bit further and think about all the potential implications of combining this tech with, I don’t know, the fact that the UK is the most surveilled country in the world and that we are VERY SCARED of terrorists and this could be used for all sorts of incredibly impressive but also hugely intrusive body language monitoring systems using the CCTV network and, well, it all gets quite dystopian quite fast (your internal monologue might take you somewhere different and better; I rather hope it does for your sake).
- Fantasmo: Or, ‘the decentralised 3d map of the world’, which sounds a lot more impressive frankly. Fantasmo is a company looking to aggregate data on a building/street level as to the physical layout of our world, and to create a universal standard for the manner in which that data is encoded and made available, so as to allow for better, more uniform AR app development amongst other things. It’s a really smart idea, and if you’re interested in doing anything serious in the AR space this is probably worth taking a closer look at.
- Resistancehole: The Onion’s spin-off, Clickhole, has created this WONDERFUL site parodying the anti-Trump movement online; I clicked this this week and whilst initially I found it, predictably, very funny indeed (sample headline: “Game Over, Drumpf! This Intrepid ‘New York Times’ Reporter Just Has Two Seasons Left Of ‘The Wire’ And Then He’ll Be Free To Blow The Lid Off The Russia Investigation!”), it’s almost too on the nose in its parody of the idiocy of the online war on Trump and the slightly pathetic, overhopeful futility of much of it. Then, though, I learned that it was the companion to Patriothole which does exactly the same but for the other side, and felt marginally better about the fact that everyone is an idiot and both sides are depressing as hell!
- Very Legit: I have no idea why you would want to use this, but Very Legit is a url-masker which makes entirely benign links look like they are freighted with malware. Like this, for example: extremely.absolutely.completely.verylegit.link/x_2BxLDwFBjCi-*;paypal=402free)java0day!!creditcard.json.sh Although, if you’re meant to be delivering a web project and, well, haven’t quite finished it yet, firing one of these to your client on Friday afternoon will mean that they’ll be too scared to click on it and you can buy yourself an extra few days. Bonus points for lulling friends and colleagues into a false sense of security with this over the next few weeks and then BANG going straight into a Goatse when they’re all relaxed and pliable.
- Yoti: In the wake of the past month’s absolute sh1tshow around Windrush and immigration in general, the prospect of ID cards has begun to be whispered about in political and commentariat circles (it’s weird how we’ve collectively blanked the memory of how much money we wasted on the abortive project to institute a national identity scheme in the early-00s; I do occasionally wonder how different certain things would be had that gone through); Yoti is a scheme designed to allow for persistent, verifiable online identities, and according to a piece I read this week is already being used in a small number of towns in the UK to help with simple things such as age verification in pubs, bars, bookies and the like. The tech seems smart, but obviously things like this depend entirely on the takeup - the trialing is a good sign, though, and the idea of a universal digital ID is something I personally think is a smart idea (whilst obviously acknowledging that there are others for whom that might well be more...problematic). Worth watching, this.
- The Covers of Daniel Gil: 938 book covers designed by Daniel Gil; you may not know the name, but you’ll almost certainly recognise some of the designs in this Flickr set, particularly if you were anything like me and spent much of your life from about 11 onwards searching through people’s bookshelves for titles with interesting covers and which might contain a sniff of smut.
- Giant Cat Instagram: An Instagram feed sharing photos in which a Godzilla-sized kitten wreaks HAVOC. Weirdly, if you go far enough back in time it becomes quite a lot of 3d renders of cars and some Gundam models, but I do hope the ‘pivot to giant kitties’ shift is a permanent one. O MAOW! (come on, Saz, you can finish this one)
- Travel on Paper: An online shop selling a truly glorious selection of travel posters from around the world; even if you’re not in the market for a poster, it’s worth having a browse through the designs; many of these are just beautiful.
- The Hero Arm: I know I complain about it most of the time, but occasionally living in the future really is quite remarkable. The Hero Arm is a product being sold by a company called Open Bionics, and is designed to be a lightweight, affordable, cool-looking prosthetic for kids with below-elbow upper arm differences; it looks ACE, and were I a kid with arm issues I would absolutely kill for one of these. Not quite as fancy as James Young’s, but not a bad halfway house. I LOVE the fact that these are now a direct-to-consumer product.
- Pointless Wooden Bananas: The best waste of time you will see all week, I promise.
- The List of Lists of Lists: Another in the occasional series of ‘brilliantly niche Wikipedia Pages’, this is a list of all the lists of lists which exist on the site. You’ll look at that description and you’ll think ‘ffs Matt you’re just phoning this stuff in, aren’t you, what happened to the artisanally-curated hand-picked greatness we’ve come to, well, not expect exactly but at least occasionally hope for?’ and then you’ll wake up five minutes later having fallen down a wormhole through ‘lists of characters in Neighbours’ to a detailed biography of Stefan Dennis. You wait.
- Elon Musk Text Replacement: Are you as bored as I am of hearing Elon Musk’s every single utterance fawned over by fedora-wearing online inadequates? No, you’re probably not, but I spend more time online than you do. Anyway, this is a Chrome extension which replaces Musk’s name with “Grimes’ boyfriend”, which I hope for Grimes’ sake is a gag which is going to be out of date very soon indeed (lest we forget).
- Slow Heavy Metal Music Playing: A Facebook Page dedicated to the single but oddly amusing observation that every single video clip or photo can be improved by the addition of the caption “Slow heavy metal music playing”. It’s true, see for yourselves.
- Did Thanos Kill Me?: Well, did he?
- Record Label Logos: Do you want an exhaustive collection of record label logos from the past century, listed alphabetically? No, you probably don’t, and yet I proffer it to you with the beseeching eyes of a loyal gun dog. APPRECIATE MY OFFERINGS, MASTER.
THE SECTION WHICH JUST DREW ALBANIA IN AN OFFICE EUROVISION SWEEPSTAKE BUT DOESN’T KNOW ENOUGH ABOUT THE SONGS TO DETERMINE WHETHER THAT’S TWO QUID WASTED, PT.1:
- Visual Memoranda: This is a quite remarkable collection of superbly-designed IBM posters from the late 20th Century, accompanying the exhibition of the same name currently taking place at Auburn University in the US. “As a creative extension of Rand’s influence, designers White, Anderson, and Bluhm developed posters as a platform for elevating internal communications and initiatives within the company. While daily tasks for corporate graphic designers often included layout work on newsletters, binders, symbols, booklets, and brochures, the visually clear, single-message format of the poster offered a unique creative outlet and latitude for experimentation.” Seriously, the work collected here is remarkable.
- All We’d Ever Need Is One Another: I confess to really not understanding the title of this AT ALL, but maybe it will mean more to you. Nonetheless, this is a rather cool art project which generates images using two flat-bed scanners and no human input whatsoever: “The installation self-generates images using two flatbed scanners laying on their side, with scanning surfaces pointing at one another. A computer script creates automatic mouse movements, randomizing the settings of the proprietary scanning software interface, and beginning a scanning process. Each newly created image is then analyzed by a series of deep-learning algorithms trained on a database of contemporary artworks in economic and institutional circulation. When an image matches an existing artwork beyond an 83% match, it uploads it to this website and a twitter account.” The resulting works are surprisingly strong imho; you can follow the project on Twitter or Insta if you fancy some machine-imagined arts in your feed.
- Impact JS: I was talking to a friend last night about how incredible it is that kids have access to the most incredible suite of creative tools, largely for free, with which to explore the limits of their interests and abilities (and, lest you think that sounds uncharacteristically Pollyannish and hopeful, how this meant that he and I would be on the employment scrapheap within 10y unless we bucked our ideas up); this is yet another in said suite. Impact is a set of tools for people wanting to build games in HTML, for playing in-browser and across devices; I obviously have no aptitude for this sort of thing so can’t comment on ease-of-use or similar questions, but if you or one of your family shows interest and inclination in this direction then I think it looks like a hugely powerful and fun thing to play with.
- A Thread of Chinese Nicknames for NBA Players: You need know nothing about either China or basketball to enjoy this Twitter thread, in which Nick Kapur unpacks the meaning behind the nicknames Chinese fans give to their NBA idols. SO GOOD - the way you get an insight into the complexity and humour of the Chinese language is superb, and everyone ought to aspire to a nickname like the one given to Steph Curry (seriously, it’s amazing).
- Dangerous Roads: Mt friend Paul once went to Peru and sent me a great email about his trip along the reassuringly-named ROAD OF DEATH (he subsequently got malaria and spent a bunch of time in hospital; he’s got poor holiday luck, Paul); this site collects some of the best examples of other ROADS OF DEATH from around the world, which you can use as a guide as to where not to go on a camper van holiday this Summer.
- Botchain: Bots...ON THE BLOCKCHAIN! (sorry) WHY DOES THIS NEED TO EXIST? “The $50B industry of autonomous bots lacks the universal standards or protocols of every other major software industry. There is also no verifiable visibility into bot decisions and actions. These conditions limit growth and presents significant compliance risks for corporations” - well, yes, fine, but there is still literally nothing about this project which suggests to me that the FCUKING BLOCKCHAIN is the necessary or desired solution. Also, as an aside, you might want to go about building a universally-accepted definition of ‘bot’ while you’re at it.
- Joseph’s Machines: Joseph has been making Rube Goldberg machines for years. This is his YouTube channel - MARVEL at his ingenuity.
- Drawn To Sex: A GOOD KICKSTARTER! Praise be! I think I’ve featured Drawn To Sex’s comics before on here, but if you’re not familiar they are cute, funny, instructional guides to fcuking and how to go about it in a way that’s fun for you and whoever you’re doing it with. This Kickstarter’s raising money to compile a selection of strips and some new material into a physical sex-ed book aimed at teaching kids the basics; given the fact that the scholastic system in this country seems persistently unwilling to engage with the need to give kids alternative ways to learn about sex than furtively watching hentai clips and extreme pegging on xhamster, this seems an eminently sensible idea.
- The Emoji Aquarium: A Twitter account which Tweets emoji images of randomly-generated aquariums every few hours. It only does one thing, fine, but given it’s Twitter and that one thing isn’t, say, getting into fights with people every three minutes or being an actual Nazi then maybe we should cut it some slack.
- The Escher Archive: Oh this is wonderful! A superb digitised archive of every stoned 16 year old’s favourite artist MC Escher; there are only 87 pieces, but it’s nice to be reminded of what an exceptional draughtsman he was, aside from his ability to fcuk with your head something chronic.
- The NASA Intelligence Tests: Have you had a pretty good week? Are you feeling, you know, reasonably good, reasonably pleased with yourself, pretty chipper? Do you think you’re pretty smart, most of the time? Well have a play around with these and watch all that misplaced self-confidence vanish within seconds as you realise that you are NOT special in the slightest. These are tests used in the 1950s by NASA to assess potential space programme inductees; I feel HUGELY inadequate now.
- Jeff Rothstein: Rothstein took amazing photographs of New York in the 60s and 70s; his website archives some of his work, and is worth a lengthy browse.
- The Great American Read: A list of the 100 most popular (? the selection process is a touch oblique, if I’m honest) novels produced by the US; if you’re looking for some inspiration for the Summer’s attempt to stop the slow atrophying of your brain through novels then this might be of use.
- Awful Taste, Great Execution: I don’t want to explain this subreddit any more than I absolutely have to. Imagine something very, very wrong, but done very, very well - yes, exactly, that. You will LOVE this, I promise you, but it might make you feel a touch...odd.
- We Are NY Indie Booksellers: Superb photoproject documenting New York’s independent bookshops and the people who sell in them. I would like to see this for London, please, while we still have some indie booksellers left.
- Out of Office: Internet Oddity Sadeagle has the best email address in the world, but also the worst email address in the world, meaning he gets a lot of email from strangers who really hope he’s something he’s (almost certainly) not. He has now published an overpriced coffee-table book collecting some of these emails with accompanying photos. He occasionally sends me some of these and, well, they are QUITE the thing. Click the link - I promise, it is worth it.
- 300 Super Nintendo Game Logos: I have no idea why these are here collected, but I am very glad they are. SUCH nostagiafeels!
- Friday Afternoon Timewasting Game #1: This is called Tix Tax and it’s noughts and crosses, played against strangers online, but as part of a larger, 3x3 noughts and crosses metagame. Look, click the link and watch the tutorial, it will make sense.
- Friday Afternoon Timewasting Game #2: This one is called Face Out and, honestly, I don’t want to tell you too much about it; it’s part Breakout Clone, part surrealist parable…”You are taken on the journey of a faceless man, cursed to lose his face in exchange for keeping his life. After living for years, unable to speak and trapped behind a mask, you are now looking to lift the curse. This will force you on a journey through the land of the dead – a journey to find the person who forced you to live like life, and taking them on.” Try it, it’s ACE.
- Friday Afternoon Timewasting Game #3: Roulette Knight was made as part of the latest Ludum Dare game jam, as part of the challenge to combine two utterly incompatible game genres - in this case, RPG and Russian Roulette. It really oughtn’t work, but it’s surprisingly fun and tense and compelling. You might need to fiddle around to get a hang of the mechanics - they’re not as clearly explained as they might have been - but once you get into the rhythm this is an EXCELLENT timesink.
- Friday Afternoon Timewasting Game #4: This is called ‘Sort Your Life Out’, and it’s a piece of interactive fiction which made me smile and think and very much remember what it’s like to be a teenager, hashing out BIG LIFE DECISIONS in someone’s room over a cup of tea and a spliff. Was that better than doing it over nine pints? It probably was, wasn’t it?
THE (FLEA) CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS (SERIOUSLY, ONLY ONE THIS WEEK? PULL YOUR FINGERS OUT, FACELESS CREATORS OF THINGS THAT I LIFT FOR THIS NEWSLETTER!):
- In Progress Pokemon: “In-Progress Pokemon explores how Pokemon might look if they physically transitioned from one evolutionary stage to another.” Yeah, fine, so there’s only one Tumblr but it’s a fcuking doozy.
- Bonus Twitter Thread Of Weird Tumblr Stuff: God I love web culture sometimes.
LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!
- I’m Not Black, I’m Kanye: This was everywhere last weekend, and with good reason; if you’ve not read it, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ take on West’s co-option by, and co-signing of, ‘The Intellectual Dark Web’(more on which later) and associated right wing fcukery is a brilliant piece of writing, on black cultural identity and the power and responsibility of role models. Wonderful prose, and if you haven’t read it already then you really must.
- I Am A Data Factory: Nicholas Carr writes on data and social media and us, and posits that rather than being mined for data by companies such as Facebook we are instead all taking on, willingly for the most part, roles of data factories - that is, our data is not being extracted with no labour on our part, that the data so valued is only accessible as a result of our ‘labour’ (should you be willing to consider clicking and ‘liking’ to be ‘labour’, which you might admittedly consider a stretch), and that as such this should change the manner in which we think about this, its value and its use. Smart.
- Pirate Radio on YouTube: I’ve featured a few 24h streaming YouTube radio stations on here in the past year or so, but honestly had no idea it was such a widespread phenomenon or indeed that it was possible to make £5k a month on ad revenues from a stream which basically runs itself. What’s also interesting is the different cultural role these serve when compared to ‘traditional’ pirate radio as you might imagine it; rather than existing to allow cultural and musical expression which doesn’t otherwise find an outlet, this is morelike aural chewing gum to accompany adderall-fueled study sessions. Which is...bleak, frankly.
- What Are Stories?: The first sensible / serious take on the idea of ‘stories’ as a content phenomenon, why they’re so popular and what their rise means in a broader cultural sense. Which, yes, sounds a little bit overblown, but consider the incredible rise in popularity of this specific content format as communications medium; when you factor in Snap, Insta, FB, Messenger and the other clone types, you’re looking at nearly a billion people communicating in a clearly-defined and identifiable format that simply didn’t exist a few short years ago - it’s quite phenomenal. Anyway, this Atlantic piece is clever, and this quote rather sums it up: “Stories is not a technology, nor is it a feature. It is a media format, or even a genre, in the way that a magazine or a murder mystery or a 30-minute television program is.”
- My Quest To Meet The Boss: A wonderful account of Toniann Fenandez’ quest to meet and interact with Bruce Springsteen, taking her to New Jersey and a Springsteen gig, and rendering her very poor in the process. Partly about the Boss, partly about Jersey, and partly about the author herself, this is a great piece of travel writing - there’s the same sort of deep sense of affection for place coming through here that resonates through all of Springsteen’s songs.
- The Tech Homes of Smart Obsessives: I know for a fact that there are a lot of middle-aged men who read Curios (HELLO, MIDDLE-AGED MEN! It’s lovely to have you here, make yourselves comfortable); this is for them. This piece interviews three people who have taken the whole smart home thing and run with it - I have to say, much as I want no truck with an internet-connected home and little as I care about having a 900-inch plasma 4k flatscreen thingy on my wall, some of this stuff sounds quite fun, in a sci-fi, star trek sort of way. I’m curious, though - would going to someone’s house after a date to find that he (again, I know that I’m succumbing to stereotype here, but this is a pretty blokey thing, right?) had automatically dimming lights and could activate his stereo by clicking his fingers make you think “wow, what a suave guy!” or “christ alive, it’s like train sets but more expensive”? Just wondering.
- Direct To Consumer Selling: See, the actual title is about startups vying to become the next Warby Parker, but I don’t know how many of you know what Warby Parker is (if you don’t, it’s a US eyewear retailer which famously disrupted the glasses market over there by selling straight to buyers online and cutting out the cost of retail space); anyway, this is a really interesting piece looking at the economics and challenges of launching a direct-to-consume business, as has become the trend for everything from slippers to mattresses to razors to, inexplicably, pants. You get the feeling that there are going to be a lot of failed businesses based on this model in a few years.
- Amazon’s Fake Review Problem: You will be shocked - SHOCKED, I TELL YOU - to discover that there are some Amazon reviews that are not the fact the sincere opinion of discerning consumers, but that are instead paid for by the item vendors themselves in order to gull customers into thinking that the products in question are actually any good. I KNOW! The scale of this is crazy, though, as is the impact it can have on sellers who choose not to undertake this sort of scamming. The best part, though? The blithe conclusion that, really, there’s not much Amazon can do about it!
- How Chain Restaurant Menus Are Made: Fascinating look at how mass-catering works at scale, and how menus for your favourite chain outlet, whether Nando’s or Pizza Express or Wagamama or whatever, are dreamed up by highly-paid consultants looking to exploit psychological triggers and HOOK YOU INTO THE BUFFET. Honestly, I would kill to do this sort of job - how does one get into it?
- How Free Speech Warriors Mainstreamed White Supremacists: Or, “the uncomfortable congruence between the ‘intellectual dark web’ [SUCH a laughable title!] and some actual nazis”, this piece looks at the rise of the ‘free speech at all costs’ movement and how it’s being Trojan Horsed by some particularly unpleasant people with some particularly unpleasant views. “There is a magnitude of difference between protecting an individual's legal right to free speech and taking the further step of uncritically promoting white-supremacist propaganda in mainstream platforms.” - well, quite.
- Dining at the New Noma: Noma reopened in Copenhagen earlier this year, in a new purpose-built venue in crusty paradise Christiania; this NYT piece is an excellent writeup of the experience for those of us who are perhaps less likely to attend. Focusing on the experience as a whole rather than just the food, this is a lovely piece of writing, gently humorous, about the otherworldly nature of proper ‘temples of food’; as ever with pieces about Redzepi’s food, there’s a lot of this that sounds ‘interesting’ rather than ‘christ alive I want that in my face right now’, but I would sell a kidney to visit this place. Any takers?
- Skateboarders in La Paz: Not much in the way of writing here, but the photos in this essay are WONDERFUL.
- The Atlantic’s Editorial Meeting: This is possibly a *bit* niche, but I found it fascinating; this is the transcript of a recent editorial meeting at The Atlantic, in which editor Jeff Goldberg and Ta-Nehisi Coates do a Q&A session with staff about their recent decision to hire, and then fire, right-wing columnist Kevin Williamson. You don’t need to know that much about the specifics of the case or why Williamson was fired (a lot of that comes out in the piece); I’m presenting this more as a really interesting look at how liberals are struggling to reconcile the need for plurality of voice and expression with the increasing demand from their readers for demonstrable, performative wokeness, and the internal contradictions that this exposes. This is VERY long, but it’s full of all sorts of interesting and revealing nuggets about current trends in liberal media thinking.
- Why Good People Turn Bad Online: Or, “The Science of Trolls”; this is a look at what the factors are that contribute to the breakdown of civilising norms in online communities, with a dash of prisoners’ dilemma-style behavioural experiment science thrown in. The stuff in here about using bots in a closed social environment as disruptors to improve problem-solving and discourse was honestly fascinating, and something I had never considered before.
- Meet Lil Tay: Do you remember Danielle Bregoli, aka the Cash Me Ousside, How ‘Bout Dat girl? No, of course you don’t, because you have better things to spend your mental juice on. I don’t, though, so stuff like that STICKS. Anyway, Lil Tay is the latest young woman to understand the incredible celebrity potential in being an extremely ghetto white chick, swearing for views on Insta. The story - this nine year old kid is becoming a minor online celebrity for basically just having what I believe the kids call MAD BEEF with everyone and pretending to be a rapper - is bleak but familiar; the degree to which a baffling network of adults appear to be setting this up to make money out of the kid, is pretty spectacularly dreadful. Read this and then maybe go and hug your children and take them to the park (or if you’re childless like me, work out which of your godchildren is most ripe for similar exploitation).
- Modern Life Is Rubbish: Brilliant music journalism as ever by The Quietus - you can fund them here, if you want, they deserve it - looking back at Blur’s Modern Life Is Rubbish at a quarter-Century’s distance with a critical eye. The album’s lauded by many as Blur’s best, but Luke Turner’s retrospective focuses instead on the particularly plastic nostalgia that the band was mining even then in their gimlet-eyed pursuit of commercial success; there are some lovely old Albarn quotes in there which make you realise that Ed Sheeran wasn’t the first artist to be quietly, shrewdly cynical about finding and relentlessly exploiting a niche.
- How To Be Jamie Lee Curtis: An archive piece, originally appearing in US Magazine in 1985, this profile of Jamie Lee Curtis is just superb. The writing is brilliant, and the whole framing of the piece is just *chef’s kiss*.
- How Should We Talk To Alexa Around Our Kids: A conversation between the author and some parents, with occasional interruptions by Alexa herself, about how we might want to think about the manner in which we communicate with virtual assistants around our children. We’ve seen the questions addressed before, ish, but the angle here’s an interesting one and I like the format of the piece.
- The Roaring Girls of Queer London: This gave me SO MUCH JOY this week, not least because it taught me the word ‘fricatrice’ (which means exactly what you think it means). This is an extract from Peter Ackroyd’s (forthcoming?) Queer City, his history of Gay London, and tells of how the love between women was accepted or reviled according to the age. There are some CRACKING stories in here, as well as some excellent bits of knowledge; I am forever grateful to learn that dildoes used to be known as ‘shuttlecocks’ in the 16th/17thC, for example, and I imagine you now are too.
- The Rise of Juul: The vaping craze sweeping US high schools and college campuses (and possibly here too - has it crossed over yet as a brand?); the fascinating thing about this is that it’s presented with all the furtive awe of an addition to something serious whereas in fact this is just a bunch of kids huffing watermelon-flavour nicotine water; that said, it’s interesting to consider the opportunities for the creation of new BIG TOBACCO-style brand monopolies as we get a whole new generation hooked on a ‘healthy’ version of nicotine. I have to say, though, for someone who pointedly smoked filterless Gauloises all the way through interrailing at 16 (I was an insufferable ponce then, too; very little changes), this all seems, well, a bit silly.
- When Milky Got His Money: This...this is AMAZING. Meet ‘Milky’, a bit of a bogan but generally a pretty sound fella. Milky was in dire straits financially, when he one day discovered that the bank had seemingly extended his overdraft facility to...infinity. What did Milky do? What would YOU do? This is SO beautifully told, and does a lovely job of conveying the slightly vacant nature of its protagonist, blithely going along for the ride and enjoying himself very much along the way. It does, in very Australian fashion, slightly gloss over the seedier aspects of this - the coke, say, or the slightly staggering detail that he once hired a WHOLE BROTHEL FOR HIMSELF FOR A FEW DAYS (the archetypal example of one’s eyes being bigger than one’s...er...stomach, I’d guess), but the payoff is honestly heartwarming - the film of this will be GREAT.
- People Are Starving: Finally this week, the best piece of writing I have read in the past month or so; Suzanne Rivecca, on womanhood and femininity and identity and food and weight and self and growing up and regressing and so much else. This almost made me angry it was that good (it’s SO UNFAIR how other people can be so talented) - enjoy it, it’s a great read.
By Martya Syrko
AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:
- We’ll kick off with This Is America, because if you haven’t watched it then you should, now, and if you have then you might want to watch it again.
(oh, and if you would like a close reading of it, though I agree that playing ‘Ready Player One’ with stuff like this and trying to spot all the cultural allusions seems to slightly miss the bigger picture, this Twitter thread is good, as is this piece)
3) This is a CRACKING video. The song’s a big old camp slab of disco house; it’s called ‘Don’t You Know I’m In A Band?’, and it parodies exactly the sort of thing you’d imagine it parodies - this is by Confidence Man:
4) This is slightly terrifying car-based industrial noise-type father/daughter pairing ‘YEAH YOU’ - it’s...honestly, it’s sort of horrible, but compellingly so. ‘Enjoy’!
6) MORE UK HIPHOP CORNER! Very different, this, but I’ve liked George the Poet for ages now, and this acoustic version of Follow The Leader with Maverick Sabre is a really beautiful stripped-down take on the track:
8) Last up, possibly my favourite song of the year so far. This is called ‘Where Did Your Truth Go?”, it’s by Girl Skin, Foster James and it reminds me of Mazzy Star and Avi Buffalo and it is SO lovely and perfect for a warm summer’s afternoon. ENJOY THE MUSIC AND ENJOY WHAT I HOPE IS A SUNSHINEY WEEKEND THANKYOU FOR READING I LOVE YOU AND I WANT ONLY WHAT IS BEST FOR YOU TAKE CARE AND HAVE FUN AND SEE YOU SOON BYE!: