Can we all agree that noone is ever allowed to use the term '4-dimensional chess' ever again, even ironically? Good, at least we can agree on something.
You know, one of the worst things about writing this godawful newsletterblogthing is the fact that I painted myself into a corner a few years ago by creating a sort of editorial policy whereby I would always open with some sort of vaguely topical reference to what a mess everything was, meaning that each week I have to come up with new and different ways of, effectively, screaming in prose (I appreciate that this pales into insignificance when compared to the tooth-rattling horror of having to read the damn stuff, but I'm sort of expecting that most of you just skip past this bit by now and just Ctrl+F5 for 'bongo').
This week though, I have nothing - yesterday's TrumpYe meeting of minds has rendered me incapable. So instead, let's focus on the good things in this opening - it's not (presently) raining! We've not yet entered the horror that is Christmas advert season! Er...nope, sorry, that's pretty much it in the credit column. You're on your own here.
So in the absence of anything good to say here, I'm going to take a leaf from Ronan Keating's book and say nothing at all; except, that is, to invite you to close your eyes and lift your tongue as I gently place the soluble infocapsule full of bitter, bitter webspaff underneath; let it dissolve, and when you raise your lids you'll have been magically transported to a world in which everything is...well, largely exactly the same, frankly, except full of more useless rubbish off the internet. This, as ever, is WEB CURIOS.
By Simon Schubert
LET’S START THE MUSIC WITH THIS MIX SELECTED BY THE GLOBAL 18 YEAR OLDS REFERENCED IN THAT LONGREAD WAY DOWN THERE!
THE SECTION WHICH FEELS AS THOUGH THE FACEBOOK PORTAL THING IS PRETTY MUCH WHAT THE TERM ‘CAVEAT EMPTOR’ WAS CREATED FOR:
- Facebook Portal: Sounds EXCITING, doesn’t it? Or sinister, in the manner of portals in horror/scifi films, which grant the momentarily excited and hopeful protagonists access to a dark and eldritch dimension where, it’s pretty strongly implied, there’s going to be some flaying and screaming happening pretty soon. No word as yet on exactly how much flaying and screaming Facebook’s planning on ushering in with its latest big announcement, but it’s probably safe to say the answer will be ‘some’ (and now I’m incapable of thinking of Zuckerberg and his Big Blue Misery Factory as some sort of weird digital Cenobytes which is...punchy, at 655am). Anyway, that unnecessarily wordy and unclear digression was by way of introducing Facebook Portal, the FB Home Assistant which was announced the other day and which will ship in November and which, let’s be honest, noone in their right mind is going to buy because Facebook is creepy - and, because it’s got Alexa built-in, you’re also inviting MechaBezos into your home too, which is a lovely additional corporate surveillance bonus. Anyway, the device will let you chat to people via Messenger voice chat, do Livestreams and video calling, and there’s some interest for brands here - the site alludes to ‘Partners’ such as Spotify et al who have already built integrations into the platform, so we await to see what sort of opportunity there is for the creation of Portal-specific experiences, leveraging the Facebook AR Lens which is also built in. Seriously, though, WHO IS GOING TO BUY THIS?
- Messenger Voice Control: In parallel, FB also announced that it was testing voice controls for Messenger. Oh, and some AR sticker effects. That’s it really.
- A Bunch of Updates to Facebook Workplace: None of these strike me as hugely interesting, I must say - the main ones are to do with the development of a more Slack-like chat functionality (don’t want it) and an algorithmic newsfeed within Workplace to better surface relevant stuff for staff (really, don’t want it) - there’s a slightly broader writeup of the features here, should you want one.
- Facebook Adds 250-person Group Chat: Oh, look, here you go: “Starting today, Facebook will gradually roll out the ability for members of Facebook Groups to launch group chats about specific sub-topics that up to 250 members can join. They can also start audio or video calls with up to 50 members. A dog owners’ Group could spawn threads for discussing spontaneous park meetups, grooming tips or sharing photos as their puppies grow up.” Is there any way in which that sounds good? 250 strangers connected through a shared interest / passion / worrying obsession, now able to engage in synchronous multi-user shouting matches online? 50 person video chat? WHO WANTS THIS? Still, they’re BRINGING PEOPLE TOGETHER and FOSTERING REAL CONNECTIONS and...no, sorry, this still sounds honestly awful.
- FB Adds 3d Photos: These are not, let’s be clear, 3d photos in any real sense; they’re photos that do that very gentle ‘tilt to slightly pan’ effect, which gives you a slight illusion of limited depth - still, these are now ALL OVER Facebook and available to anyone whose phone has 2+ cameras on the back; with a little bit of thinking and a decent photographer you might just about be able to parlay this into a decent one-off brand thing (find hidden details around the edge of photos, some sort of light visual gag based on stuff happening slightly out of frame...Jesus, I don’t know, do your own fcuking jobs), but you’ve got about three days to execute it before everyone realises that the feature’s not actually all that fun or interesting.
- Insta Introduces New Anti-Bullying Tools: Absolutely A Good Thing in theory, this - Instagram’s introducing a suite of new measures to attempt to clamp down on bullying on the platform, specifically using machine learning to seek to ‘detect’ bullying in individual photos or captions and flag them for review. The captions thing I can understand, but I am genuinely fascinated as to what signals within a photo they’ll be looking for; oh, and they’ll be adding the comment filter to Live videos on Insta too, to limit the ability of people to hatebomb other users’ streams; oh, and they’ve added a...uh…’kindness filter’ in honour of US National Bullying Prevention Month which, once you’ve read this piece about some of the lovely ways teenagers are using Insta to make each others’ lives a misery, might strike you as, well, as bit fcuking pointless. Still, cosmetic gimmicks aside, it’s hard to argue with the bulk of this.
- Twitter Institutes Emoji Equality: In possibly the most seismic announcement of the week, Twitter will no longer apply different character counts to different emoji - til now, certain emoji (ones using anything other than the default colourset, for example) counted as more characters than others (there’s an interesting side-note here about another instance of unintended racism in code, should anyone want to think about it for a moment), but this distinction has now been eliminated. Huzzah!
- You Can Now Access Podcasts on Spotify: This is useful. “Spotify For Podcasters works as an RSS submission, allowing podcasts hosted elsewhere to be added to Spotify's catalog once users provide the streaming service with their podcast feed. It will also provide access to performance analytics which will let podcasters know how many people are listening, where they're listening from and insight into the demographics of their listeners.” If you do podcasts it seems like it would be stupid not to put them through Spotify, no? Am I being a moron? Are YOU? I feel quite uncertain today for reasons I don’t adequately understand.
- Byebye G+ (at least the consumer version, anyway): And lo, it finally came to pass that, due to a security issue that noone had noticed because noone uses the bloody thing, Google finally took G+ out back and did the thing with the nailgun that to be honest it ought to have done many years ago. Have you ever used Google+? I mean actually used it, not just the brief three-day period in...2011(?) when it launched and you made an account and got briefly excited by the prospect of a FACEBOOK KILLER? I tried, I honestly did, even to the point of harassing the poor person doing social media for Firezza pizzas on there for a while in the hope that being their only active friend on the platform would get me free pizzas (it didn’t. Damn you, Firezza social media person), and even now I still post a link to this on G+ every week, but it’s always been a slightly pointless, embarrassing place (unless you’re a gamer or photographer, some of whom I am reliably informed did use it rather a lot, or, apparently (and weirdly) Daniel Radcliffe) and I can’t imagine anyone at all is going to be sad to see it go. Although they are announcing a few new features for the commercial version, as apparently there are some businesses that use it - WHO?
- YouTube Clamping Down on Algo/Duplicate Content: Mainly of interest to people on YT’s Partner programme - the platform’s clamping down on content that it deems to be ‘duplicate’, and, interestingly, content that it believes has been generated algorithmically. I have nothing to add. Do you care?
- Google Slides Now Does Autocaptioning: OK, fine, this is of limited interest to many of you I’m sure but I am SO IMPRESSED; you can now run a presentation off Google Slides, turn on captioning, and Google will magically use its speech-to-text software to provide autocaptioning of your slides on the fly. SO FUTURE.
- Vimeo Now Powers Those Holographic Video Projection Things: This is LONG and quite technical and, look, let’s be honest, I really don’t understand the tech here very much or in fact at all if I’m being honest, but if you do INNOVATIVE VIDEO AND TELLY or anything related then you probably want to know about this; with the right sort of camera, Vimeo will now support filming in a way which allows you to output as a live 3d stream - as they put it, “what can you do with it? A telepresence virtual reality experience? An augmented reality concert? A mixed reality news broadcast?” 99.9% of you will get nothing from this, but for the 0.1% it could be genuinely fascinating.
- Adidas Creators Club: WE ARE ALL CREATORS NOW! THE MERE ACT OF EXISTING IS A CREATIVE ENDEAVOUR! I MAKE, THEREFORE I AM! In the continual rush for brands to EMPOWER us to LIVE THE BEST LIVES WE CAN and EXPRESS OUR UNIQUENESS, so Adidas has made ‘for the creators’ (or somesuch massive w4nk) part of its brand positioning; the latest expression of this is the Creators Club, a grandly-named loyalty scheme which just launched in the US but which feels like it will be global eventually. You sign up to the scheme, download the app, and then DO STUFF in exchange for points - and points, as we all know, mean PRIZES! Sign up to the programme - 50 points! Spend $1 on Adi products - that’s 10 points! Write a review of some gear - another 50 points! Acquire points to ascend through the tiers of creatorhood, earning yourself early access to new ish, special events, free customisation of Adidas tat, that sort of thing. Which is all literally fine, and in no way innovative, and has - let me be clear - NOTHING TO DO WITH ‘CREATING’. NOONE IS MAKING ANYTHING HERE (writing a review of a product so as to get paid in magic beans by the maker of that product is not, I would submit, a creative endeavour). I don’t mean to nitpick here, but I am sick to fcuking death of being sold this idea that simply interacting with capitalism is an act of creation on the part of anyone; look, I get that democratising the idea of creativity is A Good Thing, and the ready availability of the means of creative production is positive and good and opens up doorways to new voices and styles and stories and whatever, and that the fact that anyone can make things whenever they want (in theory) on this magical device in their pocket is, honestly, brilliant...but STOP CALLING EVERYONE A FCUKING CREATOR BECAUSE IT IS AN INCREASINGLY MEANINGLESS TERM. Ahem. Anyway, this has put me in a rubbish mood now, damnation, I will try and snap out of it while I try and think up a heading for the next section.
By Georgy Kurasov
NEXT UP, TRY THIS TECHHOUSEDISCOTYPEMIX BY VOLVOX FOR BOILEROOM!
THE SECTION WHICH HONESTLY SUGGESTS THAT IF YOU’RE STRAPPED FOR TIME THIS WEEK YOU SCROLL STRAIGHT TO THE C64 EMULATOR AND KISS GOODBYE TO THE AFTERNOON, PT.1:
- Brett Kavanaugh: There is nothing good to say about the Kavanaugh situation and what it means for US politics and gender relations and the Culture Wars and the rest; the one, small thing that pleased me about it was the realisation that Mr Kavanaugh and his team had never thought to buy his own doman name, meaning that www.brettkavanaugh.com now hosts a banner reading “We Believe Survivors” and linking to support organisations for victims of assault. It’s still, however, all really quite sh1t.
- Romeo Hearts Juliet: Another year, another (potentially doomed) attempt to make Transmedia storytelling happen. One might have thought that post-SKAM (see Curios passim) this might have been the year in which someone managed to nail a multi-character narrative delivered through social media, though on the basis of this I’m not convinced - Romeo Hearts Juliet is, as the Shakespeare scholars amongst you will doubtless have guessed, a Buzzfeed retelling of the love story with the gimmick being that it’s all done through Instagram. The link above takes you to Romeo’s feed - other players are, obviously, Juliet, Tybalt, and Mercutio, with a sort of Greek chorus effect being provided with a daily ‘wrap up’ show on Insta TV presented by Paris and Rosaline in the guise of a sort of magazine by the students of Verona High. It’s...it’s bad, I’m sad to say - the acting’s poor, the content (as it is so far, we’re only a few days in) thin, and there’s no sense that this is going to work as an Insta-only endeavour. You can get links to all the different accounts on this page - see what you think, but the fact that Mercutio’s Insta handle is Mercutie_yo made me momentarily taste blood and pine for Baz Luhrmann, which is never a good sign.
- The Bellingcat Investigative Journalism Toolkit: I featured Bellingcat on here 4 years ago when they ran a Kickstarter to fund their work - it’s fair to say they’ve come a long way since, as the past week’s journalism attests. This is an INCREDIBLE resource, housed in a freely accessible GDoc, collecting a truly awesome collection of online research tools, ostensibly for investigative journalists but just generally fascinating to anyone with any degree of curiosity about what, and how, you can find out online. From online maps of EVERYTHING to a bunch of interesting tools leveraging the Facebook Graph, flight tracking, domain info...seriously, if you ever need to do any online snooping, this is a pretty incredible resource.
- Lena Lisa Wurstendorfer: Apologies to Ms Wurstendorfer for my inability to work out how to type umlauts on a UK keyboard and thereby butchering here name here. Anway, she is a famous and highly-regarded young conductor, and this is her website - there might be loads of other great stuff in here, but I was transfixed by the homepage which presents abstract representations of the movements of the conductors’ baton as she...er...conducts orchestras playing a variety of different pieces; click and hold to toggle between the visualisation of her baton and the video of her conducting. It’s simple but beautiful, and a practical reason to use that ‘click to switch the viewpoint’ trick that was so popular three years ago and which we are now sadly all a bit bored of.
- The Dermestid Cam: I warn you - depending on when you click this, it might be a touch macabre (well, it’s always a touch macabre, fine, but it could be more macabre). Do you know what Dermestids are? If so, congratulations, you are a better entomologist than I; for the rest of you, they are (I learned this week) a type of FLESH EATING BEETLE. This is a live webcam trained on FLESH EATING BEETLES. You get to watch them EATING FLESH. At the time of writing they are chowing down on a fresh Groundhog, but at the rate these little lads get through stuff I’d imagine that this is going to be little more than clean skeleton in about 6 hours’ time. This is a weird combination of utterly, skin-crawlingly horrid and ‘don’t know why but must keep watching’ compelling - suggest you send it round the office and see what sort of spurious judgments about your colleagues’ characters you can make based on their reactions.
- Weighing Animals: A Twitter thread of photographs of all the different ways in which professionals weigh animals. Ever wondered how you assess the mass of a tapir? WONDER NO MORE! I warn you, there is an almost violent amount of cute in this thread and you may well fall into some sort of critter-based coma as a result (you know who you are).
- Parallel Text: This is a really clever idea and, potentially, a really useful service. Parallel text is a language learning app/site which presents a bunch of texts (old fiction, presumably out of copyright, like Three Men in a Boat or the Three Musketeers) in a variety of languages for you to read - it lets you display the text in a variety of ways, including side-by-side in your native tongue and the one you’re hoping to get better at, you can click individual sentences or phrases to hear how they are meant to be pronounced, and, frankly, as a way of improving my French I think I’d prefer to read Journey to the Centre of the Earth than attempt to maneuver my way through a variety of “the goat has eaten my passport”-type Duolingowank.
- TFL Jam Cams: Weird voyeuristic link of the week! This site collects feeds from every single TFL traffic cam in London for you to peruse at your leisure - I mean, I have literally no idea what sort of benefit you could derive from this, other then potentially giving really useful traffic updates to people attempting to plan a smash-and-grab Hatton Garden raid, but there’s something weirdly cool (in a very, very uncool sense) about being able to...er...look at traffic. I’m not selling this, am I?
- The East London Group: A Twitter feed promoting work by the East London Group, a pre-WWII East London art collective - “Although the East London Group of artists is now almost forgotten, even by art historians, it was one of the most innovative and productive to have flourished in Britain in the first half of the twentieth century. The East London Group stemmed from classes by the inspirational teacher John Cooper at the Bow and Bromley Evening Institute in East London from the mid-1920s and comprised two basic groups: first, aspiring East Enders; secondly, a smaller contingent who were Slade School of Fine Art-trained, like Cooper himself. An early mentor was Walter Sickert, who addressed the Bow classes and showed with the Group for a short time.” A lovely, gentle, beautiful follow, this.
- Leave Me Alone: I hate LinkedIn, and I make no secret of this fact - particularly on LinkedIn, where each week I post a link to this with some accompanying rubbish attempting to parody the type of person on LinkedIn who gets up at 4am to do an hour of cardio whilst listening to two business audiobooks simultaneously, each at 2x speed, so as to MAXIMISE THEIR WINNING or somesuch w4nk. I like to think that it’s this aggressive networking strategy that is driving my non-stop professional success. Anyway, Leave Me Alone is a Chrome extension which lets you filter and bulk-reject connection requests on LinkedIn, meaning that you can, with one click, eliminate all the recruitment cockroaches from your inbox - a small but not insignificant victory for good.
- Transcribe: Look, I know that this is boring but if any of you do any journalising then you will also know that transcription is one of the worst jobs in the world - not only is it tedious, but it forces one to undergo the cruel and unusual punishment that is listening to one’s own voice (WHY DO I SOUND LIKE AN ACCOUNTANT I AM A FUN AND VIBRANT MAN WHOSE LIFE IS FULL OF JOY). Transcribe is a GREAT service - it’s cheap, quick and can do multiple voices AND IT LABELS THEM PROPERLY. Honestly, a godsend.
- Tactical Mapping: This is a really interesting idea, and the sort of thing that a few of you - the ones who have STRATEGY in their job titles, possibly, or those of you interested in systems theories and stuff (God, I make you all sound fascinating, don’t I? Sorry about this). Tactical Mapping is ostensibly created for people working in human rights - to quote their description, “The Tactical Mapping tool equips activists to collaboratively expand their understanding of relationships and develop strategic and effective action. By diagramming the relationships that surround human rights abuses we can see an interactive overview of where we are and the pathway toward change.” What this means in practice is that it gives you the tools to define a system, the actors within it, the interactions between them and the outcomes that these interactions engender - you can then see how the ecosystem you’ve mapped operates as a whole, with the idea being that this will enable to you to better assess how you can act to alter the ecosystem as a whole, or the role of specific actors within in. If that meant anything to you then I suggest you click the link; if not, I promise that there will be NOTHING else like this in here this week so, you know, give me a break.
- Voice Access For Google: Really useful Android app which enables voice commands for your phone - switch apps, screens, type using voice commands...if you or anyone you know has physical issues which make using a small touchscreen hard, this could be an absolute godsend.
- Strip Together: IT IS NOT WHAT YOU ARE THINKING (I know you, with your GUTTER MINDS). Instead, this is Exquisite Corpse for comic book artists - anyone can start, or continue, a strip, the idea being that it’s a way for artists to flex their creative muscles and to explore scenarios that they wouldn’t necessarily come up with themselves. Obviously the quality of the work varies wildly, and there’s rather more...er…’adult’ content on there than I personally would have expected (it’s like I don’t know the internet AT ALL), but if you like drawing comics then there might be an interesting community here for you.
- Taku Inoue: Taku Inoue is a model maker from Japan, whose Twitter feed features some of his creations; he’s got a pretty incredible series of Tom & Jerry models depicting, in the main, Tom after he’s had some reasonably unpleasant stuff done to him, and they are GREAT. Quite want some of these if you’re reading, Taku.
- Bread Stapled to Trees: Don’t try and explain this to yourself. Don’t think too hard about the fact that there is an entire subReddit devoted to photographs of slices of bread - in the main white sliced, although there are occasional artisanal offshoots from the more creatively-minded contributors, alongside a few bagels. I went through a phase of being obsessed with leaving cucumbers in inexplicable places when I was about 15, so I can TOTALLY get behind it as a thing.
By Andy Gilmore
NEXT, TRY SOME REASONABLY HARD TECHNO BY HENRY VENGEANCE!
THE SECTION WHICH HONESTLY SUGGESTS THAT IF YOU’RE STRAPPED FOR TIME THIS WEEK YOU SCROLL STRAIGHT TO THE C64 EMULATOR AND KISS GOODBYE TO THE AFTERNOON, PT.2:
- Food Hype: I know that we’re supposed to be done with hipsterism, and we sort of are, thank God, except for when it comes to food - there’s still a slightly awful whiff of the trend-chasing about eating, certainly in London at least, which is why this food hype generator (churning out headlines in the style of Eater or similar) is so satisfying. It’s not an original gag, but I laughed a lot at some of these whilst others are just too believable - I am sure I have seen the headline “Have You Tried The Mushroom Banana Pop Tart Yet? Is The Hype Real?” on Buzzfeed already.
- The Button: Again, not a new concept, but the fact that this is a new-ish variant on an old theme and that it’s seemingly managing to make some cash despite being the nth one I’ve seen makes me think that there’s maybe still something in the concept. The Button is a simple site with a single premise - log on, hit the button, and it will take you to a different site, which site being determined by whoever has paid the most-recent highest bid for the privilege of setting the url. At the time of writing it’s been bought by some legal firm in the US (of COURSE), but prior to that it’s some people peddling crypto (imagine my shocked face) - it could, for the measly sum of $46.03, be YOUR website receiving that sweet traffic goodness. Feel free to pay to promote Curios on there by way of thanks to me for all the many years of work I have put in, why don’t you? Rhetorical, btw, I have no desire whatsoever to know why you don’t.
- Flagstories: The most comprehensive resource exploring flag design around the world that you ever will find. “Yes, we like flags. We like them a lot. Actually, we are so fascinated by flags that we decided to explore them in every possible way in order to share our fascination with you. Sure, there are a lot of books and websites covering the different aspects of flags like history, demography and culture, through heavy text, but we wanted to add new aspects to this field by only looking at the graphics and telling the story visually. So we started this Flag Stories project to discover the hidden stories behind the graphics.” Really very nicely done, and the visualisation work here is lovely.
- Shared BPM: You will, I am sure, have seen this by now - in case not, though, this is an EXCELLENT subReddit which collects examples of two songs whose BPMs match so perfectly that you can layer the audio of one over the video of the other to uncanny effect - SO many good ones, my personal favourite being the Drake/Darude combination which is actually incredible (no, seriously, look!).
- Blink: Do you like making lists? Do you consider the making of lists to be not just a helpful pursuit but also a genuinely fun thing to do with your time, to the point whereby you often have ‘make a list’ as a line item on another list you are writing, simply so that you can maximise your listmaking time? You need help, Saz, is my main takeaway, but then you might also like this app which is, fine, just A N Other listmaking app for iOS but which has a lovely interface and one or two really gorgeous bits of UX/UI (the slideup/hold/release interface beats to clear individual items is just gorgeous).
- Arcades of Tokyo: A photoessay exploring some of Tokyo’s videogame arcades. Look, I know it’s not cool, but oh for 24h and a LOT of change - these look wonderful.
- The Architectural Photography Awards 2018: Photos of buildings! But, you know, really good photos of buildings. Each and every single one of these would look fantastic as a large-scale print, though they don’t seem to sell reproductions which is a crying shame. Still, these are universally wonderful photos, as you’d expect.
- Pixel Speech Bubble: Have you ever wanted a little webtoything which lets you create a pixellated, animated speech bubble saying anything you like which you can export as a gif and, potentially, use as a sort of snarky comeback-type-rejoinder-thing to anyone who sasses you online? OH GOOD. Make one that says “shut up i disdain you and everything you stand for” and use it to respond to all work requests for the remainder of the day. GO!
- Chromebook Data Science Course: I’ve realised that there are a few more ‘serious’ links than usual in Curios this week - I’m sorry, and I will endeavour to make next week’s edition more full of, I don’t know, sexy anthropomorphised bonsai-based Hentai or something. Still, if you or anyone you know is interested in undertaking a fully accredited course on Data Science from Johns Hopkins University, delivered in 12 parts entirely online and on a pay-what-you-can basis, starting at $0.00, then this is GREAT. Such a wonderful idea to make this foundational instruction available to all - fine, it’s sponsored by Google Chromebook (hence the name, and, presumably, how it’s able to be made available on this basis), but even if you think Google is Satan it’s hard to look at this as anything other than A Good Thing.
- 100 Hours and Counting: A film review and criticism site focused primarily on ‘wrong’ films - to quote the owner, “ This isn’t strictly a B-movie site, nor is it strictly a horror movie site, although the great bulk of the movies reviewed here will be B-horror films. My instinct is to say that my business is exploitation movies, but recent years have seen the definition of that term contract to the point that it no longer gets the job done either. So instead, I’ll simply say this: For the most part, if a particular movie played or would have played at a drive-in or an old Times Square grindhouse, you can reasonably expect a review of it to show up here one of these days.” What this means is that there’s a really eclectic mix of reviews, from the predictable Bubba Ho-Tep to the slightly unexpected Attack the Block, to undiscovered gems like 1951’s ‘The Giant Gila Monster’. You want to read about weird, obscure, cultish and quite often terrible films? Good, you’ll like this then.
- The US Geographic Names Interface System: Have you ever wanted to be able to access a database of every named civic location in the US? No, I can’t imagine you have, but just on the offchance that you’d like to organise a roadtrip to the States in which you visit every town named after you, or one which takes you through each individual place with a slightly juvenile name (Cougar Butte, Oregon, I am looking squarely at YOU) then this might prove invaluable.
- Sans Forgetica: A clever idea, this, certainly from a PR point of view as it’s been everywhere this week - Sans Forgetica is a font designed specifically to be memorable, so as to assist with the retention of information. A product of RMIT’s Behavioural Business Lab, “Sans Forgetica is more difficult to read than most typefaces – and that’s by design. The 'desirable difficulty' you experience when reading information formatted in Sans Forgetica prompts your brain to engage in deeper processing.” Aside from anything else, it looks quite cool AND THAT’S THE MAIN THING RIGHT KIDS?
- Tattoo Ideas: Regardless of your thoughts on tattoos - and, seriously, we must be on the cusp of a backlash now, right? Given that everyone and their mum has got some degree of ink, and given that we’re JUST at the cusp of a whole generation who got big ink in the early 90s starting to sag in quite significant an aesthetically compromising fashion, surely we’re about due a NO MORE TATTS PLEASE backlash? - this site collects some truly incredible work across a wide range of styles; if you’re considering one, you could do worse than check the selection for inspiration (before settling for a star on your inside wrist because THAT’S JUST WHO YOU ARE, RIGHT?).
- The C64 Emulator Library: You might have seen this last weekend when Rob put it in the B3ta newsletter, but for those of you who don’t subscribe to both then ENJOY - this is a collection of over 15,000(!) pieces of Commodore 64 software, mostly games, playable in-browser on the Internet Archive and OH MY GOD this is a proper time capsule to when I use to go to my friend Jim’s house and play Pirates! and Christ are there some great (terrible) games on here. I am going to finish writing this and then, quite possibly, lose the rest of the day to The Last Ninja like it’s 1991 all over again. I suggest you do too. Be warned, just like original C64 games these take a fcuking age to load.
- <13k Browser Games: Each year there are a variety of coding competitions which challenge people to build stuff within specific limits of memory, etc - this is a writeup of some of the best entries into this year’s js13kGames competition, where developers were given a month to build a browser game no bigger than 13KB. These are INSANE - if you play only one, make it the shooter called ‘Underrun’ - the music alone makes it worth a go, but the whole thing is hugely fun and an incredible achievement when you consider the constraints within which it was built.
- Grow Comeback: Finally this week, a slight internet throwback - Eyemaze, makers of the ‘Grow’ series of browser games, quietly released a small new one over the Summer which I totally missed. This is called ‘Comeback’, it works in exactly the way the ‘Grow’ titles have always worked (select the objects in the right order to win) and features the standard cute animations and surprisingly tricky combinations you (fine, I) have come to love. This is SO soothing, and a lovely way to pass 10 minutes before you head into the longreads and get all sad and miserable about life and the world.
By Catherine Hyland
LAST UP, A FULL FIVE HOURS OF J DILLA INSTRUMENTALS!
THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!:
- Bees & Bombs: Dave lives in Dublin, and makes black and white animated geomatric gifs which he puts on this confusingly-named Tumblr. I know nothing else about Dave, but which him the best.
- Hexeosis: Psychedelic kaleidoscopic animations seemingly inspired by every single flyer ever made for a psytrance party.
- Doctor Beth: An EXCELLENT Tumblr written by the titlar Doctor Beth who tends to stuffed animals at a doll’s hospital, and who here documents the LIFE-SAVING INTERVENTIONS undertaken on a whole bunch of stuffed toys. Even I, a person who it’s fair to say is, perhaps, on the bitter, twisted and cynical end of the emotive spectrum (ha! ‘emotions’!) couldn’t fail to be moved by this, it is ADORABLE.
- Videogame Skies: Literally just those - lots and lots of them. Feels like this ought to be an art exhibition somewhere (on which note, if you’re yet to see the videogames show at the V&A then GO, it is ace).
THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!:
- Guy Fieri: Every day the same picture of Guy Fieri, except every day it gets more and more fcuked - combining the ‘every day the same’ trend from last week with deep-fried memery, just TRY explaining why this is a thing to someone who is not of the internet (or, actually, don’t, it’s a waste of all your lives).
- One Year, 365 Cities: Thanks Dan for the tip = this is one of those ‘every day a thing’ accounts, but which each day is sketching a rough design for a city in no more than 10 minutes. Lovely stuff, not least because it’s obviously sticking within the rules - these are rough and choppy and all the better for it.
- Noah Deledda: Art from aluminium cans. WHY NOT?
- Bird Graveyard: Capturing photos and videos of people fcuking up those Bird electric scooters that have been all over SF and LA for the past few months - the compilation of people stacking it on the vehicles is honestly worth the follow on its own here.
- The Worst Insta Ads Ever: WHY ARE THESE BEING PROMOTED? HOW IS THE TARGETING WORKING? WHAT HAS THIS POOR WOMAN DONE TO GET THESE?
LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:
- The Digital Strategy of the Library of Congress: Not, I concede, the sort of high quality prose you’re possibly used to me picking for this section, but if you do ‘strategy’-type w4nk (a word I am so uncomfortable with, strategy, that I need to put it in inverted commas to stop myself feeling like a fraud) then this is an excellent example of how an institution might go about writing a digital one - this is clear, it’s well-written, and it MAKES SENSE - honestly, it’s really impressive and the sort of thing which you might be minded to email to people you know with the subject line: “LEARN”.
- What Is A Neural Network?: Do YOU work in an industry that has nothing whatsoever to do with AI or machine learning but which, despite this fact, seems incapable of going through the week without one or more of your peers and colleagues making a tooth-clenchingly ignorant reference to technologies they simply do not understand even the most basic principles of? Yes, yes of course you do! This guide to what a neural network is, what it can do, and why it might not actually be what you need for your thing, is honestly brilliant and ought to be required reading for anyone talking about how BIG DATA AND AI IS THE FUTURE OF CONSUMER PR or somesuch wankery.
- The Phantom of the Obvious: A stellar review of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s autobiography, notable and enjoyable in the main for the fact that the author quite evidently really wants to slag Lloyd Webber off - you can feel him coiling up, ready to strike - but seems to be unable to get past the fact that the guy seems, basically, to be sort-of ok; I mean, obviously insanely arrogant, and let’s not ignore the musical crimes, but, you know, basically not anywhere near Piers Morgan levels of awful.
- What Question Did You Not Expect To Be Asked During Sex?: A Reddit thread (of course) in which people offer their responses to this promising question. The answers don’t disappoint - you’ll find your own favourite, but I personally now cannot get the term ‘cheese pot’ out of my head.
- The Closure of Tsukiji: Tsukisji fish market in Tokyo closed last weekend - it had been operational for nearly 90 years, and was by all accounts a quite incredible place. This Reuters photo essay takes you right there, but thankfully without the presumably omnipresent odour of fish viscera which, as a general rule, I prefer to do without.
- The Commodification of Home: An essay examining the manner in which Airbnb has changed hosts’ attitudes to the concept of ‘home’, and the subtle way that it, and other services of similiar ilk, erode the boundaries between personal and professional space in a way that’s psychologically a bit, well, wearing. I’ve touched on this before here, but the commodification of interaction and humanity is very much one of the odder side-effects of the past 8 or so years of the development of the web.
- The Automation Charade: A really interesting essay - and a nice companion to the guide to machine learning piece above - which argues that much of the hysteria and hype around the inexorable rise of automation and the effect it’s going to have on the job market is just that - hype - but that one of the potential side effects of that will be the increased extent to which actual human labour will be hidden and rendered less valuable, and easier to exploit as a result. “The problem is that the emphasis on technological factors alone, as though “disruptive innovation” comes from nowhere or is as natural as a cool breeze, casts an air of blameless inevitability over something that has deep roots in class conflict. The phrase “robots are taking our jobs” gives technology agency it doesn’t (yet?) possess, whereas “capitalists are making targeted investments in robots designed to weaken and replace human workers so they can get even richer” is less catchy but more accurate.” Cheering, isn’t it?
- The Sordid Truth About Degass’ Ballet Dancers: A brilliant piece of ‘behind the art’ history, looking at Edgar Degass’ depictions of Parisian ballerinas in the late 19thC and the miserable reality of said ballerina’s actual existences. I love stuff that recontextualises work in this way, particularly when it makes you think about the relationship and power dynamic between artist and subject. Fair to say Degass doesn’t come out of this hugely well - not that he’ll care, what with being long-dead, but still.
- What Are NPCs?: Little dispatch from the frontlines of the culture wars here - an explainer piece in Kotaku on what the ‘NPC’ designation in the context of alt-righters means and how it’s being deployed to undermine left-wing discourse in certain bits of the internet. Interesting in the main for the way in which the slightly hackneyed redpill ideology is evolving and mutating, but obviously in the main just hugely depressing.
- Weaponising The Brain: Or, ‘What DARPA Did Next’. This is FASCINATING, all about how DARPA (the bit of the US defence force concerned with R&D - you may know them from such innovations as ‘the internet’) is working to develop techniques which will potentially allow for mind controlled supersoldier robot things, and the ethical considerations which are holding them back (AHAHAHAHAHAHA JOKE!). There are, it may not surprise you to learn, about 30 separate things in this piece that will make you do a slow “oooo-ok” and a mental step back from the monitor - my personal favourite was the throwaway comment about soldiers being able to telepathically control indestructible combat jelly cubes, but you’ll doubtless find your own personal favourites.
- Forbidden Satires of China: Thanks to Alex for the tip here - this is a profile of Chinese author Yan Lianke, former Army staffer and famous writer, whose works are largely banned in China. This piece sees the journalist accompany the writer back to his childhood village, and is one of the best pieces I’ve ever read in terms of giving an account of the almost incomprehensibly doublethink-ish nature of 20thC/contemporary China; you will finish this (if you’re anything like me, at least) with a very real sense that China is very, very far away in every sense possible. As an added bonus, the writing’s great too - this is fascinating.
- Alexa, How Will You Change Us?: A really interesting look at how Alexa’s - and voice assistants more generally - are designed from a linguistic/interpretative point of view, and how increased interactions with increasingly human voice assistants can and will shape certain aspects of society and human interaction in the future. The bits in here about the backstory to the Google Assistant voice character is mental, and gives some indication of the complexity of creating humanoid interfaces in a manner that doesn’t feel massively fcuking creepy. Here’s a summary paragraph for you - this is very much worth reading: “Perhaps you think that talking to Alexa is just a new way to do the things you already do on a screen: shopping, catching up on the news, trying to figure out whether your dog is sick or just depressed. It’s not that simple. It’s not a matter of switching out the body parts used to accomplish those tasks—replacing fingers and eyes with mouths and ears. We’re talking about a change in status for the technology itself—an upgrade, as it were. When we converse with our personal assistants, we bring them closer to our own level.”
- This is 18: Superb NYT feature which presents the world as seen through the eyes of a bunch of 18 year olds from around the world. Looking at their interests, attitudes, behaviours and lifestyles, it paints a picture of a diverse and conscientious generation absolutely crippled by all the great stuff (not in fact great at all) we have bequeathed them. Try reading this and not feeling a little guilty: “I feel like social media has corrupted our generation a bit. We are meant to be this generation of new hope but it’s all so warped.”
- Matreon: McSweeney’s riffs on the idea of a Patreon but for emotional labour, and it’s very funny but perhaps maybe less so if you’re a woman.
- Kelly The Sassy Dolphin: SO MUCH SASS IN THAT BLOWHOLE! This is a great profile of Kelly, a veteran dolphin who is part of the entertainment troupe at some luxury hotel in the Bahamas - the piece tries to determine whether or not dolphins can be said to have ‘personalities’ in any meaningful sense, or whether in fact this is just another instance of anthropomorphisation and in fact it makes no sense at all to ascribe human qualities, or at least qualities we would perceive of as human, to a creature so bio/neurologically distinct from us. Kelly is ACE, fwiw.
- Daniel Radcliffe and the Art of the Fact Checker: This has been referenced all over the place this week, but the piece is lovely and it’s worth reading in its entirety. Daniel Radcliffe is playing a fact checker in a Broadway play he’s currently in - this is the account of what happened when he went into the New Yorker offices to get some on-the-job experience. Really sweet, which isn’t a phrase I often (if ever) use positively.
- Child Marriage in the US: This was something of a shocker. “Between 2000 and 2010, an estimated 248,000 children were married, most of whom were girls, some as young as 12, wedding men. Now, under pressure from advocates and amid a nationwide reckoning over gender equality and sexual misconduct, states have begun ending exceptions that have allowed marriages for people younger than 18, the minimum age in most states. Texas last year banned it, except for emancipated minors. Kentucky outlawed it, except for 17-year-olds with parental and judicial approval. Maryland considered increasing the minimum marrying age from 15, but its bill failed to pass in April. Then in May, Delaware abolished the practice under every circumstance, and New Jersey did the same in June. Pennsylvania, which may vote to eliminate all loopholes this autumn, could be next.” The prose and images here mainly relate to Phil and Maria, he 25 and she 16, and, honestly, this is absolutely heartbreaking. You very much do not get the feeling that things are going to turn out particularly well for either of them, though here’s hoping.
- Morality Wars: Does art have to be ‘right’ to be good? Can something with the ‘wrong’ perspective ever be art? And does something that’s very evidently coming from the ‘right’ side of the argument automatically get an artistic pass? My answers to those would, in order, be ‘no’, ‘yes’, and ‘no’, but this piece explores the questions around why we think what we think about the link between art and morality, particularly in this most polarised and polarising of eras. Smart and important writing / thinking.
- Meet Mr Bolsonaro: In case you weren’t aware, Brazil is the latest nation flirting with electing an absolute prick. This is a profile of Jair Bolsonaro, giving you all the reasons you need as to why it would be best for everyone if he didn’t win the eventual electoral run-off at the end of October. CHEER UP IT MIGHT NEVER HAPPEN (let’s hope it doesn’t).
- When Classical Musicians Go Digital: Really interesting look at how the advent of digital scores and annotations is changing the classical music world, not only from the point of view of modern performance - reading off an iPad! No more page turners! - but also from an archival/historical point of view, with these technologies now allowing for in-depth and interpretative readings of original manuscripts, and for the creation of iterative documentation showing each stage in the creative process. You don’t need to be a musician to find this interesting, promise - anyone working in or around digital archives will enjoy.
- Naming The Unspoken Thing: One of those occasional “you’ll never believe the crazy stuff that those Valley people get up to!” pieces, this time all about these super-secret and exclusive psychedelic happenings called ‘clambakes’ which apparently involve a lot of Silicon Valley bigwigs dropping a shedload of DMT with a coachload of old-school hippies from the days of Esalen and Big Sur; the piece is a fun read, but as with all these things my main thoughts are a) I don’t know if I really believe this; b) this sounds like NO FUN at all.
- A Brief History of Speedrunning: Probably only one for the gamers amongst you, this is a look back at how the process of speedrunning (that is, competing to finish a game, or a level of a game, as fast as possible) came about, and how the pastime has evolved. Excellent nuggets of game history in here.
- He Actually Believes He Is Khalid: 2018 has been a good year for grifter stories - after that one from a few months back about the fake Eurotrash princess, this is an even more insane scam involving an adopted Colombian child who somehow repeatedly managed to convince people he was variously a Saudi Prince or someone being bankrolled by a Saudi Prince. Some of the numbers and scams in here are astonishing, though there’s very much a sting in the tail when you get to the end - it’s fair to say that the subject of this piece doesn’t come across as the most...stable person, but what’s most remarkable is the number of times he got away with it. Has there ever been a better time in recorded history to pretend to be very, very rich?
- 20 Thoughts on Being a Man: I was in two minds about including this - after all, noone really needs to read anything about how HARD it is being a bloke - but I figured it was worth including, not least because it’s very well-written but also because it does a good job of touching on certain tropes of masculinity that, I think, most would agree are universal to a large degree and which have significant negative consequences on men (and, as a result, on everyone else). To be clear, this isn’t a pity piece, rather an exploration of some of the peculiarities of growing up as a man and how that maybe fcuks you up a bit sometimes. See what you think.
- Relax, Ladies: Then of course we get to this piece and the last one just feels a bit, well, unimportant. This is a brilliant essay about the pervasive sexism which embodied the 80s, and how it shaped and characterised so much of the two decades which followed. Really, really very good indeed by Anastasia Basil.
- Breaking The Codes: And this was heartbreaking, and in the week of the Kavanaugh confirmation a proper punch in the stomach. Trigger warnings about here, but if you can then I recommend this unreservedly - Suzanne Roberts in The Rumpus writes angrily, sadly and superbly about the minor and major aggressions that qualified her and her friends’ youth, and where those led.
- The Big Disruption: Finally in the longreads, a REALLY long read - a whole novel. The Big Disruption is a Silicon Valley / tech satire, and whilst I have yet to read all of it the bit I have read is very funny - also, it’s a whole book and it’s brand new and it’s on Medium for free - WHAT MORE DO YOU WANT? Christ.
AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:
1) Let’s start off with Willie J Healey - this is called ‘Lovelawn’, and it’s sort of excellently lofi and downbeat and a tiny bit Sparklehorse-y:
2) This is a GREAT song, inexplicably messed with via a video that starts with 90s of pointless unfunny monologue. Skip to around 1m30s and enjoy this - it’s very good indeed. It’s called ‘Growing Into A Ghost’ by Swearin’:
3) This is called ‘White Lies’ by Tatran, the animated video is superb and the song is really, really sinister in an unexpected sort of way. Give it a try:
4) 18 minutes of truly excellent music and filmmaking here - this is by Petite Noir, it’s called ‘La Maison Noir: The Gift and the Curse’ and don’t let the length put you off, it’s honestly worth it (for the art direction alone):
5) UK hiphop corner! Curios favourite Loyle Carner is back with a new track - it’s called ‘Ottolenghi’ (who else could write a legitimately great rap about a cookbook? NO FCUKER that’s who) and I love it like I love all his work:
6) Next, this is part of a wider project by Girls Who Code - Sisterhood is a visual album of tracks celebrating and empowering girls and young women (tomorrow is international day of the girl, if I’m not mistaken, hence them launching this week), and this is the lead track, called ‘Ooh Child’ and honestly it’s so much better than it needs to be. So good, and I normally despise ‘uplifting’ or ‘inspirational’ things:
7) Last up this week, a song which I wouldn’t normally feature because, well, slightly twee comic songs performed on the ukelele are basically the worst thing IN THE WORLD, and yet this one manages to be not just good but GREAT - funny, biting, and timely. This is called ‘Tough Time For Boys’ - ENJOY, AND BYE, BYE, BYE, TAKE CARE AND WHY NOT TAKE THIS WEEKEND AS AN OPPORTUNITY TO WEAR A LARGE JUMPER AND DO SOME HIGH-QUALITY PARK WALKING AND LEAF KICKING IF THE WEATHER PERMITS BECAUSE IT IS NOW VERY MUCH THAT TIME OF YEAR AND IF YOU WANT TO HAVE A DRINK WITH TOO MUCH CINNAMON IN IT JUST BECAUSE IT’S OCTOBER THEN YOU GO GIRL ANYWAY TAKE CARE SEE YOU NEXT WEEK I LOVE YOU BYE!