Well. That escalated quickly!
Look, I know fcuk all about disease, transmission, virii, epidemics or any of this stuff so fear not, I'm not about to tell you What I Think about all this. Think of me instead as some sort of diligent support worker, toiling away in the content mines to bring you fresh nuggets of webspaff (globules, possibly, though I'm not sure if one can mine a globule; don't worry everyone, I write this top section at the end so you're very much getting the fag-end of my prose here; I promise you it gets better (marginally) after the first picture) to keep you entertained and brainfed in the midst of all the panic.
So don't think about the virus more than you have to; try not to panic, try not to fret, call your mum and dad if you're able, and generally just relax - you've now got literally NO EXCUSE not to read every single word and click every single link in here, given you're probably going to be confined to your home before too long.
Is this it? Has it happened? Have I finally found an actual POINT to this fcuking blognewsletterthing - to provide something for people to do at a time of viral panic? See, there are silver linings!
Oh, and speaking of STUFF TO DO WITH YOUR TIME, why not pick up a copy of the Imperica Magazine for £3? It contains LOADS of words, none of them by me, and is an excellent way of passing some time while you wait for something to happen.
I'm Matt, this is Web Curios, and this too will pass.
By Alessandro Furchino Capria
LET’S KICK THIS OFF WITH AN AMAZING PLAYLIST OF TRIPHOP CLASSICS AND OBSCURITIES!
THE SECTION WHICH THINKS THAT THIS IS AN EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FOR US ALL TO QUIETLY STOP DOING BRANDED S*C**L M*D** WHILE EVERYONE IS DISTRACTED BY THE NEWS OF A GLOBAL PANDEMIC SO THAT WHEN THIS ALL BLOWS OVER WE CAN RETURN TO A WORLD IN WHICH FAST FOOD BRANDS DON’T TRY AND TALK TO US ON THE INTERNET:
- Facebook Extends Political Ad Rules To New Countries: There was a piece of research published recently by Tandon School of Engineering in New York which pointed out that they had found 86,000 instances of ads which should have been flagged as political based on Facebook’s own rules which, er, weren’t - another shining endorsement of the integrity of the Big Blue Misery Factory’s policies and their enforcement. Still, 32 additional countries including Mexico and Indonesia are now at least ostensibly falling into line with FB’s rules on political advertising; check the list and amend your lying propagandising appropriately (or, er, don’t! It won’t matter! These rules aren’t worth the digital paper they’re sort-of printed on!).
- Twitter Amends Its Developer Policy: This won’t be of any interest to the vast majority of you, but if you build things on Twitter or using its APIs then it’s worth a look; basically this is a tweak rather than a full rewrite, but there’s some interesting stuff in here about the rules around bot creation, specifically-designed to help distinguish between ‘good’ bots and malicious ones in terms of the way they’re treated by the platform. Specifically, it’s asking developers to clearly claim responsibility for bots they have built and make that information available in-bio. So, er, developers! Disclose your bots! Or don’t! Maybe none of this matters anyway!
- TikTok Improves Analytics: Specifically adding “some new analytics tools in its Creator Marketplace app, including real-time insights into influencer campaign views, engagement rates, engaged audience demographics and more.” As you will all doubtless know, the Creator Marketplace is TikTok’s own ‘let us help you find shiny-haired children on our platform to shill your product for you’ influencer/brand matching tool; these updates are designed to help brands get better, clearer information about the performance of content posted by said ‘influencers’ and make better decisions as to which of the post-Sylvia Young teens they’re going to shower with swag in exchange for making a 10-second ‘comedy’ vignette featuring their specific brand of shampoo. God, it all sounds so tawdry when I write it like this; sorry.
- TikTok Launches Transparency Centre: This is very smart, I think; TikTok’s getting ahead of the backlash wave by opening what it calls a ‘transparency centre’ in LA which will afford people the opportunity to see under the bonnet of the platform’s moderation and safety efforts. Doing this before there’s a massive cry from old legislators asking for exactly this information is very, very smart indeed, and an object lesson in how to own this type of stuff from a comms point of view; we could sit here and debate exactly how much I’d be inclined to believe the processes demonstrated in this transparency centre as being indicative of actual processes and procedures rather than an idealised version of them, but simply as a PR exercise this is very smart work indeed.
- Snap Launches Lens Web Builder: ANYONE CAN NOW MAKE LENSES FOR SNAP! Really easily! In-browser! In minutes! This is...oh, look, here: “Snap has created a basic but functional tool that can be accessed from common web browsers, letting users create a new lens in minutes without AR design experience. In addition to hundreds of Snap-supplied assets, including 3D objects, effects, and animations, creators can upload 2D assets, such as logos and images, for personalization. The custom lens is then available for use in Snapchat ad campaigns, subject to daily minimum spending requirements.” This won’t kill the more sophisticated tools previously available, just offer an easy route in for anyone who fancies making some AR gubbins - if you’ve any sort of digital design or artistic talent then this sounds like something that would be a LOT of fun to play around with as you climb the walls with isolation madness in a few short weeks’ time.
- Snap Camera: It’s entirely possible that this is super-old, but I hadn’t seen it before and it cropped up this week as part of a wider conversation around home working and teleconfering and stuff. Snap Camera lets anyone use AR effects which work using your webcam rather than your phone, leveraging Snap’s excellent tech off-mobile for the lols. Download this and enliven all your otherwise-moribund videocalls over the coming weeks with the application of the COMEDY DOG FACE filter or whichever other one takes your fancy; it’s apparently compatible with loads of programmes, so you should be able to ‘amuse’ your colleagues with this whatever wfh-stack you’re employing.
- Reddit Launches Paid Trends: This, I think, is rather exciting (insofar as new ad formats can ever be truly described as such); “On Monday, Reddit introduced its latest ad product, called Trending Takeovers, where brands can buy 24 hours of prominent placement on the social platform’s Popular feed and within its search tab”. Now obviously all the usual caveats apply here about what trending on Reddit might end up meaning in terms of ‘loads of internet edgelords making your brand a bit toxic’, but, if you’re willing to put up with hundreds of comments telling your employer to fcuk off and die, there are few better places to achieve mass-level visibility for whatever you’re trying to shill. Prices are on-application, but the article linked here suggests this will cost less than the equivalent service on Twitter, which feels like a bargain imho.
- Google Chrome Adds Better Accessibility Testing: Not technically about s*c**l m*d**, but it’s worky and so vaguely fits in here; Google Chrome now lets developers test their code to show them what it will look like to people with different visual impairments, which is a simple but very smart way of helping ensure that sites are developed with accessibility in mind.
- I Lost My Gig: I know a few people who work in the events space, and the poor fcukers are having an awful time at the moment; there are going to be whole business that go to the wall as the virus shuts in-person business down over the next month or so. This website was set up in the wake of the cancellation of SXSW last week, and is a space for people who’ve had gigs disappear as a result to share the nature of their work, the amount of money they’re going to be out of pocket for, links to their businesses, and their payment details should anyone want to chuck them a few quid out of goodwill. Which, obviously, is lovely; that said, I confess to having a bit of a “hang on, WHAT?!?” at the person on here who’s claiming to be in a $40,000 income-hole based on the cancellation of orders for ‘balloons and flowers’ - HOW MANY BALLOONS IS THAT?????
- Why We Run: Finally, a palette-cleansing, business-as-usual bit of webwork from Strava - this is a really nice piece of digital design and information visualisation all about Strava’s research into the motivating factors for what motivates people to run, what they enjoy - and hate - about the experience, etc, all of which is not only a boon to any of you who ever need to discover some bullsh1t ‘insight’ (actually, can we pause for a second? Can we please, please, please stop using this word? It has become so overworked as to be meaningless and is seemingly now used solely to refer to ‘some data’ and, honestly, every time I hear you misuse it I imagine what it would be like to peel the skin from your face with a meathook) but which is also smart in terms of the brand job of cementing Strava’s status as ‘the people who GET outdoorsy exercise’.
By Daido Moriyama
NEXT, ENJOY PHILIP GLASS’S SOUNDTRACK TO KING LEAR!
THE SECTION WHICH WOULD LIKE TO POINT OUT THAT, IF YOU ARE STAYING AT HOME FOR AN EXTENDED PERIOD OF TIME AND STARTING TO CLIMB THE WALLS A BIT, THE WEB CURIOS ARCHIVE CONTAINS APPROXIMATELY 10MILLION WORDS AND LINKS WITH WHICH TO AMUSE AND DISTRACT YOURSELF, PT.1:
- The Coronavirus Tech Handbook: I linked this last week, but it’s important enough to link again - this is a live list of tech resources from across the globe dealing with the spread of the virus, its tracking and its attempted containment.
- Wash Your Hands Bot: One might hope that we’ve all got the memo about personal hygiene in the past weeks, but in case not you might want to follow this practical little Twitter bot by Rob Manuel which has one job and one job only - to Tweet every hour and swearily remind you to WASH YOUR FCUKING HANDS. Combine this with the ‘don’t touch your face’ webcam-toy from last week and your safety from the viral apocalypse is assured (it is not assured; please don’t sue me if you get sick).
- Wash Your Lyrics: You know about this, I’m sure - this did the rounds this week, and rightly so. A lovely idea, this lets you plug in any song you can think of and automatically generate a public information-style poster which shows you how to wash your hands thoroughly for 20 seconds using the lyrics of your chosen track as your timer - because we’re all bored of singing ‘Happy Birthday’ as we scrub. You could, of course, take the radical and hitherto-unimagined step of just fcuking counting, of course, but where’s the whimsical fun in that? My favourite outputs from this so far have been the ones using oddly-inappropriate tracks; ‘Too Drunk To Fcuk’ by the Dead Kennedys is nice, as is anything by Cannibal Corpse should you wish to give yourself a deep, undernail clean whilst humming about ‘orgies of Sodom’.
- Staying Home Club: An ongoing list of the businesses that have so far sent their staff home to self isolate rather than requiring them to come into the office petri dish. If you’re starting to feel a bit anxious about going into work, commuting and all that jazz, I suggest you send this to whoever you feel might give a sh1t and ask them why they don’t care about you and want you to die. As an aside, my cousin in Rome is on full lockdown at the moment along with the rest of my family; she was offered the option to work from home this week, but on trying to take it up was subsequently told that she wasn’t allowed because she hadn’t taken a ‘working from home safety training module’ online. OH KAFKA!!
- These Nudes Do Not Exist: Right, enough of that virus stuff. Let’s get back to the weird, grubby and vaguely-uncomfortable, the real meat of the Web Curios experience. I’m slightly surprised that this has taken so long, given it’s been a full year since the first ‘X doesn’t exist’ GAN-generated imaginary stuff websites first started appearing; equally, I’m also slightly surprised that this does exist given the fact that, for better or worse, the one thing that you’re never far away from online is an image of the naked female form. Stil, exist it does - this website offers a service whereby for the low, low price of $1 you can download your very own GAN-imagined naked woman, wholly machine-imagined, for you to do with as you wish. I...don’t really understand what this is for, or what use one might put these imagined nudes to, and there’s something interesting-and-bleak in the idea that even nude modelling is an industry that could be affected by the march of the machines and the replacement of human labour with its digital equivalent, but I think, most of all, my main reaction to this is one of slightly-exhausted disgust. Although, now I think about it, if your image is part of the dataset used to train the GAN to create these, what sort of rights might you be able to claim as a partial-creator? After all, one might reasonably argue that one’s image is an integral part of the process, that without one’s image the software would be fundamentally different, and that as such there’s a clear link between said image and the output generated which could, maybe, be grounds for (infinitesimally-small) compensation. I mean, good luck to the lawyer wanting to take this one on on behalf of the rest of humanity, but it’s an intellectually interesting argument if nothing else.
- This Meme Does Not Exist: This, though, is GREAT - ALL of the meme templates, with machine-generated captions! So, so, so good - surreal and nonsensical and yet just about recognisable within their genres, if I were in charge of a million+ normie Insta account I would absolutely start dropping some of these on the TL to see how people responded. I mean, look at this one! Or this one! Bookmark this on your phone and drop these into the groupchat at regular intervals to win it FOREVER.
- This Artwork Does Not Exist: DOESN’T IT? OH MY BRAIN! Post-Duchamp snarkery aside, this is a rather lovely stream of GAN-generated art; there’s a little nav console in the bottom-right that lets you generate a new one and there’s something quite lovely about just cycling through the abstracts. I would be interested to see how these looked in a gallery space; on the one hand, there’s a certain common quality to all the generated works that I think would become deadening if experienced en masse, but, on the other, this is all better than about 80% of the stuff I saw last time I went to Frieze so, well, who knows?! Regardless, if there’s not a plan afoot to create a special version of this code in a digital frame for sale as an infinite artwork then I don’t know WHAT is wrong with the world (if nothing else, I would totally buy one - please, MAKE IT JUST FOR ME).
- The New York Apartment: This is the best and most interesting digital artwork I’ve seen in a while; it takes every single estate agent’s listing for every single apartment available for sale in New York and mashes them into one kilometric, imagined apartment, which you can explore online at your leisure. There’s a 3d virtual tour! There are literally hundreds of thousands of rooms! It costs nearly $50BN! Honestly, take the 3d tour - it’s dizzying and amazing and like some sort of real estate ‘libarary of Babel’ and I love it immoderately. Honestly, everything about this is perfect, not least the strange, otherwordly flatness of estate agent prose when experienced at scale, and the way that the aspiration inherent in property becomes absurd and slightly pathetic when presented in this sort of way. I would LOVE to see this developed as some sort of installation, although I appreciate that probably totally misses the point of the whole thing. Equally, I’d love to see a London comparison; if nothing else, the linguistic differences would be fascinating.
- Subcutanean: Shamefully I missed this when it was crowdfunding - I’M SORRY - but better late than never. Subcutanea is a horror-ish novel, whose gimmick is that no two copies are the same; the copy is to a degree procedurally-generated, meaning that each version printed will be materially different in meaningful, plot-defining ways. “The master manuscript contains hundreds of moments of variation on the same core story. Sometimes these are whole scenes that might appear in some versions but not others: sometimes they’re single words that change the way you might feel about a character or an event. Each time someone orders a copy of the book, a new version will be generated by randomly collapsing all these alternatives down to a single version of the story, including keeping interconnected bits consistent, handling print-ready layout, and uploading the new text to the printer.” I have my doubts as to whether this will necessarily make for a particularly compelling read, but I am in awe of the ambition here and the thinking behind how to practically make this happen is genuinely fascinating - if you’ve any interest in automated prose generation (AND WHO DOESN’T??), and the possibilities of human/machine literary collaboration, this is probably a must-read.
- Jigsaw: “Jigsaw is a unit within Google that forecasts and confronts emerging threats, creating future-defining research and technology to keep our world safer...We identify emerging technology threats that destabilize the internet and our society. We develop cutting-edge research and technology to counter these threats, and help defend civil society, journalists, activists and those at the forefront of digital conflict.” This is an interesting series of case studies and resources from Google, offering some insight into the work it does and the products it develops to help address issues of malicious misinformation and state-level disruption online. If you’re anyway involved in digital democracy and / or related initiatives, this is worth a look.
- Is Something Behind The Waterfall?: Videogame waterfalls! Is there anything behind them? WHO KNOWS??? Well, thanks to this Twitter account you do! It answers the vitally important question of whether there’s anything for players to find behind digital waterfalls, but not, sadly, why one should never chase them.
- The Twitter Coding Challenge 2020: This is interesting, although only those of you who can actually code (and, probably, are quite good at it) need apply here. Twitter’s launched its 2020 RecSys challenge, which this year is offering people ACTUAL CASHMONEY PRIZES if they can create code which works to predict engagement levels on Tweets, based on the downloadable corpus available on the site. “This challenge aims to evaluate novel algorithms for predicting different engagement rates at a large scale, and push the state-of-the-art in recommender systems. Following the success and advancements in the domain of top-K recommendations, we aim to encourage the development of new approaches by releasing the largest real-world dataset to predict user engagements. The dataset comprises of roughly 200 million public engagements, along with user and engagement features, that span a period of 2 weeks and contain public interactions (Like, Reply, Retweet and Retweet with comment), as well as 100 million pseudo negatives which are randomly sampled from the public follow graph.” I find this really interesting, not least in terms of the idea that there can be easily-definable criteria or characteristics which can reliably predict engagement rates on content; I thought we’d given up hunting the ‘what makes things go viral?’ unicorn, but perhaps not.
- Dress David Rose: I believe that David Rose is a character from popular TV show Schitt’s Creek (that’s not intended to be some sort of snobby “I am better than you because I am uncertain about an aspect of popular culture” ‘I believe’, by the way, more an expression of genuine uncertainty and an uncharacteristic reluctance to Google); anyway, whoever David Rose is, this website lets you play dress up with him, in a wide range of outfits taken from various series of whatever entertainment he’s a part of. Wow, that feels like I totally managed to suck the joy from this through the power of my prose alone - well done, Matt! Tell you what, though, I really like some of these tops - can someone make this shoppable, please?
- The Auction Game: Another site by Neil Agwaral, who made the rather nice visualisation of income from a few weeks back; this is a simple, fun game which shows you an item that has sold at auction and asks you to guess how much it went for. Shouldn’t be entertaining but very much is, and now I want someone to make the same game but which asks you to recall the exact fee paid for Premier League footballers over the past 30 years. Seriously, it would do NUMBERS - you can thank me later, people at Joe or the Mirror or whoever.
- Rap Machine: This is another AI-ish generative toy and so should really be up top with the rest of them, but taxonomical consistency be damned! Rap Machine is a rhyming lyric generator, trained on a large corpus of hiphop lyrics, which lets you input a seed lyric and then generates another to follow it (you can read about how it’s made here if you like). It’s significantly less impressive than the lyrics generator I chucked in here a few weeks back - this one, in fact! - but it does throw out some very WTF-ish copy and as such might be worth keeping open this afternoon as a way of injecting some creativity into your responses to work emails. Feeding it “did you email the client?” as a prompt caused it to offer me “you don't need to give a fcuk you a fcuk steak” as the subsequent line, which I am now going to find it very, very hard not to email to someone once I’m done with Curios this week.
- Carnegie Museum on TikTok: Thanks to Katie for sending this my way - it’s JOYFUL. Museums on TikTok are very much a THING at the moment, but this is the best example I’ve yet seen, mainly thanks to whoever the bloke with the white beard and the inexplicable snail obsession is. Honestly, just watch these - I have no idea who this man is, but I LOVE HIM SO MUCH, and all his dad jokes about snails. This is very, very joyful indeed.
- Sim Memes: The Sims is...what, 25 years old now? For some reason EA have decided that it needs a new marketing push and have created a new promo campaign featuring famouses talking about how much they love the game and some slightly-cringey language around how it’s all about ‘PLAYING WITH LIFE’ or somesuch; ignore all that, though, and scroll down to get involved with the SIMS MEME GENERATOR! Yep, for reasons known only to the EA marketing team, you can now make ‘memes’ by combining a preselected image from the Sims with a preselected caption (no freedom to create whatever you like here, for fairly obvious reasons of brand stewardship) - there’s noone on Earth who’s ever thought ‘you know what? I don’t feel I can communicate to the best of my ability because there’s as yet no way for me to overlay a series of generic, largely-meaningless phrases over the top of a graphic from a popular videogame franchise about the mundanity of life’, and yet here we are. These are SO BAD, and as a result SO GOOD, and there’s a very real chance that if you know me you will be getting nothing but these and poorly-composed rap couplets for the rest of the day so, well, sorry about that.
- Unpluq: Are you incapable of resisting the siren call of the magical glass rectangle in your pocket for more than 30s at a time? Do you wish you could GET YOUR LIFE BACK??? Well perhaps consider developing some fcuking willpower, then, you weak, pathetic, spineless whelp; what’s wrong with you? Or, alternatively and perhaps less unfairly-aggressively, consider backing Unpluq - a Kickstarter campaign just nudging up to funded at the time of writing, which offers you a physical key which you can attach to your phone which, when removed, will effectively brick 90% of its functions to transform it into a dumbphone and thereby remove all the shiny digital distractions. Actually, my snark aside, this looks like it could be a genuinely useful thing in terms of instituting parental controls on device use - physical blocking devices are far, far harder to circumvent than digital ones, after all, as anyone who’s played the game of teen whack-a-mole that is ‘attempting to limit their time on Fortnite’ will know.
By Kata Geibl
NOW HAVE THIS FRANKLY FILTHY MIX OF JUNGLE, ELECTRO, BREAKS AND ASSORTED OTHER GUBBINS BY YAZZUS!
THE SECTION WHICH WOULD LIKE TO POINT OUT THAT, IF YOU ARE STAYING AT HOME FOR AN EXTENDED PERIOD OF TIME AND STARTING TO CLIMB THE WALLS A BIT, THE WEB CURIOS ARCHIVE CONTAINS APPROXIMATELY 10MILLION WORDS AND LINKS WITH WHICH TO AMUSE AND DISTRACT YOURSELF, PT.2:
- The Uncensored Library: Thanks to Kathryn Meyer (apologies if I’ve misspelled that) for sending this to editor Paul; this is SUCH a wonderful project, and a proper ‘wow, sometimes people and the web are legitimately amazing’ thing. Reporters Without Borders have built a LIBRARY in Minecraft - not just any library, though, but one which features texts of articles and reporting that might have been censored by authoritarian regimes around the world, made available in-game on a special server for anyone to access wherever they are. The intention is that the library will exist as a permanent, growing digital resource, affording people around the world the opportunity to engage with information that may be censored in real life where they live but which can be accessed covertly via the seemingly-innocuous in-game engine. Honestly, this is MIND-BLOWINGLY smart and I am in awe of the concept and its execution - aside from anything else, the library they have built is just a glorious piece of digital architecture. I will be very disappointed if this doesn’t win all the awards this year - it is so, so clever and I wish I had had something to do with it.
- Somnium Space: It’s Second Life...ON THE BLOCKCHAIN!!! I don’t really understand this - it looks like A N Other virtual world (oh, how quickly we become jaded!) except, er, ON THE BLOCKCHAIN! I think that the Blockchain element is designed to offer some sort of persistent ownership opportunities of virtual assets, but all it makes me think is that this is a massive grift and that someone, somewhere is trying to rip me off - will Blockchain ever shake off that slight air of ‘obsessive Redditor in a basement somewhere’, do you think, or has it been ruined forever by the BitcoinBros? Anyway, this looks like it’s some sort of con, but it’s quite an entertaining one - I especially encourage you to scroll down the website and get to the ‘features’ bit’; alongside the expected virtual world elements such as ‘cross-platform acces’ and ‘a persistent environment’ is also the slightly punchy claim that Somnium Space will one day let you LIVE FOREVER - “Automatic recording mode of yourself on your own property for future AI analysis to bring your avatar to life”!, they say. I..I appreciate that I am running the risk of looking VERY SILLY here, but I’m willing to bet that if anyone does discover the secret to eternal life it’s not going to be anything to do with a fcuking Blockchain-powered videogame.
- Celebrity Gif Analysis: The Pudding with another piece of silly-but-impressive data analysis and visualisation, this time exploring the emotional range displayed by celebrities in the gifs that are most widely used of them on the web. This is really rather interesting; if I’m being picky, I would have been even more interested had they applied this analysis to the slightly thornier issue of racial representation in gifs, but maybe someone else can do that using this data.
- A Pure CSS Landscape: A seaside sunset, rendered purely in CSS and presented in such a manner that lets you fcuk with the code and see what happens. Honestly, this sort of thing is basically witchcraft as far as I’m concerned - I can’t even begin to imagine what the inside of one’s head feels like when attempting to wrangle code like this, though I’d be willing to be the answer is ‘angular and crowded’.
- Customise Your Google Maps: I don’t normally feature ‘quality of life’-type tips for the web in Curios, but I was ASTONISHED to learn that this is possible and you might be too. DID YOU KNOW that you can go into Google Maps and set preferences for the sort of stuff that it shows you? So, for example, you can tell it that you prefer vegan or vegetarian restaurants, say, or that you hate Vietnamese food (why? You racist) and it will take these preferences into account when serving you search results on Maps. Honestly, I can imagine this being a godsend if you have specific dietary requirements; obviously the downside here is that we’re telling Google even more about ourselves and our likes which it will then use as another means of selling us stuff more effectively but, well, it’s perhaps a bit late to start worrying about that now.
- Jeans for Refugees: On the one hand, this is a charity project and therefore A Good Thing. On the other hand, WOW are some of these ugly. The gimmick here is that a bunch of famouses have donated a pair of denim, each of which is then painted by artist Jonny Dar and then sold off for charity. So, if you want to own a pair of Levi’s that were once potentially owned by, say, Ant of Ant and Dec fame (NOONE MENTION HIS SECRET FAMILY) and which have now been decorated to resemble a plasterer’s radio then, well, FILL YOUR BOOTS. A question - why does Julio Iglesias appear to have donated a pair of what can only be described as Matalan maternity jeans?
- Mise En Place: A wonderful video series by Eater on YouTube, which looks behind the scenes at a selection of high-end kitchens and shows you how they function. All in the US at present, but don’t let that put you off - honestly, if you’re into food or cookery this will basically be like crack to you; I am running 15 minutes late this morning because I got stuck watching one of these at 640am, so please blame Gabriel Kreuther for the ever-so-slightly-rushed quality to the prose this morning (I know, I know).
- Jodorowksi’s Dune: You all know the story here, right? That mad Mexican cinema auteur Alejandro Jodorowsky was once onboard to make a version of Frank Herbert’s epic scifi desert’n’worms-fest in the mid-70s, and that never happened, but the insanity of the planned production has passed into Hollywood legend? Well, this is a collection of the concept art and sketches from Jodorowsky’s planning process and MAN does this stuff look interesting (and mad). There has to be a videogame adaptation at some point, surely, using this visual style as a basis.
- Webcams in Rome: You want to see what a city on lockdown looks like? Like this. Honestly, as someone who’s been to Rome twice a year, more or less, since birth, this is quite astonishing - you NEVER see it looking like this, ever.
- All Of The Empty Places: In fact, have this - a selection of images from around the globe of cities denuded of people as we all hide at home from the VIRUS. The photo of the Vatican in particular very much felt as though it was taken immediately post-Rapture.
- Face and Hand Tracking: I think this is the tech that that ‘Don’t Touch Your Face’ site from last week was built on - regardless, if there was ever time to start experimenting with tech that made it possible to control things with gestures rather than touching, now is it.
- Fluid Dynamics: Another rather pretty little fluid dynamic simulator for you to play with in-broswer. Put this on your phone or on a tablet, put it on the floor and watch your cat get very, very excited as it tries and fails to catch whatever it thinks is moving down there. Or, er, don’t be so cruel. Up to you really.
- Spatial: So, working from home eh? How’s that working out for you? I feel like, as a pseudo-freelancer, I should offer you some words of guidance about how to cope but, well, IT’S NOT FCUKING HARD FFS JUST TURN ON THE LAPTOP MAKE TEA AND STARE MINDLESSLY INTO SPACE JUST LIKE YOU WOULD DO IN THE OFFICE. Honestly, I don’t really understand this ‘but how will I motivate myself to do stuff?’ fear - like you normally do, you idiot, by telling yourself that if you don’t do it you will end up dying in penury on the streets. Anyway, that’s all by way of longwinded digression before introducing Spatial, an AR coworking solution! Yes, that’s right, SEE YOUR COLLEAGUES! Put virtual post-its on virtual walls! Wave at each other in AR whilst all being in different places! This genuinely does look quite remarkable and very future - it uses MS Hololens, as far as I can tell, and whilst the cost is obviously VIOLENT and there is no way it will work anywhere near as well as promised, but, well, it’s SO FUTURE. I think it only really makes sense for businesses whose work has a heavy design element to it - I can’t really see the benefit of AR for collaborating on GDocs, for example - but for those businesses that that applies to, this could be ACE. For lols, why not email your COO with this link and a short note saying “worth considering for the imminent Corona lockdown?”, just to see their face twitch at your ‘helpful’ suggestion.
- Niche Twitter Rage: This is both a great Twitter thread and one which, in the end, will make you sort of wish for the virus to take us all and do the universe a favour. Elizabeth May wrote the following last Friday: “please tell me about an extremely niche section of twitter that you never knew existed until you made them angry. one time i made Feed Swans Bread Twitter angry after i suggested food alternatives. FOR MONTHS I got angry tweets, until I finally deleted it. YOUR TURN.” - the responses are...wow. SO many to love (and, really, hate), but this was my personal “what, really??” rubicon: “I said I felt badly for whales (prompted by an article about the noise pollution caused by ships). Apparently, Whales-Are-Bad-Actually Twitter is a thing. I got death threats. So, that was fun.” Imagine being the sort of person who hangs around the internet waiting for people to express a positive opinion on whales so that you could jump out at them shouting “NO THEY ARE EVIL MAMMALIAN FCUKS AND YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED FOR STANNING THEM”. Just imagine.
- Sidetalkin: This is an EXCELLENT relic from the old internet, which James Whatley kindly informed me was something to do with Nokia fan communities and the NGage and stuff, but which most importantly is a very pure hit of mid-00s era internet, all flashing fonts and garish colours and silly photos of people posing with stuff and pretending to use it as a phone because...er...no idea! Still, it’s a nice callback to an era in which everyone was kind and nice to each other and bad things didn’t happen online ever (I know that’s not true, but it does rather feel like that at times).
- Musicsplitter: So, what are you going to DO with all this time at home? Why not dedicate yourself to music production and remixing? Why not play with this tool, which lets you upload MP3 files and returns them to you split into individual tracks for vocals, drums and synth? The first couple are free and then it charges you 50p for each subsequent one; I am somewhat suspicious about the quality here, but it’s free to try so why not give it a go and finally get around to creating that reworked version of Crazy Frog that you’ve been dreaming of all these years.
- Remove Video Background: Or, why not feed a bunch of video into this tool - which automatically isolates people and removes the background from any video you care to give it - and create a series of odd, slightly surreal clips of people from your company speaking at corporate events but now transposed into incongruous scenes from films, or maybe even bongo? See, you will NEVER get bored - Web Curios is basically Why Don’t You? for the end-of-days generation.
- Zamboni Simulator: For those of you who don’t know, a Zamboni is the machine which cleans the ice on an ice rink. This game lets you drive one. Very slowly. Around an ice rink. You may not think you will enjoy this, but I promise you it is very, very zen indeed.
- Happy Island Designer: Animal Crossing is a videogame in which you can create and manage your own cutesy little village (I think; I confess to being a touch ignorant as to the exact mechanics); there’s a new version coming out soon, and in preparation the designers have created this browser-based toy that lets you plan out your virtual village in advance, mapping plants and houses and flowers and paths and roads and ALL sorts of other things. You don’t need to know anything about the game, or even to have any intention of playing it, to enjoy this - it’s basically just a really gentle little town creation toy, which seems like the sort of thing it might be mice to spend a few hours noodling around with while you’re stuck inside bouncing off the walls.
- Plant Daddy: Significantly less overtly-sexual than the name initially led me to believe, Plant Daddy is a game that lets you grow plants. That’s it, but it is VERY SOOTHING and VERY SLOW and VERY GENTLE, and you can’t, seemingly, kill the plants, which makes it approximately 100x more rewarding than real life, where I have repeatedly and traumatically discovered that you really can kill the plants, very easily indeed. This is a really nice one to have open in a browser tab and to check in on every 10m or so.
By Allan Bealy
LAST UP IN THIS WEEK’S MUSIC, DID YOU KNOW THAT LINKEDIN HAS LAUNCHED ITS OWN RANGE OF MIXES ON SPOTIFY? CAN YOU THINK OF ANYTHING MORE SOUL-DESTROYING? EXPERIENCE THEM FOR YOURSELF AND FEEL YOUR SOUL BEING SUCKED FROM YOUR BODY AS YOU DO SO!
THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!:
- Speculative Identities: NOT IN FACT A TUMBLR! Still, it feels a bit Tumblr-ish; Speculative Identities is a site about the visual design of scifi, “exploring the worlds of science fiction in search of the possibilities they present, to see what kind of role visual identities have in our imagined frontiers and futures, and to learn how those works can inform the designer of today.” Interesting, particularly if design’s your thing.
- Just Cassette: Shared on Twitter by the lovely people at Present & Correct, this is also NOT A TUMBLR but, well, fcuk it. It’s a tribute to the cassette tape, and frankly what could be more Tumblr-ish than that?
THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!:
- Marina Triantafyllidou: Not only is Ms Triantafyllidou an excellent artist, whose work combines watercolour work with elements of the fetish and ropework scene, but she also wins the coveted Web Curios ‘Surname of the Week’ award.
- Romweird: Romwe is, as far as I can tell, like Wish but for clothes - a purveyor of cheap, disposable tat, but in the garment space rather than the WTF space. Except, as this Insta feed shows, it often falls into WTFery anyway; some of these outfits are ACE, though. I would totally wear a tshirt that read ‘Sad and Fancy’, for example.
- Victor Harold: It’s been a while since I’ve been this impressed with a CG artist’s Insta feed, but this is astonishing stuff. Check out the tadpole-to-frog video; it’s quite, quite brilliant.
LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:
- The Italian Lockdown: I ended up on Roman Facebook (“faisbük”) the other night; MAN was that a mistake. If you’re in any way a nervous sort of person, can I please recommend that you don’t attempt to do any digging of translating? Anyway, the country’s in lockdown, my mum’s stuck in the house (I bet that STILL won’t be enough to persuade her to read all of this, though), my gran’s stuck in the house, my cousins are stuck in the house....this piece in Wired is a translation of the FAQs put out by the Italian Government around the currently STAY INDOORS legislation; whatever you might think of the UK Government’s response to date, it’s clear reading these that this isn’t exactly a well-thought or clearly-explained position either. Turns out attempting to put measures in place to change the behaviour of tens of millions of people at pace is hard. Not that you’d know that, of course, by listening to the literally thousands of generic media wankers who have developed a hitherto-unimagined degree of expertise in virology or epidemiology in the past week - I am reminded of this cartoon on an almost constant basis every time I look at Twitter.
- The Word From Wuhan: Or rather, the word from Wuhan last week. This is an excellent piece by Wang Xiuying on their experience of the virus to date, and how it’s felt from the inside being subject to the strictures imposed by the Chinese state over the past month. It’s particularly interesting reading about the impact that the crisis may have on a generation’s perception of the State as a benevolent parental figure, although should the measures taken end up working as well as they currently seem to be you’d imagine that this whole thing will end up bolstering Xi rather than undermining him.
- Belt & Road & Pakistan: Of course, China’s got other concerns beyond Corona - the slowing economy is impacting the scope and rollout of the Belt and Road project, which in turn will have interesting and far-reaching consequences for the potential geopolitical power balance across Asia and Africa over the coming century. This piece focuses specifically on the project’s work in Pakistan, where plans to create an international hub port out of basically nothing aren’t quite going to plan. I can’t help but be slightly awed when I read about this sort of stuff - it reminds me slightly of the feeling of impressed terror I get when I contemplate MechaBezos and all his works, insofar as China is here operating on a scale and vision so vastly larger than that we can even conceive of that it’s like their playing an entirely different game of statecraft to everyone else (which, I suppose, is exactly what they are in fact doing).
- A Dataset is a Worldview: This is an excellent and very smart essay, which made me think about data and its supposed objectivity completely differently. The central thesis here is an obvious one now I come to think of it, but I simply hadn’t even considered it prior to reading the article; effectively its author, Hannah Davis, posits that there is no such thing as an ‘objective’ dataset, as all datasets are by definition subjective based on what it is that they choose to include and exclude; as such, we should all become better at acknowledging this subjectivity and mitigating against it when using siad datasets for universal applications. I’m explaining this badly because, bluntly, I’m not as smart as Davis, but read the essay for a far better and more cogent explanation.
- It’s Not Easy Being (Consistently) Green: Seeing as we’re all now experts on behavioural psychology, this is a timely and interesting read on how the ‘spillover effect’ works to affect how we approach moral obligations such as being green. Simply put, this is about whether doing something green makes us more or less likely to do something else green in the future - the answer to the question is a complex mix of internal and external factors, bound up with broader social context, peer group dynamics and all sorts of things, but there’s LOADS of really interesting stuff here about how to design systems so as to optimise the likelihood of positive spillover effects resulting from single actions. This is really interesting, and now I too feel qualified to attend the next Cobra meeting along with EVERY OTHER FCUKING PR1CK ON TWITTER (sorry, this is still annoying me).
- Cascades: It’s been a good week for slightly-hard, thinky, conceptual essays; this is another one, on the concept of ‘cascades’ - often referred to as ‘domino’, ‘snowball’ or ‘butterfly’ effects, but basically any system where an action leads to subsequent, escalating consequences - and how they work and how they can be used. There’s so, so much interesting thinking in here, and it’s written beautifully accessibly, even if you’re a mathematical untermenschen like me. Also, this is a mind-blowing fact: “how many dominos do you think it will take to knock down the Empire State Building? The Empire State Building is 443,000 mm tall (about half a kilometer). And you start with a domino 5mm tall (the width of your little finger). How many dominoes? 28”. Mad. Honestly, if you’re in any way interested in systems thinking, process or maths theory, this is truly fascinating.
- Digital Theme Parks: Matthew Ball’s fast become one of the smartest people writing about the games and entertainment industries and where they are going; this is another piece of his, talking about the concept of ‘digital theme parks’ as a viable area of growth for companies like Disney, and how we might see Epic and others exploring how to leverage their platforms to create franchised digital experiences for fans to play. Fascinating.
- Snap: My general bearishness about Snap over the years is a prime example of what a total moron I am when it comes to predicting anything (and why you should never, ever listen to my advice about anything to do with business - Hi, I’m Matt, I’m a ‘consultant’ - hire me!); this is an interview with Evan Spiegel in Fast Company which shows exactly why he’s a billionaire and I’m not. I find the way in which the company now barely talks about the Snapchat platform at all, instead focusing on the twin pillars of hardware and the AR tech stack, fascinating, and a great example of business evolution (sorry, I went all LinkedIn there, won’t happen again).
- Weird Internet Careers: I love this, but it almost makes me a bit jealous. Gretchen McCulloch, online linguist who became famous last year off the back of her excellent book about how language is evolving post-web, writes here about ‘Weird Internet Careers’, jobs which are sort-of impossible to describe and certainly impossible to imagine without the web, and which are, in the main, self-sustaining and self-employed. God I wish there was a way in which I could do Curios as a job - and yes, I know that the main way of doing that would be to make it shorter, easier to consume and less cnuty, but, well, WHAT WOULD BE LEFT OF ME??? Anyway, if you have a young person anywhere in your life who’s feeling a bit confused, and you think that they are clever or talented, and they are EXTREMELY ONLINE, then give them this to read - I think it will help them (this also applies to non-young-people, tbh).
- Dressing for the Surveillance Age: ANOTHER article about anti-surveillance fashion and tech; look, FFS, I called this MONTHS ago - this is going to become a mainstream fashion thing so can someone just hurry up and make it so so that I can move on? This is a New Yorker piece, so it’s a bit highfalutin’, but it asks lots of interesting questions about the extent to which we can expect to be able to stay one step ahead of the tech, and for how long.
- Scarcity Studios: This, I confess, totally passed me by, but apparently - at least according to this WIRED piece - Scarcity Studios is a legitimate UK YouTube phenomenon, reporting on local crime with a degree of diligence and professionalism you wouldn’t necessarily expect from a YT channel. This article interviews the person behind it, but doesn’t (to my mind at least) quite go deep enough into why they are doing it, and the potentially iffy relationship between YouTube’s storied algorithm, monetisation and content; I don’t know about you, but I’m not convinced that a system that rewards virality - which in itself tends to content of a sensational nature - is necessarily the best basis for sober reporting in the long term.
- Twitch TikTokers: This is about Twitch streamers attempting to crossover onto TikTok - God I love writing sentences which would have been literally meaningless a matter of months ago - and is probably only of interest if you’ve skin in the streaming, gaming or content games. Still, as an overview of differing styles and approaches to content on the two radically different platforms, it’s fascinating, particularly the questions about whether the classic Twitch streamers persona can live on a different platform with different rules of engagement. I find this really, really interesting - not least the absolute 360 degree turn we’ve all done since the early days of the web. From ‘I can be whoever I want to be with whoever I’m with because noone will ever know’, to ‘you need to be consistent everywhere, the web rewards the true self’, back to ‘I’m this person on Insta, this on my finsta, this on my TikTok, this one on Messenger’...I think there’s something genuinely fascinating in this back-and-forth, though I confess that I don’t quite know exactly what.
- I Was A Middle-Class Drug Mule: The sort of story that I imagine VICE writers sh1t out in their sleep, this is neither particular interesting or revelatory; that said, though, it’s worth reading if you want an object lesson in what ‘White Privilege’ looks like. You can’t quite imagine a person of colour having the same experiences, can you?
- Woodrocket: Another VICE piece, this one however significantly more entertaining than the last - this is a profile of bongo studio Woodrocket, whose name you may not recognise (frankly, if you do, you possibly need to maybe put down the lube) but whose output you almost certainly will, even if only from the sharing of horrified WTAF thumbnails online. Woodrocket make those bongo parody films - the ones with people dressed in borderline-horrifying Smurf outfits, or as Spongebob, or as the weird CG monstrosities from Cats, all just sort of messily going at it whilst wearing slightly terrifying grins - and this is all about how (and why) they do it. Full warning - this is sort-of NSFW, in that there are a couple of pictures of naked people in here, but they are also made up to look like cartoon characters, so, well, no idea what the HR policy on that is tbqhwy.
- Starbucks: I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this essay about Starbucks so much, but it is WONDERFUL - it’s about the idea of Starbucks, and how that idea is embodied in its thousands of shops, but also about how that idea communicates quite a lot about how we live (and how we aspire to live, and how we are told to aspire to live) in the West in the early part of the 21C. This is far, far better than any essay about a chain of coffee shops has any right to be.
- In Praise of the Onion: It’s a glorious, beautiful paean to the onion - what more do you want to know? It’s by Thom Eagle, it’s an extract from his book ‘First, Catch’ which I am off to buy just as soon as I have finished typing all this rubbish, and it will make you want to spend the afternoon cooking.
- Too Close To Home: Heartbreaking story of a young black man’s shooting and death, and how the community mark and celebrate his passing. Beautifully-written, unsentimental and very, very raw.
- Tips for the Depressed: This is a wonderful piece of writing, comprising a series of pieces of advice for the depressed as well as being in itself a meditation on the condition and what it feels like and how we address it, or not, as a culture. Superb, and essential reading, I would argue, for every single one of you.
- This Is, Of Course, Impossible: Finally this week, a genuinely cheering piece of writing by Eddie Robson - I don’t think I’ve ever featured fan fiction in here before, but this is a piece of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy fanfic, and it’s beautifully written - it’s obviously indebted to Adams’ style, but not slavishly so, and it doesn’t feel at any point like Robson’s trying to be him if you see what I mean - and it’s funny and, honestly, it’s exactly the sort of thing to take your mind off stuff. Though, er, it does feature the end of the world. Anyway, it’s GREAT - thanks Eddie for writing it (NB I don’t know Eddie Robson and I don’t imagine they will ever see this, but just in case).
By Kazuo Sumida
AND NOW MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!
- Riz Ahmed’s been in the news a lot this week with his comments on Britishness, identity and his feelings on both; if you’ve not heard the single from his new album, or seen the video, or listened to the poem at the end which honestly had me in pieces, then watch this NOW. All of it, please - it’s an astonishing 11 minutes:
- This is by Mild Minds, and the video is SO GOOD; I don’t think I’ve ever seen quite this visual effect before, and, honestly, it’s mesmerising. I rather like the track too, which makes me think of being driven across a city in the back of a car, over a flyover, at night, whilst staring out of the window as towerblocks pass:
- This is called ‘Nausea’, it’s by Black Dresses, and if it’s not the official global anthem by now it really ought to be. It feels really, really unwell:
- Not sure why, but so far 2020 has been a really good year for techno - this is another absolute banger, with an excellent, weird video - from Poland, VTSS with ‘Batman Church’:
- Sonic Rebuilt is a remake of the 1999 Sonic the Hedgehog animated film, recreated by over 200 artists in a mix of animation styles. It’s a mess, but it’s also a beautiful, incoherent, VERY ONLINE mess. Also, it’s an hour of Sonic; what else are you going to do with your time til this all blows over?:
- HIPHOP CORNER! This is Blueprint, it’s called ‘A Hero Dies Once’, and it’s SO beautifully oldschool I might cry. I adore this:
- Last up this week, thanks to Matteo for bringing this to my attention - it’s ITALOHIPHOPCORNER! Look, this is a total earworm but I promise you’ll thank me later - this is by Anna (who is 16 FFS!!) and it’s called ‘Bando’, and it BANGS (don’t worry about what the lyrics mean; not a fat lot, basically). Enjoy! Oh, and THAT’S IT I’M OFF TAKE CARE PLEASE - I REALLY DO MEAN IT THIS WEEK - AND STAY SAFE AND PLEASE BE CONSIDERATE WHEN IT COMES TO THOSE MORE VULNERABLE THAN YOU AND GENERALLY JUST TRY AND BE OK AND I WILL BE BACK NEXT WEEK AND IN THE MEANTIME I LOVE YOU I LOVE YOU I LOVE YOU TAKE CARE I LOVE YOU BYE!: