I can't speak for you, but I feel almost optimistic this week. It does feel a bit like there might be change happening - and, unusually for the past few years, it doesn't feel like the sort of change that's going to have us whimpering in terror!
Yes, obviously this is all very previous and obviously nothing has actually practically happened yet, but it does rather feel like there might be some positive momentum in the air. So, for once, there will be no doom and gloom, no Cassandra-like prophecies, no miserable cant about how everything is fundamentally pointing towards the slow, ineluctable death of the universe and entropy and vanishing and the void! NO MORE!
Instead I'll just wish you all a happy Friday and leave you with this week's selection of links, the product of the sort of loving, personal curation that you'd probably find slightly awkward and uncomfortable to watch happening in person but which I hope you can enjoy the fruits of.
I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and you still evidently haven't found anything better to do with your time.
By Elyse Dodge
LET’S KICK THIS OFF WITH ROB MANUEL’S GENUINELY GREAT RADIO4 CHILLOUT MIX WHICH IS FAR, FAR MORE MUSICALLY-ACCOMPLISHED THAN IT HAS ANY REAL RIGHT TO BE!
THE SECTION WHICH THINKS THE SNAP STUFF IS GENUINELY INTERESTING AND A RARE EXAMPLE OF 2020 DELIVERING A GLIMPSE AT A FUTURE WHICH IS MARGINALLY LESS OBVIOUSLY DYSTOPIAN THAN THAT WHICH WE’VE SO FAR HAD TO BECOME USED TO THIS YEAR:
- Facebook Guidance to Community Managers: Facebook is very much doing the right thing here - or at least something which, with a charitable squint looks like the right thing - but this does sort of highlight some of the inherent difficulties in creating a platform shared by ⅓ of the global population and also then having to take responsibility for it not being a toxic hatepit. Facebook’s published some (short but moderately-sensible) guidance for community managers on navigating the current conversation over current and historical social racism, and all the tips are reasonable; learn about the topic before attempting to moderate discussion, ensure the moderation team includes representation from impacted communities, etc. Equally, though, it doesn’t answer the question of ‘how do we enable people to have sensible, healthy, productive conversations around these difficult issues?’, mainly because NOBODY KNOWS. This speaks to the macrocosmic issue here - it’s VERY HARD to do this stuff well even in communities that are contained and reasonably civil and in which there are already bonds of connection between members; doing this stuff at scale in the everyperson wasteland that is The Main Feed is just mind-bogglingly hard at scale, and noone really knows what they are doing (I think I’ve said this before, but it’s quite interesting watching us as a species come to terms with having invented systems and processes and tools and then realising that wow did they come with some not-insignificant negative externalities and how the fcuk are we going to nail that stable door shut, anyone got a hammer?). Apropos nothing, I was looking this stuff up for something else yesterday; know how many full-time moderation staff FB has? 15k. YouTube? 10k. Twitter? 1500.
- LinkedIn Adds New Retargeting Options: You can now retarget ads on LinkedIn based on %age video views (so, you can target people based on their having watched x% of whatever soul-flayingly dry THOUGHT LEADERSHIP you’ve added to the content sump-pit this week) and on their engagement with LinkedIn Lead Gen ads (so you can target people with ads on LinkedIn if they have opened-but-not-filled-in one of those email capture ad units). This might be useful - and even if it’s not, it gives you one additional way of making your clients’ digital marketing plans marginally more complicated, which is a reason to up the monthly fee requirement if ever I heard one.
- ALL The New Snap Updates: Annoyingly this dropped overnight, so basically I’ve had about 10 mins to digest this and am going to give you only the most cursory of overviews (it was ever thus). Still, there’s LOADS of stuff in here - honestly, this is a BIG list of interesting additional features - with a few obvious standouts. The trailed WeChat-style mini-apps are here (called ‘Minis’); this will let developers build apps for use inside Snap, much as you used to be able to build apps to use within Facebook (that sound you hear is a lot of older agency digital folk happily flashing back to 2011, when you could with no effort whatsoever build a £500k pipeline simply by building Facebook quiz apps and knock-off Flash games for FMCG brands with more money than sense), which will also allow you to integrate your business’ API directly with Snap so users can avail themselves of your services from within the app (they launch with Headspace, the meditation people, and some others). There’s an announcement of new Lens partnerships, bringing things like plant and animal recognition into the app; new integration with third-party AI for the integration of your own neural nets into the Snap Lens experience, the promise of a ‘local lens’, which will enable users to interact on a persistent AR ‘virtual world’ canvas (honestly, this bit is the most frivolous but one of the more oddly enticing), new original commissions through its ‘Discover’ feature...honestly, this is SO much cool stuff, and further cements my belief that the future of mass-market AR in the short/medium term is very much in Snap’s hands.
- Snap Launches Dynamic Product Ads in the UK: Oh, yes, and they announced this too (but this was last week and I missed it and tbh I have spunked all my Snap enthusiasm on all the new announcements, so that’s all your getting on this one).
- Reddit Announces New Content Policy: I was impressed with Ellen Pao’s line about Reddit having to face its responsibilities for acting as a seedbed for the normalisation of racist rhetoric on the mainstream web over the past few years; I was equally quite impressed with the company’s response, which saw Ohanian step back from the board in favour of increasing black representation. I thought this in particular was a good stance, well-expressed: “We will update our content policy to include a vision for Reddit and its communities to aspire to, a statement on hate, the context for the rules, and a principle that Reddit isn’t to be used as a weapon. We have details to work through, and while we will move quickly, I do want to be thoughtful and also gather feedback from our moderators (through our Mod Councils). With more moderator engagement, the timeline is weeks, not months.”
- New Google Maps Safety Features: Google maps will now show you whether your intended travel route requires you to legally wear a mask during the journey, as well as letting users give an indication of how crowded the route is so as to help others avoid contributing to overcrowding. It’s funny how this is in many respects a very, very future little update, buried underneath the continuing morbid horror of lots of people worldwide dying (not actually funny at all).
- Brand Responses to Black Lives Matter: Thanks Joey for sharing this with me; this Google Slides doc compiles a host of corporate responses to the murder of George Floyd and subsequent protests, along with the public response each received. It’s worth flicking through these - they’re reasonably international, though with an obvious US focus, and it’s astonishing quite how many companies seem to think that saying something platitudinous on a black background constitutes action. Special shout outs to Amazon, for making a statement about standing in solidarity with black people and against racism but for also sharing camera footage from its Ring systems with over 1300 separate police forces worldwide in partnerships that have been shown to increase racial profiling in communities where they exist, as well as selling its facial recognition tech to state security apparatus in various countries (also, let’s be clear, the company’s moratorium on this, announced yesterday, is for 12 months only; check back in July 2021 and see whether it’s still in force, please); and to L’Oreal, who this week donated a whole 50,000 Euros to anti-racism causes from its pot of $5.5bn recorded profits in 2019. THAT’S THE COMMITMENT TO CHANGE WE ALL WANT TO SEE.
By Samar Baiomy
NEXT, HAVE A RATHER GOOD AND VERY ECLECTIC ALL-VINYL MIX FROM OCCASIONAL CURIOS GUEST DJ TOM SPOONER WHO USED TO LIVE ACROSS THE ROAD FROM ME AND WHO I HAVEN’T SEEN IN 20 YEARS!
THE SECTION WHICH RATHER WISHES THIS DEBATE ABOUT OFFENSIVE STATUES HAD TAKEN PLACE WHEN IT WAS YOUNG SO IT COULD HAVE PETITIONED TO GET THIS ABSOLUTE MONSTROSITY REMOVED, PT.1:
- Resources For Helping: A Google Doc of resources (specifically, for white people) who want to help address racial inequality and injustice - not, to be clear, a reading list, but instead a selection of causes and charities and initiatives that people can sign up to help out with, whether through charitable donations or offers of practical assistance, volunteering, etc. Look, it’s not my place to tell you what to do or how to do it, and so I shan’t; I’m just leaving this list of things here because I have honestly felt moderately-hopeful this week about the possibility that this time, maybe, there might be some actual practical real change in the manner in which we as a country deal with and talk about race and inequality, and that will only happen if we do stuff that isn’t just on the internet.
- Mentor Black Businesses: A crowdfunding campaign established by Akil Benjamin, who works with the M&C Saatchi Sunday School, to raise money to offer mentoring to black-owned businesses in the UK. You can either donate, if you can afford it, or apply to offer your time as a mentor; this is a small thing but if you can spare the time (and, er, if unlike me you have some sort of helpful, tangible business advice you can impart) then it could be a useful one.
- Incalculable Loss: Another excellent and powerful piece of digital design, this website takes the format of the NYT’s frontpage listing the names of Americans lost to COVID-19 and replaces those names with those of African Americans who have lost their lives as a result of police violence: “For months the media has been focused on Covid-19, which data shows has disproportionately killed Black Americans. And due to systemic injustice, Black Americans also continue to die at higher rates from a different public health crisis: police violence. We took the iconic New York Times cover from Memorial Day and featured just some of the names of Black lives lost to police violence alongside the status of their case. Because one day, a vaccine will prevent Covid-19. But without police accountability, this disease will continue to ravage America.”
- Stranger Fruit: Jon Henry takes portraits of black American mothers and sons. “Stranger Fruit was created in response to the senseless murders of black men across the nation by police violence. Even with smart phones and dash cams recording the actions, more lives get cut short due to unnecessary and excessive violence.”
- Black Lives Matter Protests 2020: See, it’s this stuff that makes me feel vaguely-hopeful; this map details the BLM protests that have taken place in the US so far (it tracks since 25 May). As of yesterday, it had recorded over 3000, and seeing the spread it’s noteworthy the extent to which it feels like a properly national (and based on what we’ve seen globally, international) movement. Fine, the American midwest’s coverage is still a bit sparse but, well, baby steps and all that.
- Images of a Global Protest: See above. Look, honestly, if you’ve spent 2020 feeling a bit like everything is just going a bit horribly wrong, this is a wonderful moment to use as something of a small optimism springboard. We might not be able to get rid of this appalling shower of incompetent cnuts who seem to be in charge of the country, fine, but we can possibly do some collective work to address racism, and the volume of people demonstrating this sort of strength of feeling suggests that maybe some sort of change might be achieved.
- Topple The Racists: Ah, the statues! Statuary does feel like a particularly appropriate vehicle in the Culture Wars, doesn’t it? Yes, I know, fine, the term ‘culture war’ is an invented one used by w4nkers like me to connote some sort of sniffy eagle’s eye moral perspective on whatever social more is the subject of white hot online debate this week and which isn’t necessarily always helpful; equally though, if you can look at any moderately-contentious issue IN THE WORLD and work out within <1s on which side of it that dreadful Hopkins creature, Farage, Darren Grimes and Stephen Yaxley-Lennon will be on (and, by contrast, where you’ll find Owen Jones and Laurie Pennie and James O’Brien and all the lefty avatars) then, well, that feels a bit like a culture war, being waged by proxy, to me. Anyway, STATUES! Look, I get that for many people tearing down statues willy-nilly is ERASING HISTORY; except that doesn’t seem to be what people are suggesting. Just remove them from plinths, put them in museums, record the fact that they were once celebrated but are so no longer and why, preserve the history and move on. WE CAN COMMEMORATE PEOPLE’s ACHIEVEMENTS AND IMPACT AND ALSO ACKNOWLEDGE THE FACT THAT THEY WERE IN MANY RESPECTS CNUTS!!!! PEOPLE AND HISTORY ARE COMPLEX!!!! A NUANCED APPRECIATION OF THIS IS HELPFUL!!! Also, and this isn’t my observation so apologies from whoever I’m nicking it off, if these statues were so important to our conception of national history and identity and if removing them would ERASE THE PAST in some way, then why did literally NO FCUKER know who the subject of the statues were before we all started noticing them this week? IS IT BECAUSE STATUES DON’T ACTUALLY TEACH THE VAST MAJORITY OF PEOPLE ANYTHING??? Yes, yes it is. Anyway, this is a link to a bunch of UK statues whose plinthiness is currently the subject of debate - the site helpfully offers information and historical context around each to let you learn who the person was and why their commemoration is contentious; you’ll learn more about colonial-era history reading these than you ever did at school, without a doubt.
- Donate 2x: I have featured the US marketingpunkcollectivethingy MSCHF almost every week in here for the past 6 months, and offer no apologies (well, maybe some small ones); almost everything I’ve seen them do has been clever and fun and creatively distinct. This is another example of their skill, this time to proper, positive ends; they’ve observed that many large companies in the US offer 1:1 charitable donation matching to staff, and so have decided to create a national fundraising drive in support of racial justice organisations. The idea is that anyone can donate money; donations then get siphoned through anonymous employees of companies which offer donation matching so as to take advantage of this corporate munificence and thereby getting big companies to donate significant sums to good causes. SO SMART, and a great ur-example of real creativity; using tools and systems and processes in novel ways to achieve different, better outcomes (this is my tinpot definition that I have just written off the top of my head; PLEASE do not feel that you need to tell me why it’s wrong, I promise I almost certainly agree with you).
- Give Monthly: Smart-if-depressing little bit of design work, which takes the observation that we are all seemingly happy to pay endless <£10 a month subscription fees for digital services (cf Netflix, Prime (DON’T GET PRIME), etc etc) but are far less likely to sign up to give charitable donations on a regular, monthly basis and runs with it. The project imagines reframing charitable causes as monthly streaming subscription services, with a little app-style logo, and invites you to consider a subscription to these alongside your monthly feed of digital Soma. Clever, and neat design, and makes me think that there’s still so much that can and should be done to enable lower-friction charitable giving by digital means (hey, Biz, where’s that donate button on Tweets?).
- 100,000 Faces: A clever use of ‘This Face Does Not Exist’ - this website presents the faces of 100,000 imaginary Americans, all generated by machine, to give an idea of the scale of actual human loss of the COVID-19 pandemic so far. By the way, the reason I feature so much US stuff around the pandemic is quite simply that I don’t see as much UK digiwork on the subject; let’s be clear, though, as we hurtle towards a 50k death total ourselves, that we have it very bad indeed here too and that the current Tory administration is full of incompetent, self-aggrandising, stupid, arrogant, cruel, self-interested cnuts that noone with half a heart should have voted for in the first place.
- Antibodies: Sorry, got a little bit angry there. Here, have a FUN WEBTOY by way of a palate-cleanser! Antibodies is a webcamartprojectthing...oh, here: “Antibodies is an interactive experience in the form of a never-ending video call. Participants only show up and do not have to say anything. Anyone can join at any time and all contributions are accepted. The experience uses the webcam to track the face of participants and record their face gestures. It was commissioned by la maison de la culture ahuntsic, in montréal (canada), to replace an exhibition of 3 interactive installations by the same artist.” There’s something nice about being able to switch between the view of your own face, being lightly tracked an manipulated, and that of other, previous visitors, who you get to see mugging and gurning kaleidoscopically as they pass.
- Window Swap: This is your dose of soothing digital panacea for the week. Window Swap is a project that’s been ongoing through lockdown but which I unaccountably missed (seriously, I will be flagellating myself SO HARD later, and only partly for fun); it’s very simple, you click the button and are presented with a video view (complete with audio) of what someone else sees from their window (or saw at the point when they recorded the video and shared it with the site); you can cycle through different views, or settle on one and experience 10m of being transported to somewhere completely other. Honestly, this really is mesmerising; I recently read Little Eyes by Samanta Schweblin (highly recommended fwiw), whose premise is all about seeing other parts of other people’s worlds through digital eyes, and this very much gives me that feeling; honestly, I lost a good hour to this when I first found it, and I can’t encourage you enough to have a play and see where you end up.
- Human IPO: Do you think now is a good time to attempt to launch and promote a business based on what is effectively an ownership model for other human beings? I would wager that your immediate answer to that was ‘no, Jesus, of course not, what’s wrong with you Matt?’, which is exactly why you’re not the sort of business visionary who can invent something like HumanIPO, a new service which promises to give you the opportunity to buy shares in people! Just like companies! “Issue, trade and redeem human equity backed by time”, says the homepage, without at any point really explaining what this in fact means. I Tweeted about this yesterday, and got some (admittedly friendly and good-natured) pushback from some cryptolads suggesting it was actually an incredibly-empowering system which enabled anyone to make bank against their future success. Basically the premise is that anyone can offer shares in themselves, which effectively equate to hours of their time; these shares can then be either redeemed or retraded by the original buyers, thereby creating a secondary market which is where, I presume, the people behind this see the money being (“I bought shares in Matt when he was just some pissant newslettermong; now he’s the Benedict Evans of webspaff, though, his value’s rocketed so I’m cashing out; want to pay £3million for two hours of his precious, precious braintime?”). Still, I can’t shake the impression that the most likely value arc for shares in most people will be, well, quite flat at best, and that this whole thing really doesn’t actually work AT ALL when you start thinking about it at a level beyond that of ‘stoned teenager’.
- PhotoshApp: SORRY I AM SORRY. Still, you don’t expect me to pass up the opportunity for that sort of great pun when I get to bring you the news that there is now a photoshop camera app (as is now traditional in Curios, FCUK YOU ADOBE I WILL NEITHER CAPITALISE NOR TRADEMARK YOUR BRAND NAME) - here it is! It’s basically A N Other lenses’n’filters app, but by all accounts it’s quite a whizzy one and will for a few days at least give your Insta game the edge. I do like the line in the description “Show off your unique style with tons of Insta-worthy lenses and filters inspired by your favorite artists and influencers.” YES THAT’S RIGHT SHOW OFF YOUR UNIQUE STYLE VIA THE MEDIUM OF THE SAME SELECTION OF PRESET VISUAL AUGMENTATION FILTERS AVAILABLE TO LITERALLY EVERY OTHER SMARTPHONE-OWNING HUMAN ON THE PLANET. Still, if you’re bored of all the Snap Camera effects then this is almost certainly worth a look.
- Mixaba: This is potentially interesting; Mixaba is another videochat app, but one which appreciates that one of the drawbacks of the medium is its fixed status and the removal of serendipitous connections from events. Mixaba addresses that by allowing users to create group chats and then dividing that group chat into random sub-groups; every now again these will get rearranged so everyone gets MIXED UP (hence the name). This is, in theory, a really smart idea; you’d want to be able to institute some sort of light controls, maybe, to be able to define the speed at which these random mixings happen, or to ensure that certain people don’t ever get put in a group together (or, more interestingly, to create the sort of brilliantly-awkward petri dish-type situations that true social engineers live for). There’s definitely quite a few applications for this in improv, theatre and games; if nothing else this could be quite a fun way to run a virtual murder mystery event, if anyone still has the enthusiasm for that sort of thing after 4 months of FCUKING VIDEOCALLS.
- OspreyCam: As I type there is an Osprey feeding its chicks some excellent looking fresh corpse. LIVE OSPREYS FFS!!!
- Global Pride 2020: In a move which will obviously come as a surprise to literally noone, Pride this year is going virtual. This is the site for the BIG main event, Global Pride 2020, which takes place on June 27 for 24h across the world. Details are sketchy still, but you can sign up here for updates or to apply to participate as a volunteer or performer (and, I assume, should you want to get involved from the a sponsorship or support point of view). Slightly disappointed they’re not doing it in Fortnite, but wevs.
by Quentin Monge
NEXT, WHY NOT TRY THIS EXCELLENT SELECTION OF DOWNTEMPO HOUSE AND ELECTRONICA MIXED BY THE MYSTERIOUS AND IMPOSSIBLE-TO-IDENTIFY ‘JAVIER’?
THE SECTION WHICH RATHER WISHES THIS DEBATE ABOUT OFFENSIVE STATUES HAD TAKEN PLACE WHEN IT WAS YOUNG SO IT COULD HAVE PETITIONED TO GET THIS ABSOLUTE MONSTROSITY REMOVED, PT.2:
- The OpenAI API Beta: This is the GPT-2 texty AI (you know, the Talk To Transformer one), now available as an API so that you can integrate it into whatever you want. Or at least you can if you’re a reasonably-competent code-wrangler, and if you apply to get access; you can read a bit about how it works and what you can do with it here, written by Janelle Shane of AI Weirdness fame - even if you can’t get your hands on it now, it’s worth reading the longer piece and having a think about the potential applications; if nothing else, the potential for the creation of rudimentary AI characters in digital performance using this stuff is very interesting indeed (to me).
- Ragya: Things I learned this week - that Ragas (the term, I have also learned this week, basically means ‘melodic framework for improvisation’ in Indian music) change based on what time of the day they are played at, with certain instrumental arrangements being considered more suitable for different times in the solar cycle. This site (or app) presents you with a time-appropriate piece depending on when you log on; you may not think your day will be improved by some time-appropriate sitar noodling, but WOW are you wrong.
- Rebecca Irwin’s YouTube Channel: Sometimes in Web Curios it’s nice to link to something that’s not shiny or clever or exciting or important but which instead captures the perfect madness of humanity and all its multifarious interests and modes of expression. So it is with the YouTube channel of Rebecca Irwin, an INCREDIBLY-prolific videomaker whose output is all the more impressive and surprising when you consider that none of what appear to be her literally hundreds of videos have over 100 views. Her oeuvre, such as it is, consists of music videos cobbled together from either MS Paint art or old TV clips from Futurama and Frasier and a few other shows - there’s something just a little bit off about them, a touch of the deep-fried aesthetic that makes me think that Mx Irwin is poking at the fringes of weird webart here, but maybe this is all entirely sincere. Who knows, and who cares - Mx Irwin, Web Curios salutes your for your indefatigable (and, to me, almost entirely baffling) dedication to your art.
- IRL Smurfing: I know this sounds like a weird sex thing, but I promise you that it’s not, really. Smurfing is the practice in gaming communities of people who are very good at the game going and playing whack-a-mole with people who are less good, often for streaming LOLs; the sort of thing that’s probably quite fun for the person doing the Smurfing and probably significantly less so for the Smurfee (that really sounds wrong). The IRL version, as celebrated in this subReddit, is all about people who are really good at something in real life pretending to be an ordinary schlub to the massed amazement of watching onlookers. The absolute classic of this genre is the oldschool US advertising trick of ‘get a pro athlete made up to look like an old person and then film them as they absolutely destroy all the local pr1cks at the public basketball courts’, but you’d be surprised how many variants there are (my favourite are the the ones where famous go busking and inevitably earn about 50p - my friend Mo did this with Nile Rogers in Hyde Park once and he is apparently lovely, in case you wondered).
- Musical Instrument Brochures: Yes, I know this sounds boring but if you’re desperate to find out how you can turn the volume off forever on that Yamaha keyboard your kids have been ‘enjoying’ for the past few months then I promise you that this will be a godsend.
- High Fidelity: Another interesting take on the virtual space idea; this is vaguely-reminiscent of that thing I featured in here months ago all the way at the beginning of lockdown which let you move around a 2d virtual space with conversations getting louder or quieter based on your digital proximity to your interlocutors...anyway, this is like that but different, evidently intended as a more professional version of the same sort of concept for enterprise. This is VERY much in beta and I’m yet to have a proper play around with it, so caveats apply, but it sounds like a properly interesting idea; even if this doesn’t nail it, I very strongly feel that there’s something workable in this idea of proximity-as-a-factor-in-conversational-facility-in-digital-environments (though very much not in that description of it).
- Get an AntiFa Card: Fine, it might get you banned from entering the US, but it’s a small price to pay for declaring your proud membership of everyone’s favourite centrally-coordinated left-wing terror group on your credit card (NB - for the avoidance of doubt, AntiFa is not a centrally-coordinated left-wing terror group). The bank is German and as a result the website doesn’t even have the COMMON DECENCY to be in English, but Google Translate is your friend.
- Buttystock 2.0: Matt Round’s Vole website is rapidly becoming one of my favourite webprojects - his work is always playful, always fun, and always surprisingly-robust when it comes to functionality; there’s a special place in digital heaven reserved for people who not only make excellent internet gags but who really follow through on them, so to speak. This is the second iteration of Buttystock, the world’s premier (and possibly only) repository of stock imagery of crisp sandwiches; this update offers additional images, video and, excitingly, 3d renders of all the potato-shard sangers (nice second mention there Matt, well done) one could ever possibly need or want. I reckon there’s a low-cost, low-risk PR idea here for almost any incredibly dull brand in the world; if you make staplers, STOCK PHOTO LIBRARY OF STAPLERS! If you make bricks, STOCK PHOTO LIBRARY OF BRICKS! I promise you, this will run and run.
- Classic GTA Sites: One of the most amazing things about the GTA series was always the depth that it went into with the worldbuilding; from Lazlo on the radio with the fake ads for fake businesses, to the real standup shows recorded in 4 and 5, to the (admittedly not very funny) parody social networks...Much of the associated online content to the games was built in Flash, meaning its soon set to fade into tech obsolescence, but this fan-made site’s seeking to preserve a lot of the elements in HTML instead. The site’s obviously not a pro job, but it’s lovely to see it all collected and memorialised like this.
- Paramount Unproduced: I think this is real, though it’s quite hard to tell these days. This Twitter account claims to have access to documentation covering around 1000 films which Paramount owned the rights to but never made, throughout the late-80s, and is Tweeting details about them one-by-one. Regardless of whether these are actual bona-fide scripts for which money changed hands or whether they’re elaborate little fictional vignettes, some of these are GREAT - don’t you want to watch ‘Bad’? “When a mad and his middle-aged father both vie for the affections of a gorgeous but kooky woman, they’re forced to contend with her violently possessive boyfriend, but they finally manage to deal with him.” HOW? AND HOW IS THIS A ‘COMEDY’???
- Can You Dethrone: You might need the context as to why this Twitter account has just sprung up (here you go); its purpose is to catalogue all the videogames that let you ‘attack and dethrone God’ as part of the gameplay experience. Important, epochal work, this.
- Political Compasses in Odd Topologies: Ok, the sweet spot for this series of gags is very much at the intersection of political nerdery, dataviz nerdery and mathematical nerdery, but I promise you that if you happen to fall anywhere near at least two of these categories then you will love this immoderately.
- Urban Henges: I was slightly annoyed that this was just the codebase rather than a fully-worked-up website that let you search for ‘Henges’ worldwide and then told you their location and optimate date/time, but then I remembered I was being selfish and entitled so I got over myself. This is code that, when plugged into the appropriate mapping software, will help you identify locations of sunset ‘henges’ - that is, that effect when urban streets align with the angle of the rising or setting sun throughout the year and which produces that effect whereby the sunset (or rise) is framed by urban architecture as seen most famously in the ‘Manhattanhenge’ effect. Lovely, and now that I have described it I’d politely like to ask one of you to make the website I initially wished this was, please. Thanks!
- Deepfake Drawings: Prototypical tech from the University of Hong Kong, but worth a look because, well, IT’S LIKE MAGIC! This is software that does the ‘sketch the outline of a thing and we’ll get AI to imagine what it thinks that thing is and create a photo of it’ game that we’ve seen before with the NVIDIA kit, but this time applies it to faces. So you, the user, can sketch an outline of a face with particular physiognomical traits - a long jawline, say, or widely-spaced eyes - and the kit will generate a computer-imagined human face that broadly matches your sketch. If you want an idea of how this works in practice, scrub through to about the 40s mark on the video and let your jaw go slack in amazement. WOW, basically.
- Nodesign: “A collection of tools for developers who have little to no artistic talent.” I am presenting this without judgement - I too have little-to-no artistic talent and I can’t even code ffs (what is the point of me? You know, someone asked me recently if, when I obviously hate the world of advermarketingpr so much, I don’t find something else to do with myself instead, and I was forced to admit it’s because I have no talents; I can’t draw or paint or do maths or make things or teach people or do rigorous, intellectually-significant work...basically the pathetically-limited world of advermarketingpr almost perfectly matches my pathetically-limited skillset. SAD!).
- Awesome Threads: Is there any word more ominous, more indicative of an almost-certainly irritating experience to come, than the word ‘THREAD’, delivered in block caps? No, there is not. Still, if for some reason you feel compelled to read the long, poorly-edited ramblings of a self-important bloviator (and you’re reading Curios, so you’re evidently the target market, RIGHT KIDZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzz?) then you might like this, which aims to collect the BEST threads, arranged thematically, for you to peruse. Except this has been created and curated by tech people, so it’s literally ALL stuff about software engineering and stuff - which, actually, makes it marginally less insufferable than some bloke spending 40 tweets detailing exactly what he thinks about the ‘R’ number despite his having only achieved a pass degree in Geography way back in 2004.
- Dan McPharlin’s Excellent Flickr: For some reason there’s been something of a resurgence in links to people’s Flickr accounts doing the rounds in the past few weeks, a development of which I heartily approve; this is the collection of Dan McPharlin, whose identity beyond this is a total mystery to me but who has curated a wonderful selection of vaguely tech-and-scifi-ish imagery from all over the place which I urge to take a look at; there’s some really good stuff here from a visual / stylistic inspiration point of view if nothing else.
- Silliwillis: THIS IS A TWITTER FEED THAT POSTS PHOTOGRAPHS OF WHAT I PRESUME IS ONE MAN’S PENIS DRESSED UP IN FUNNY OUTFITS AND THEREFORE IS VERY MUCH NSFW, NOT THAT ANY OF YOU ARE IN AN OFFICE RIGHT NOW. What is wonderful about this - apart from the photos of a cock dressed as the Phantom of the Opera, to be clear, is that there seems to be a real person behind this who’s interspersing the penile photography with some occasionally-poignant observations about their life and how they feel. Anyway, I am presenting this to you in the spirit of kindness - WELL DONE to this person, they don’t seem to be doing anyone any harm and if they want to share photos of their dong wearing a cat costume made out of pipecleaners then who are we to tell them no? NO FCUKERS, that’s who!
- The (Games) Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality: There is currently a bundle of over 1500 (1637) actual videogames (for PC) available for download for a donation of $5 to racial justice and equality causes. Honestly, this is an INCREDIBLE offer and one that it’s worth getting involved with even if you’ll only ever play one of the games you’ll receive.
- Titlerun: The SMOLEST videogame you ever will see. Open this up in a new window, otherwise it won’t work properly; this is less ‘fun’ than it is a truly impressive(ly pointless) proof of concept coding.
- Project Madison: Finally this week, one of the best browser games I’ve played in ages; this is really, really good fun, and a properly good way of wasting 45 minutes this afternoon while you still technically have to be available but you absolutely know that you have mentally clocked off and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. This is basically Hitman, but instead of plotting to assassinate a target you need to plot to ruin a rival’s career; this is clever and smart and funny and surprisingly complex considering its simple graphics and the fact it’s just open in a tab. SO clever and SO fun - enjoy.
By Percy Fortini Right
LAST UP IN THE MIXES, HAVE THIS LOVELY, SOOTHING SMORGASBORD OF VINTAGE PSYCHEDELIA BY HATCHBACK!
THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!:
- Not Pulp Covers: “Pin-up, Illustrations, Advertisments, and Other Things that are Not Pulp Covers” - superb collections of retroweird.
- Keite’s Urban Adventures: Keite’s seemingly one of that breed of vertical urban explorers, looking to scale publicly accessible structures partly for bragging rights and partly for the photoopportunities. This Tumblr just collects pictures from their climbs; these are SO impressive and will make your palms sweat as you look at them.
THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!:
- Simon De Thuilleries: There’s been a bunch of ‘music, but medieval’ links doing the rounds this week which I’ve not featured as I personally don’t think rerecording something in harpsichord is fundamentally that interesting (and I am a miserable sod); this, though, possibly inconsistently, makes the grade. Simon De Thuilleries is a made-up character - a monk making film posters in the style of illuminated manuscripts from THE PAST. These are all in French, but none of them are hard to guess and the fact that all the copy’s in foreign does rather reinforce the aesthetic.
- Insecthaus Adi: Adrian Kozakiewicz has access to a lot of massive insects; this is his Insta feed, on which he shows them off. Entomophobes probably want to give this one a miss tbh.
- Adrian Brandon: Adrian Brandon is a Brooklyn artist whose work is generally striking enough to be featured here; his most recent posts have featured incomplete portraits of black people who’ve been killed by police, each portrait drawn in the time the person in question was alive in the hands of the authorities.
LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:
- The Inequality Engine: Excellent - but necessarily long and involved - analysis of Thomas Piketty’s latest exploration of the history of economics (and, in particular, capitalism) in the London Review of Books. This is a timely and well-summarised account of the historical reasons as to why the present version of capitalism we find ourselves in hock to came about and why it persisted and why, try as the right might attempt to convince you, it is not fair and never will be. There are multitudes within this - it speaks to structural racism and entrenched inequalities and elites and systems and processes, and whilst it’s quite a chewy read it’s never less than well-explained and clearly-articulated. This article could equally as well been entitled ‘The Progress Lie’, its fundamental argument being that 20th century postwar economic claims that the growth and ‘progress’ would raise the water level for all were unfounded; this feels like an important moment for this argument to be examined in more detail and deployed more widely.
- Brave Corporations and the Communities They Exploit: A longer articulation of what I said uptop about the pathetic, cosmetic attempts brands have been making to align themselves with causes of social justice whilst at the same time happily getting very, very rich off the back of the exact systems which exploit and often entrench these inequalities in the first place. You can imagine the arguments, but it’s worth thinking about more deeply. Is it possible for a sugar company which relies on the cheap labour of manual workers in the second and third world to be able to turn a profit to at the same time declare itself a supporter of black rights and progressive causes? As the piece goes on to ask, “can you really stand in solidarity if you rely on child laborers in the Democratic Republic of Congo, have censored Black creators, or empower the police to abuse surveillance powers on your platform, as they do on others?” Can you?
- Is This The Moment Advertisers Leave Facebook?: Look, we all know the answer here is ‘no’, but it’s worth taking a look at this NYT article regardless as I find the fact that they are even asking this question rather interesting. Its headline stems from the fact that there are apparent voices circulating in adland about brands feeling that it’s ‘not right’ to advertise on a platform which is seemingly increasingly obviously aligning itself with The Wrong Side on a lot of current issues; it is, though, worth remembering a few things. ONE: brands care more about money than they do about doing the right thing. If it is more expensive to reach customers using other ad networks, they will not do so unless they perceive the cost of continuing to use FB ads as being greater than that of changing platform (which at present it really isn’t); TWO: brands, as has been amply proven over the past week or so, are far more keen on saying than doing; THREE: there is simply no better ad network than Facebook at the moment; FOUR: the vast majority of Facebook’s ad revenue doesn’t come from P&G and Nike, it comes from all the billions of people on their doing their own hustle and chucking them a tenner a week to promote their bakery or florist or prostate milking parlour.
- Google Docs Is The Resistance: An interesting piece about how the GSuite of tools has become the de facto home of social justice content and online organisation; what I think is most significant here is that the reason behind this is that the software works and is flexible. That’s it. Never underestimate the power of a robust, stable, flexible-if-unshiny toolset; there’s an interesting line in there about the misconception that all activists are obsessed with privacy and anonymity, whereas in fact what they are most concerned with is having tools that are cheap, that work, and which are good for dissemination. There are quite a few more general lessons for life in here should you choose to find them, but I figure you’ve had enough of my homily-ing here.
- Did Colston Deserve His Watery Grave?: I’m sure you’re sick to death of statuechat, but this is an interesting read - highlighting, amongst other things, the statue’s historic unpopularity at the time of its commissioning and eventual unveiling. You should read the whole thing, it’s interesting, but if you aren’t in the market for it then these two paragraphs are worth extracting: “The statue of Edward Colston is not a pure object upon which later generations have imposed an anachronistic argument. The statue is an argument. About the relationship between the individual and the state, about employers and workers, about civic responsibility and Britain’s place in the world. Its construction was a political gesture. So is pushing it into the River Avon. The protesters of Black Lives Matter did not drag Colston’s figure out of the city and smash it to pieces. When they submerged it in the docks, they were making a decision about its proper place in the environment — a decision accepted, tacitly, by the officers present on the scene. Perhaps this was not an act of destruction, but a form of endowment.”
- TikTok Pivots From Dance To Racial Justice: The other thing that’s made me vaguely hopeful this past week or so has been the sheer volume of stuff from kids in their teens and twenties decrying racism and inequality - this piece looks at how TikTok has become the de facto platform for this self-expression, offering a platform for kids to share their impassioned views with others. The piece acknowledges th platform’s...er...patchy history with sensitive content and issues of race, but this is less about TikTok and more about the way in which young people are using the platform to find a generational voice on issue that matter to them. I wonder to what extent TikTok will shape Gen-Z sociallly and emotionally - it very much feels to me like Millennials carry the ‘scars’ (positive and negative) of Tumblr, for example.
- The Messengers: A really interesting profile of Indian political magazine Caravan, a relatively tiny organ of the free press which has found itself being what seems to be one of the sole bastions of critical, investigative reporting on the Modi government. This is a pretty classic story of ‘brave newsmen battle the odds to deliver scoops about the corrupt regime seeking to shut them down’, but it’s also (another) troubling picture of the increasingly close control being applied to the world’s second-most populous nation by an increasingly autocratic ruler and of the unpleasant similarity in the responses of followers of Modi, Trump, Bolsonaro, Orban and others to anyone asking awkward questions of their idols.
- Will Trump Leave?: I remember a couple of years ago, when we were all (the non-Americans, at least; I imagine if you lived there you were perhaps a touch more personally-invested) watching the early days of the Trump Presidency and thinking ‘will he make 100 days? And how will they get him out of the building if he doesn’t?’ in semi-appalled fascination; now, though, at the fag end of the first term and with the country consumed by protest and virus and quite a lot of rage and hate, the question seems a touch more pressing. This article doesn’t offer any answers - of course it doesn’t! There aren’t any! - but is a fascinating-if-a-little-worrying play-by-play account of what might happen if everything gets REALLY crazy in the US come November.
- Jared Kushner: I appreciate that kicking Kushner is pretty much entry-level Trump bashing at this stage, but I really enjoyed this piece - the author, David Roth, takes evident relish in giving Jared a good shoeing in prose, and there are some really good lines throughout. The observation that “in the absence of actual discernment or real consideration, a rich person simply defaulted to the most luxurious option” (when discussing Jared Trump’s approach to his role in COVID-preparedness and response) is a depressingly-clear-eyed line on much of what has passed for governance in the US over the past few years (and also, recently, the UK - for what else was all the posturing around GREAT BRITISH BRANDS helping the pandemic relief effort, all of which coming to naught? “Dyson!”, thought Boris, “that’s that lovely chap who makes the designer vacuums! He’s a billionaire, he’ll do!”).
- Meet Zelf: I promise, I’m not really personally interested in online banking at all, honest, although I appreciate that two articles in two weeks on the subject might suggest otherwise. Zelf, though, is really interesting - a new digital bank which doesn’t even offer a physical card and does it’s onboarding via messaging apps and which generally makes Monzo and Starling and those loads sound old hat. It’s launching in France and Spain soon, and this is worth a read if you’re vaguely-interested in DISRUPTION and NEW PRODUCT INNOVATION and stuff like that.
- Doomscrolling: I’m including this less because I think the piece is particularly brilliant and more because it feels very much like a word that is going to get used a lot in the next few months; ‘doomscrolling’ refers to the very 2020 practice of just scrolling through a seemingly-endless litany of low-level horror as a sort of mindless pastime, unheeding of the fact that it’s not doing us any good at all. TOP TIP: next time you have some bullsh1t campaign idea riffing on the concept of mindfulness or self-care, chuck the word ‘doomscrolling’ into the copy to give clients the vicarious frisson of being ON THE PULSE!!
- Avocado Toast: I love Vi Hart - I featured one of her early videos in one of the first EVER editions of Curios, and I’ve enjoyed following her career from enjoyably-geeky maths-obsessed vlogger to someone who’s recognised as a genuinely brilliant communicator and educator and activist. Avocado Toast is a post on her website all about how she tried to train a machine learning system to recognise photographs of avocado toast; it’s very long (but there are lots of photos of avocado toast to break it up), but it’s also absolutely the best explanation I’ve ever read of how, exactly, machine learning and visual classification systems function, and it very gently but SO smartly makes lots of excellent points about how bias in training data, and base-level assumptions in code, can have all sorts of unintended consequences in the real world when the software’s applied. So, so smart - I have the biggest mindcrush on this person and I am unashamed to admit it.
- The Gospel According to Thiel: If you’re a connoisseur of profiles of Billionaire Tech Weirdo’s Billionaire Tech Weirdo Peter Thiel then you can probably skip this one; if you’re not, though, this is a wonderful profile of one of the most influential people of modern times and a man who, were you to cut him open, would seemingly have Ayn Rand’s face running through him as though through a particularly-fleshy stick of rock. If there’s one thing that SCREAMS from this is the classic white man’s failing - one that I am increasingly aware of succumbing to myself, to my eternal humiliation - of thinking that you can turn your hand to ANYTHING. “Reform education? Well, I created a digital payments system that earned me more money than God, so I bet I can do that too!”.
- Tinder’s CEO on Pandemic Dating: That’s actually doing this a disservice - whatever you might think of Tinder and its CEO Elie Siedmann, this is a really fascinating interview, touching on what he’s observed about the shifts in human online behaviour and courtship over the past few months and, more broadly, since Tinder was born a decade or so ago. There’s lots of really, really interesting stuff here - it’s a touch futurology-y, fine, and as such you might want to take some of the more blue-sky pronouncements with a pinch of salt, but I found the observation that we might be moving to a point when people can conceive of romantic relationships as being solely digital as a fascinating one. I have plenty of online friends who I like and who I care for and who I wish well who I have never met physically and who I have no particular interest in ever so doing; is it that much of a stretch to conceive of a coterie of romantic partners where we share conversation and ideas and feelings and just occasionally have a distanced w4nk together? Er, yes, I think it is actually, but younger readers may beg to differ.
- Bernardine Evaristo: This is a month old but I missed it the first time; a wonderful profile of Bernardine Evaristo in Prospect, in which she tells her life story but also the story of being a female black novelist in the UK at a time when there were literally no black female English novelists getting published. As an aside, if you didn’t catch it this week/last week, the Radio4 adaptation of “Girl, Woman, Other” is superb and reminded me what a great novel it is; give it a listen if you have a moment.
- What Didn’t Kill Her: finally in this week’s longreads, Bernice L McFadden tells the story of her mother’s life and the events that brought her to 2020, seeing race protests and a pandemic sweeping the US. This is SUCH great writing, spanning eight decades of US history and the scope - and limitations of - the civil rights movement along the way.
By Patrick Joust
AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:
- This is a short film called ‘Dust’ - “In the near future, a woman comes across a VR film where she will experience a tense encounter with a pair of policemen…through the eyes of a black man.” An excellent piece by Nosa Igbinedion:
- This came via Simon - thanks Simon! - and is a few years old now, but I saw it this week and thought it was absolutely beautiful. It’s called ‘My Turtle Dove’ - seriously, it’s glorious:
- I didn’t think I’d enjoy this, but it grew on my and by the end it had me convinced that this is an absolute lazy Summer afternoon banger; it’s called ‘Salty’, and it’s by Olivia Swann, ft. Jane Handcock:
- Laraaji, I learned this week, is a legendary New York musician and poet and sort-of-guru and incredibly prolific outsider artist; this is a very simple piano tune, but for some reason it properly stuck with me this week, maybe it will do the same for you. Regardless, it’s a lovely, light, hopeful tune and it’s called ‘This Too Shall Pass’:
- Last up this week, another short film. This is called Stop & Search - “If you're black in the UK, the police are 10 times more likely to stop and search you. How would they feel if it was the other way around?”. Well directed and with an excellent cast, this is feels like an appropriate thing to close with UNTIL NEXT WEEK BYE I LOVE YOU TAKE CARE BYE STAY SAFE AND TRY AND RELAX AND JUST HAVE SOME GOOD CLEAN GENTLE FUN BUT DIRTY FUN WILL DO AT A PINCH IF THERE’S NO CLEAN FUN LEFT BUT WHATEVER YOU DO ENJOY YOURSELF AND HAVE FUN AND I’LL SEE YOU NEXT WEEK AND I LOVE YOU I LOVE YOU I LOVE YOU BYE!: