44 minutes reading time (8730 words)

Web Curios 14/02/20

Web Curios 14/02/20

Love is in the air! Or a virus! Or both! Whether it be Cupid or the Coronavirus that strikes you down, I hope you're preparing to step into the weekend with vim and vigour and no little spunk. It's been another week - that's pretty much the best I can say about it - but now it's time to cast aside your cares and your worries and your woes and focus on the BEST Valentine's Day gift of all - 8,000+ words of bitter cycnicism, garnished with links and all wrapped up in bile JUST FOR YOU!

Before you get all up in my links, though, can I take a moment to once again remind you that Imperica's ACTUAL REAL PROPER MAGAZINE, packed with excellent articles life and culture and THE NOW, all by a range of writers from a range of backgrounds, all of which deserve to be read for the low, low price of £3 (which, let it be said once again, doesn't go anywhere NEAR me) - CLICK THE LINK AND BUY A COPY NOW! DO IT!

Anyway, enough of the plugging - I'm off to wash the crusted filth from my limbs and then begin the arduous task of constructing my girlfriend's present from the collection of biological oddities I've been accumulating since October; you're a lucky girl, Saz! The rest of you, though, consider the following mess of 'content' as my gift to you - imagine me staring plaintively at you as you read it, watching and waiting for any small gesture of appreciation. Imagine my massive, sad, watery eyes with their distressingly-liquid pupils just sort of boring into you like gimlets. IMAGINE THEM!

I'm Matt, this is Web Curios - it's good for you, I promise, although I concede that it might not feel like it at the time. 

By Connor Addison

FIRST UP IN THIS WEEK’S MIXES, WHY NOT TRY THE SOUNDTRACK TO THE PLAY ‘POET IN DA CORNER’ WHICH IS CURRENTLY ON AT THE ROYAL COURT AND IS BASICALLY INSPIRED BY DIZZEE’S DEBUT?

THE SECTION WHICH WOULD QUITE LIKE THE CURRENT DEARTH OF UPDATES ABOUT S*C**L M*D** TO CONTINUE FOREVER:

  • Facebook Adds ‘One Time Notification’ Option To Messenger: The fact that I’m opening this section with some ‘news’ about an update to the Messenger API should give you some idea as to the paucity of ‘news’ from the platforms this week. Still, impenetrable and tangential as this will be to most of you, there’s also the kernel of an opportunity here - Facebook’s now affording developers the opportunity to build in the ability to send users ONE notification, unbidden, via Messenger, presuming said users opt-in; meaning you can get people to grant you ONE SINGLE OPPORTUNITY to spam them with brandwank per year (no, really - the token which affords a Page the ability to contact users direct has a 12m expiry date, which in itself feels like something you might be able to exploit; this is exactly the sort of thing you could use to issue birthday present reminders, for example). Basically this is technical and boring and requires you to understand a bit about how the mechanical bits of Facebook actually work, but if you can put up with that then there’s some proper creative use cases for this, I think.
  • Facebook Launches Hobbi: The latest malformed chimera to emerge, limping and mucal, from Facebook’s new projects team, Hobbi is basically a Pinterest ripoff. It’s seemingly not available in the UK yet - no guarantee that it ever will be tbh - but if you’re curious I’m sure you can VPN your way in. Hobbi’s basically a sort of scrapbook for one’s own creative process; the idea is that you can create moodboards and the like of your photos of your work, documenting the process and the progress of your endeavours; there’s seemingly very little that’s truly ‘social’ about it, but you can export your collections of images to share elsewhere should you so desire. There’s no obvious reason why you should care about this, unless you’ve got a significant interest in Pinterest stock in which case be afraid.
  • Snap Launches Mental Health Support Tools: There is, frankly, a finite amount of times one can type phrases such as ‘redolent of a darkly dystopian future’ and ‘it’s just like Black Mirror’ before one starts to lose the will to carry on breathing; still, it’s another one of those updates from s*c**lm*d**land, reminding us that however oddly dispiriting our dark scifi imaginings might be, the reality is far more chilling. Snap, fresh from some surprisingly-positive earnings numbers last week, has announced a suite of tools designed to automatically serve up positive, helpful content to users whose in-app behaviour indicate they might be feeling a touch on the self-harmy side. “When a user types in words that could imply they need help with health and wellness issues, the tool will surface a special section within Snapchat's search results. It includes proactive resources from mental health experts, as well as content from partners on topics such as from anxiety, mental health and suicide.” You know what this is? THIS IS MENTAL HEALTH CLIPPY FFS! “You appear to be having some dark thoughts; have you considered meditation?” I know, I know, it’s better to do something rather than nothing, and it’s A Good Thing that Snap’s making material available to help kids address feelings of sadness and alienation, etc, but, well, I don’t know whether having a fcuking algo ‘reach out’ to me when I display symptoms of emotional fragility is necessarily the pick-me-up I’d be looking for.
  • Spotify Kids Comes To UK: I don’t think there’s any sort of brand relevance here at all, although maybe you could derive some sort of small benefit from getting your brand’s content whitelisted for inclusion in the app. Still, I imagine that many of you have kids and that the idea of not having your Spotify algo polluted by ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ and ‘Baby Shark’ is probably quite appealing - see, I am always thinking of you.
  • Spotify Launches ‘Songwriter’ Pages: BIG SPOTIFY NEWS WEEK! The other big announcement is that songwriters can now claim their own Page on the platform, meaning they can have a space of their own to showcase the songs they’re responsible for in one place. Er, that’s it!
  • The Online Harms Consultation Response: You will, of course, have seen the news about Ofcom being named by the Government as the preferred regulator to whip those pesky internet giants into shape; you may not, though, have taken a look at the actual text of the response. Yes, ok, it’s very dry and written in total horrorgovernmentese, but it’s worth a look - whilst nothing has really been announced here other than a vague desire to ‘do a regulation’, it’s interesting to see just how theoretical all these plans are - despite the hard-man rhetoric. “"There are many platforms who ideally would not have wanted regulation, but I think that's changing," said Digital Secretary Baroness Nicky Morgan. "I think they understand now that actually regulation is coming."" Which sounds meaningful, until you read the actual text of the Govt response, which says: "regulation will establish differentiated expectations on companies for illegal content and activity, versus conduct that is not illegal but has the potential to cause harm. Regulation will therefore not force companies to remove specific pieces of legal content. The new regulatory framework will instead require companies, where relevant, to explicitly state what content and behaviour they deem to be acceptable on their sites and enforce this consistently and transparently." So, er, the regulation will regulate companies to self-regulate better! This...doesn't *feel* like a solution
  • The Rough Guide to XBox: I was quite impressed by this; Microsoft has partnered with the Rough Guide to produce a travel guide to XBox, the idea being that it’s a wonderful infinity of beautiful worlds to explore at your leisure, and as such it deserves its own tourist guide to the best bits. A genuinely nice idea, this.
  • 1917: This is a typically-shiny BIG MOVIE WEBSITE, fine, but it’s particularly nicely made; a companion to the war film, this site takes you through the trenches in glorious 3dCGI-o-vision, presenting you with short clips from the film to whet your appetite for, er, a couple of hours of brutal battleporn. The site itself isn’t hugely revelatory, fine, but the navigation and interface are really rather nice, and I like the fact that there’s a clear ‘BUY TICKETS’ prompt throughout - though why it’s geolocked to the US is slightly beyond me. Still, lovely work.

By Vaka Valo

NEXT, ENJOY THIS PLAYLIST OF HIPHOP INSPIRED BY THE ABOVE PLAY! IT’S A GENUINELY GREAT MIX!

THE SECTION WHICH IS GENUINELY SAD THAT NONE OF YOU THOUGHT TO GET IT ANY SORT OF VALENTINE’S DAY GIFT, PT.1:

  • Botnet: Oh, this is good. Part one-note gag, part art project, part weird little RPG, part therapy tool, Botnet is an app that answers one simple question; what if everyone else on your favourite s*c**l m*d** platform was a bot? What if YOU were the only real person? What if YOU were the center of everything? A wonderful combination of smartly-coded interface which mimics Facebook, Twitter and Insta with nailed-on design, and some nice use of GPT-2, the app lets you create your profile and then post whatever you like into the bot-filled ether; the botnet will then engage, react, respond and bicker in your comments, a machine-scripted peanut gallery reacting JUST FOR YOU! There are small microtransactional elements, like the ability to introduce new bot personas into the network like trolls and superfans and the like, but the real joy is the oddly-surreal and laugh-out-loud funny comments that your fandom will come up with; honestly, I really can’t recommend this enough. Annoyingly iOS-only, but nick a partner or friend’s iPhone and have a play - it’s ACE, and also (I found at least) weirdly sort-of revealing after a while.
  • The BBC Microbot: Thanks Gill for sending this my way - I am convinced that I’ve featured something almost exactly like this before, but I couldn’t find it and this is new and noone cares anyway, so. The BBC Microbot does one simple thing - you Tweet it some lines of BBC Basic code, and it will respond with that very programme running as a Gif on Twitter. Whilst I’m capable only of the standard “10 PRINT “MATT IS ACE; 20 GOTO 10”-type stuff, the bot’s feed showcases all of the outputs so far requested and, honestly, this is ART - how the everliving fcuk all these middle-aged men have managed to remember exactly the input strings they learned all those years ago in CDT is beyond me. I will give a special prize (it won’t be good, but I promise it will exist) to anyone who makes it write something nice about Web Curios.
  • Playmaker: I remember when Fantasy Football first started in the UK around 1992, and the frenzied playground discussions about whether Chris Sutton was worth the money; I couldn’t have predicted the weird stranglehold it appears to have developed on significant numbers of football fans across the UK, who seemingly spend hours fretting over each week’s captaincy and the worrying lack of assists being delivered by what they were sure was a creative midfield powerhouse. If you’re one of those fans, then you might be enthused by the prospect of Playmaker, “a dedicated discussion platform that allows you to build your identity and grow your following as a Fantasy Manager.” Yes, that’s right, ANOTHER INFLUENCER PLATFORM! Too ugly to make it as a YouTuber? Too malcoordinated to get on with TikTok? Why not monetise your ability to pick a fictitious team of footballers every week?? Whilst this is probably appealing thought for many of you, the platform’s at present very light on details as to exactly how it’s going to help you become a PROFESSIONAL FANTASY SPORTS PLAYER (no, really, that’s a legitimate aim of theirs). I am fascinated by things like this - I have no idea AT ALL how they envisage monetisation working, either for them or their userbase, but the feature list is quite interesting; the live game chat stuff, backed by live match data from Opta, is potentially quite an attractive idea. Basically, though, I just don’t think that it’s possible for more than about 5 people worldwide to make a living as ‘pro’ fantasy football players, whatever this app might want you to believe - watch, now, as it proves me wrong, and ‘Fantasy Football Influencer’ becomes a legitimate kids’ career aim by 2024.
  • Hoop: Interesting more for what it represents than what it is, Hoop is the first breakout app to be built on the Snap web API thingy (look, I know that that’s not it’s technical name, but let’s be honest - you can’t remember what it’s really called either, and you care less than I do, and you know what I mean, so, look, just LEAVE ME ALONE OK???), which effectively lets developers integrate Snap with other apps and websites. Hoop is basically Tinder-for-new-Snap-Friends; you launch the app, and it shows you a neverending cavalcade of Snap users; you can use the app to ask them for their Snap username which they can choose to share with you, thereby connecting you on the app and enabling you to send ephemeral pictures of your erogenous zones to each other (come on, let’s be honest). It’s not hugely exciting per se (unless you’re a very, very thirsty teen), but the way it leverages (sorry) Snap is interesting.
  • 136 Internet Videos: This is from the end of last year, but don’t let that in any way dampen its majesty. I’m nicking this from Faris’ newsletter, which I am sure you all subscribe to already - the link takes you to a Google Slides presentation by Joe Sabia who’s (I think) Head of Creative Development at Conde Naste, which presents 136 YouTube videos that, in his words, BLEW HIS MIND. Honestly, this is SUCH an incredible bit of web culture time travel and a wonderful repository of video creativity to boot; feel free to circulate this around your office and enjoy the spectacle of people in their early-20s discovering things like the Honda Rube Goldberg ad or ‘The Scared is Scared’. If you’re anything like me and have spent far, far too much of the past two decades burning through neurons whilst staring at a screen, this will be an incredible nostalgia vehicle; even if you haven’t, I promise you this is the best resource for visual inspiration I’ve seen in an age.
  • Electronic Football: I love stuff like this - its creator got in touch with @imperica on Twitter as he thought we’d like it, and how right they were. This is a Kickstarter - just started, with two months to go - for the development of a remarkable-looking reimagining of table football, all played automatically with magnets and code and affording the opportunity for computer-vs-computer play or for a human opponent to take on the machine. It’s quite hard to describe, but basically: “A dense matrix of a new kind of electromagnetic actuator that we invented in 2018 (patents pending) - covering the underside of the playing surface - enables both ball control and fast action. The addition of high-speed electronic ball tracking technology means that the system can play with or against human players.” You can get a pretty good feel for the idea by watching the video, but I think that the potential for this is SO much greater than that proof of concept suggests; the idea of being able to create self-adjusting kinetic landscapes like this is fascinating, and you can imagine this sort of thing at scale being used in theme parks to magical effect. Basically I want you all to back this so I can ask the nice people at Spaceman Technologies for a freebie - go on, pledge a quid.
  • The Big Crossword: There’s not a whole lot of scope for additional exposition here to be honest; it’s, er, a really big crossword. Available for download on iOS and Android, this is free and massive and, if you like crosswords, basically all your Christmases come at once. Contains 1250 clues, which ought to keep you reasonably occupied for at least part of 2020, alongside the intriguing idea of a ‘Quest Mode’ which promises to introduce some sort of narrative metagame to the concept of ‘solving some reasonably-simple word-based questions’. Best accompanied by a flask of weak lemon drink.
  • SNAFU: When you were a kid, did you dream of working in the music industry? Did you fantasise about a gig as an A&R person at a major label, using all of your taste and nous to pluck deserving, talented kids from small-town obscurity and propel them to genre-defining, generational stardom? Well, in common with much of the rest of the music business, technology is KILLING that dream; welcome to SNAFU, a new record label which proudly boasts that it chooses all its artists via...AI! Yes, that’s right, it’s the WORLD’S FIRST Artificial Intelligence-led music business: “Our proprietary algorithms analyze millions of data points over 150,000 songs per week to find the few artists that can make a major cultural impact with their music. We then put our resources to work to make sure that the music reaches its potential.” I am a very big fan of the hubris here - not only can the AI predict what will be a hit, but it can also pick those artists who will CHANGE THE WORLD! Honestly, I’m ready to hand over control of everything to these lads, they sound GREAT. I will watch this with interest; judging by the tracks on their homepage, the AI is at present seemingly trained to discover ‘tedious, Xanaxed-out Soundcloud rap that sounds like literally everything else in 2020’, but I presume I only think that because I am old and practically-dead.
  • Repper: Let’s add ‘textiles pattern designer’ to the list of creative professions made obsolete by the advent of the internet and the rise of machine intelligence; Repper is a really, really smart-looking platform, available on a subscription for a seemingly very reasonable 5 quid a month, which lets anyone upload image files and then select small areas of said images which can then be tesselated and messed with in seemingly-infinte ways. The breadth of output you can achieve with this is quite, quite dizzying, as is the way in which it cleverly takes selected elements from the source image and turns them into perfectly-aligned abstract elements; honestly, if I did stuff with fabrics I would LOVE this (I sort of love it anyway tbh).
  • Romantic London: HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY EVERYONE! This is the only vaguely Valentine’s-themed link in here this week, I think, and even this isn’t really about it at all; the ‘Romantic’ here refers to the time period rather than anything to do with Eros. Romantic London is ‘a research project looking at the life and culture of London at the turn of the 19th Century’, and features elements from Richard Horwood’s classic map of the time along with assorted other historical curios. This is lovely, and makes me want to spend a cold, sunny day walking the City - you may feel the same.
  • The Biodiversity Heritage Library: You want an incredible Flickr collection of prints of wildlife and assorted flora? EXCELLENT! This is a wonderful archive, and the sort of thing which, given the time, I would totally mine for prints with which to decorate my kitchen. The prints of fish in particular are SO good, and I quite want an 18th Century lithograph of a Senegalese manta ray should anyone feel minded to get me a present.
  • Cuss Collar: I’m going to have to stop featuring projects by MSCHF soon - it’s a bit annoying to have to include their stuff each week, particularly as it’s almost always either US-only or sold out by the time Friday rolls round. Still, this is too good (and silly) an idea not to feature - the Cuss Collar is their latest limited-edition product, developed for no discernible purpose and sold out within minutes, which sits around your dog’s neck and translates their bark into swear words. Yep, that’s it - it’s a dog collar which will shout things like “FCUKING PROLAPSE!” or “DICKNOSED BUMFACE!” every time your dog barks. That’s it - no high concept, no ;’purpose’, just a device that makes it sound like your dog has a terrible pottymouth. If someone at Pedigree doesn’t see this and rip it off somewow then, well, I fcuking despair of you.
  • The Unword of the Year: Stuff I learned this week - that each year since 2001, “a German linguists' panel chooses one new or recently popularized term that violates human rights or infringes upon Democratic principles. The term may be one that discriminates against societal groups or may be euphemistic, disguising or misleading”. This year’s word is “climate hysteria”; previous winners have included “ethnic cleansing” and (my favourite choice) “human capital”. This is darkly-funny but also actually quite un-funny when you think about it in terms of language, power and meaning - stare too hard and it all gets a bit Orwellian imho.
  • 1000 Google Earth Landscapes: You want 1000 stunning aerial shots of the Earth in hi-res, to use as a screensaver or a piece of rotating wall art or to train your GAN on? YOU GOT THEM! This is actually an update to the original collection, bringing the number of images included to around 2,500; a truly beautiful collection.
  • Audionautix: This is a really, really useful service, collecting seemingly thousands of original compositions by the insanely-prolific Jason Shaw which he’s kindly made available for free for download and commercial use. If you’re regularly faced with the horrific task of creating ‘mood’ videos and needing to find some sort of inoffensive backing music then this will be absolutely fcuking GOLDEN.
  • The Rotary Cellphone: You might have seen this doing the rounds this week - designer Justine Haupt has created this WONDERFUL invention, a mobile phone powere by a rotary dialer, and which features no screens at all; rather than being a theoretical piece, this is actually a working device that Haupt intends to use as her primary phone; to that end, there are some excellent practical features such as one-touch dialing buttons for your preferred contacts. It’s intended as a means of limiting one’s obsession with / contact with the digital, but is also a genuinely lovely piece of design which harks back a bit to that weird period in the mid-00s when phone design went totally mental and Nokia was trying to flog us devices that basically looked like those odd Turkish flatbreads covered in mince that you get in Green Lanes.
  • Printing Money: A simple but very neat way of visualising different degrees of income. Really effective, not least at showing exactly how sh1t a human being Jeff Bezos is as regards his charitable contributions and attitudes towards taxation.
  • Newfoundland and Labrador Beard and Moustache Club: It is, I concede, a bit late for calendars, but if you’ve yet to get yourself a 2020 daymarker then let me STRONGLY recommend this one; the Newfoundland and Labrador Beard and Moustache Club has, for the past three years, published an annual calendar in which its bearded, moustached members pose as, er, mermaids. Lovely, sparkly-tailed mermaids. This is superb, and not a little erotic.
  • Podsync: This self-describes as a “simple and free service that lets you listen to any YouTube or Vimeo channels, playlists or user videos in podcast format”; that’ll do for an explanation, right? Right!

By Rose English

NEXT, HAVE THIS VAGUELY MINIMAL TECHNO-ISH MIX BY CULT MEMBER!

THE SECTION WHICH IS GENUINELY SAD THAT NONE OF YOU THOUGHT TO GET IT ANY SORT OF VALENTINE’S DAY GIFT, PT.2:

  • Beetles in Games: No idea who compiled this list, or why, but if you’ve ever thought to yourself “You know what? I really wish someone had bothered to compile an exhaustive, image-based list of all the times the VW Beetle has appeared in a videogame and put it online for me to peruse at my leisure” then this will be all of your Christmases come at once. Whilst you might not think that this is of any interest to you, I encourage you to click and marvel at the frankly INSANE dedication to completeness on display here - when was the last time you did something this thoroughly? You ought to be ashemed of yourself.
  • The Tube Challenge: What are you doing with your weekend? Other than having THE BEST AND MOST ROMANTIC DAY OF YOUR LIFE, obviously. If you don’t have any particular plans, and you happen to be in London, why don’t you attempt one of these quite preposterous Tube challenges? No idea who’s compiled this, but I am VERY grateful for this - there are LOADS of different ones you can attempt here, from the classic ‘visit every station on the network INCLUDING Battersea Park’ to the far more esoteric ones like the ‘Points of the Compass’ challenge where you have to visit all the stations that have a compass point in their names. Even better, each challenge has the curre tn record time next to it, so you can RACE AGAINST THE CLOCK!! I realise as I type this that you might not all share my enthusiasm for the idea of doing nothing for 9 hours or so other than sitting on a fcuking underground train, but I respectfully suggest that you are WRONG and that this is the best thing you could do with a quite possibly very miserable weekend indeed.
  • Avocado & Toast: The latest drop from Matt Round’s continuing ‘Vole’ project of curiosities, this is a wonderful little algogenerated comic which takes millennial-bashing newspaper articles from all over the web and uses them as the seeding point to generate small comic strips in which the titular millennial couple Avocado and Toast discuss their incomprehension of certain popular Boomer things, to the inevitable furious consternation of said Boomer. This is genuinely funny, and works far better than you’d imagine; it’s also a brilliant example of how formal constraints can, when properly applied, be a genuine boon to creativity.
  • Mapping The Gay Guides: Oh wow, this is *such* a slice of queer history. I’m just going to give you the description here: “While on his frequent business trips around the United States in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Bob Damron wanted to find bars and other locales to meet other men like him. A gay man, Damron sought friends, companions, and safety at friendly businesses in the various cities he visited. He began jotting down the names of the spots he frequented, sometimes loaning out his notebooks to fellow gay friends to take with them on their own journeys. His prolific lists became the basis of gay travel guide he began publishing in 1964. Named the Bob Damron Address Books, these travel guides became almost survival guides to gay and queer travelers across the United States. First published in an era when most states banned same-sex intimacy both in public and private spaces, these travel guides helped gays (and to a lesser extent lesbians) find bars, cocktail lounges, bookstores, restaurants, bathhouses, cinemas, and cruising grounds that catered to people like themselves.” This is a glorious piece of social history, and a fascinating ongoing project; if you click on the ‘vignettes’ section you’ll see that there are a couple of essays documenting what the Guides can teach us about regional variations on attitudes towards homosexuality in the 60s and beyond, and I imagine these will be added to as time goes on. So, so interesting.
  • Open Syllabus: A whole LOAD of university syllabi, letting you see which are the most prescribed texts in each field in each country; it’s interesting not only in terms of getting a representative impression of what is canon in a specific discipline, but also to see how trends in academia vary from country to country. Equally, if you’re the sort of autodidact who fancies doing all the reading for, I don’t know, a DPhil from Cambridge, then this will tell you where to start (you madman).
  • VanGogh: A search engine for colour palettes which, wonderfully, just lets you put in whatever terms you like and will seemingly find a palette for anything; I just fed it the word ‘Fear’ and it threw out some genuinely unsettling colour selections, for example. This works by using the search term you input to pull associated images from Bing; it then pulls a palette from those and presents it to you. Simple, useful, fun, and it afford you the ability to create a colour palette based on YOUR NAME; chromatic narcissism at its finest.
  • Old Soviet Photos: You can’t move online for collections of old photos, and in the main I don’t bother with them in here because, well, there are other websites and newsletters for that sort of thing. This, though, I’ll make an exception for; this collection of images is from an unknown Moldovan photographer (now named as Zaharia Cusnir), all depicting rural life in the 50s and 60s; the images were discovered a couple of years ago as negatives in the rubble of an old house, and have been developed, scanned and collected online. The faces here, Christ; whilst old photos often have a slightly stuffed quality to them, these people are alive in a way you don’t always see. There are some truly gorgeous human beings in these images, photographed superbly.
  • Brainfood: Are you sick of the fact that your phone and the web have chipped away at your attention span to the extent that you can barely concentrate on anything long enough to compose a Tweet? Do you wish that you could do something better than reaching for your fcuking device every time you’re left unstimulated for more than 10 seconds? Tough, you’re weak and that ship has definitively sailed; still, you might like the sound of Brainfood which promises to make your mindless scrolling marginally more useful by sending you bitesize learning modules about all sorts of things - astronomy, geology, history, etc - each week. The site seems to suggest you’ll get about 60s of learning per week, which doesn’t personally sound like it’s going to transform me into some sort of well-rounded intellectual ubermensch and certainly doesn’t sound like it’s worth $5 a month, but perhaps I’m underestimating the degree of density these minute-long infobites will have. Launching, apparently, ‘soon’, you can sign up now for your chance to make yourself smarter via the medium of small, cartoonish lessons (look, I’m going to say this now - you are not going to learn anything meaningful or useful by being spoon-fed minute-long ‘lessons’ in cartoony format by an app).
  • Dark Future Shop: I don’t know whether any of you are secret Cosplayers (but I have my suspicions); still, if you are and if you want to go full-post-apocalyptic next time you play dress-up then this Etsy shop is the PERFECT place to stock up; this stuff is all quite ridiculous, but also incredibly well-made. Basically if you’re in the market for some Fallout-esque get-up, this will fulfil all your needs; also potentially appropriate for any of you contemplating Burning Man but who are too lazy to make your own gear. This is quite incredible stuff, honestly, although it does also rather scream “spends more time than is health on Reddit”.
  • Korean Films: Following Parasite’s Oscars triumph, it’s now absolutely de rigeur to have a strong opinion on the state of Korean cinema, and to be able to affect a slightly-bored long-standing knowledge of the country’s filmic output (look, I don’t make the rules, that’s just how it is). To aid you in this endeavour, have this YouTube channel which presents 200+ actual, full-length Korean films, with subtitles, for you to enjoy at home. On which note, can I personally recommend ‘My Sassy Girl’, which is honestly AMAZING and you should all go and watch right now (it’s actually a perfect Valentine’s film, now I come to think of it).
  • Fangs: A comic strip detailing the love affair between a vampire and a werewolf. Yes, I know, this sounds awful; ordinarily I have no tolerance whatsoever for this sort of Tumblr-esque stuff, but I promise you that it’s a delight. Smartly-written and beautifully-drawn and surprisingly affecting. Give it a try, it’s LOADS better than it ought to be.
  • Glide: I hate Powerpoint. You hate Powerpoint. And yet, because the world is stupid and wrong, and work is a pointless hell, we are all seemingly compelled to keep using it for ever, regardless of whether or not it’s actually useful or helpful. Still, thanks to Glide you can at least download a really simple, sleek and moderately-customisable template for the bloody thing, which might be useful to you if you don’t have access to a friendly designer (or any innate design ability of your own).
  • Jam: This isn’t live yet, but could be an excellent service - Jam will, it promises, offer a service to allow people to share subscription logins simply and securely via an app; the idea is that it will enable you to produce one-off login access to your accounts, letting you grant people time-limited or single-use ins to your Netflix, Amazon or similar. This is potentially a really useful tool if you don’t want to give your password out willy-nilly (and you shouldn’t).
  • Ad-Free YouTube: Or, more accurately, YouT-ube - this is a very simple hack, but a very useful one; simply add a ‘-’ after the ‘T’ in the irl of any YouTube video and it’ll remove all the ads and, as a bonus, play it on a loop. Feel free to use this however you want - were I in an office today, I would use this to play ‘Smell Yo Dick’ by Riskay on repeat on the telly, but you do you.
  • Space: “Space”, as Douglas Adams famously wrote, “is really, really big”. This is probably the most incredible photo of space I’ve ever seen, not so much for the nebulae and stuff on display as for the incredible resolution of it. Click - now zoom. Now zoom some more. Now zoom some MORE. Now take a moment to contemplate how far away this is, and how small and insignificant you are in the face of all this infinite cosmic majesty. GOOD, ISN’T IT?
  • Robots: The Atlantic’s In Vision series presents a selection of images of robots - as they term it, ‘at work and at play’. This is a lovely set of photos, but equally feels a little bit like it’s capturing something of a cuspy moment, where we’re just getting to a point where robotics is day-to-day adjacent but still quite far enough away to engender a sense of curiosity and wonder. Imagine travelling back in time and showing these to your seven year old self; you’d be rapt.
  • Old Book Illustrations: I mean, you don’t really need me to explain this. Illustrations from the 18th to early-20th Century, browsable and downloadable. A treasure-trove, and the sort of thing it would be quite interesting to train a GAN on to see what sort of strange historical drawings it might imagine as a result.
  • Extremely Online: I don’t want to spoil this - all I’ll say is that it’s a text adventure game in the style of Zork and all those old Infocom classics, and that it’s really quite smart. You may need to experiment a bit to get the hang of where the creator’s head’s at - type in commands and see what happens…
  • Wiz: Last up this week, an EXCELLENT little puzzle-platform game. Move the blocks, reach the exit, tear your hair out around level 20 when it starts getting HARD.

By Linda Norton

LAST MUSICAL SELECTION: HAVE THIS 80s-POP-LOUNGE-EURO-TYPE-THING BY S&W!

THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!:

  • Sh1tty Possum Sadposts: Only one Tumblr this week, but it’s a classic of the genre; the linked Page is the Q&A, but if click ‘next’ in the left-hand sidebar you’ll get to the meat of this project - a load of photos of possums, overlaid with various inspirational and uplifting captions. You may not think you need this, but if you’re having something of a trying day I can recommend that you take a moment and stare at the possums accompanied by the lyrics to ‘Mr Brightside’; it will, I promise, improve EVERYTHING.

THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!:

  • Michele Castagnetti: A US-based artist, Castagnetti’s work (as displayed in this Insta feed) is a weird mix of strong, tape-based graphics, brand subversions and stylised oil portraits; it’s an odd combination of styles, but it makes for an interesting and varied feed.
  • Royalty Now: Imagining what royalty from the past would look like if they were alive now, based on their representation in portraiture and sculpture. There’s a certain degree of ‘bad waxwork’ to some of these, but as a project it’s fascinating.
  • Joey Solomon: Solomon takes photos of disabled people that don’t look like any other photos of disabled people I’ve ever seen. He photographs other things too; his work is so, so good, I really can’t recommend this one enough.
  • Good Vietnam Shirts: By ‘good’ we here mean ‘written in comedically broken English’. If you’re a fan of tees that read things like ‘FUKK OF GOD!’ then you will ADORE this.
  • Nicolattes: Currently posting photos of the oddity of Chinese cities on lockdown as a result of the bat AIDS.
  • Pac In The Sink: No idea who the account’s owner is, but they have SNEKS! If you don’t like serpents then you may want to give this a swerve; otherwise, though, LOOK AT THESE LOVELY SLITHERY BOIS!
  • Paid Technologies: Slightly-bafflingly-named account which posts photos of beautifully-crafted edible jellies. Yep, jellies. No, I promise, it’s better than you think.
  • The Anonymous Photo Project: Collecting, preserving and sharing old photographs and negatives - there’s no thematic consistency, no grand plan, just an endless stream of anonymous old photos, slicing through life and the 20th Century. Wonderful.

LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:

  • GPT-2 And Intelligence: A fascinating and pleasingly-sober look at the reality of GPT-2 (as I’m sure you’re all aware by now, that’s the current gold standard for text AI), which does an excellent job of pointing out the benefits and limitations of the tech as it stands, and makes it very clear exactly where the gaps are when it comes to producing something that can be said to not only produce text but which might be able to parse its meaning in some way; it also has some interesting things to say about theory of language and thought. Really, really interesting.
  • Carbon and the Web: A small essay by Danny van Kooten about his efforts to reduce the carbon footprint of the websites he works on; I’m including it mainly because FCUKING HELL EVERYTHING IS KILLING THE PLANET LITERALLY EVERYTHING.
  • Fashion’s Digital Identity: I’d expected this sort of thing to be far bigger than it is by now; I remember a good 10 years ago, charity shops were experimenting with adding codes to objects so that their donors could attach some sort of history or back story to their donations, say. Still, it is apparently on its way - this is a Vogue Business report on the growing trend in high fashion for garments to be ascribed a ‘digital identity’ with information about their provenance, manufacture, etc, available via scanning a label or a code. This is reasonably interesting, but if I’m honest I’m including it here because I invented the term ‘The Frockchain’ in my head when I first read this and now want to use it at every possible opportunity.
  • The Nuclear Family Was A Mistake: I don’t know about you, but when I was a teen and into my early 20s I still harboured a hope that I would end up living with all my friends as an adult, and that we’d be able to subvert convetions by having a happy, communal adult existence and we’d all be each other’s chosen family, bound together by choice rather than accidents of birth. Obviously it didn’t work out like that, what with nearly all my friends selfishly insisting on doing things like growing up and moving on and procreating and marrying, whilst I stayed firmly stuck in protoadolescence (I am the Billy Childish of webmongs); still, I’ve always been curious about non-traditional modes of living an alternatives to the traditional family unit, and this superb essay in The Atlantic looks at exactly that. It’s focused on American history specifically, but there are obvious parallels with all Western countries in terms of the way in which technology and progress have altered the way in which we relate to each other as familial units. This is beautiful - interesting and intelligent and learned and sad and hopeful - and it will make you want to spend the weekend with people you love.
  • White Collar Crime: This is a profoundly-depressing essay, I warn you; the Huffington Post looks at how and why the current era could be seen as something of a halcyon era for white collar crime, and how it is that so many plutocrats are able to get away with cheating the system and dodging their taxes, all with the knowledge of the largely-impotent enforcement agencies. There’s something so miserable about the fact that it all boils down to a question of money, and how, as ever, it’s the person with the most who wins. It also reminded me of the fact that in the 40 years I’ve been going to Rome I have bought approximately 9 bus or tram tickets; whilst there are fines in place if you’re caught without one, I know for a fact (courtesy of my cousin who works for the Roman equivalent of TFL) that there are a total of around 50 inspectors IN TOTAL in the whole of the city, and they never all work at the same time, meaning there’s basically no chance at all of ever getting caught. I am, effectively, doing exactly the same thing at a small scale as the billionaires referenced in this article, and I now feel ashamed. Sorry, Rome.
  • The Airbnb Scam: A great piece of investigative reporting, looking at the prevalence of Airbnb scammers who are using clever tricks and listings hacks to get around laws in cities like London which limit letting of properties to a set number of days per annum. Part of me admires the entrepreneurial ingenuity of these guys; a larger part of me thinks that Airbnb really is an urban cancer and we’ll all be better off once cities start properly clamping down on it.
  • Bloomberg Memes: As the US Democratic nomination approaches and we get to see which of the pretenders gets to enjoy losing to That Fcuking Man in November, take a moment to read this account of billionaire contender Michael Bloomberg’s memetic campaign war machine - the fact that there are actual meme-based political consultancy shops out there is honestly amazing to me, almost as much as it is that Michael Bloomberg thinks that this is anything other than a very ‘Hello, Fellow Kids’-type move. Didn’t the UK election last year not prove that a strong meme game is literally meaningless when it comes to engendering actual political turnout and support? Still, fair play to the kids who’ve managed to get access to his wallet for this.
  • Jailbreaking Teslas: This is about cars, but it’s actually more interesting than that (I promise); I had no idea that Tesla basically bricked their cars as soon as they appear on the resale market but, er, they do! This is fascinating to me - not the Tesla stuff (although, honestly, what an absolute d1ck move this whole thing is) so much as the future this presages, in which all our products and devices are software-dependent and can be turned off or rendered obsolete on a manufacturer’s whim and with a simple download. More reasons why having everything connected to the web isn’t necessarily always a great idea.
  • I’m Quitting TikTok: This may not be the absolute firts, but it’s certainly the first I’ve seen - TikTok’s received its first ‘why I’m quitting TikTok’ open letter! It’s all growed up! It’s more of a cultural/historical artefact than anything else, but it’s interesting how similar it is to every single one of these you;’ve ever read before, despite the novelty of the platform, though I did rather like this line: “TikTok isn’t merely a social app to share posts and mindlessly scroll through. For almost every user, it’s become an activity, a hobby, a project, a transactional video dialogue between user and camera.”
  • Playing Red Dead: Specifically, ‘playing Red Dead Redemption 2 as a 75 year old woman who’s never played games before but who wants to try this one because her son is one of the lead actors in it’. This is SO LOVELY, and a superb illustration of why games are wonderful; reading the author’s description of how the world drew her in and the characters slowly became familiar over the hours of playtime is genuinely moving, and a reminder that, honestly, games can and should be for everyone and you should get your mum on XBox live (actually, maybe spare her the foulmouthed teens, on reflection).
  • Types Of Person: I loved this essay, and it made me momentarily sad that I’ll never have teenage kids. Only momentarily, mind; I then remembered what I was like as a teenager and how even I didn’t want to spend much time with me. This is by Dan Brooks, and it’s about how there’s a trend amongst young people, borne of online discourse, to identify themselves and their peers exclusively as ‘types’, and how that’s not fantastic, maybe, for their emotional development: “When I say I didn’t do the dishes because I’m lazy, I’m talking around the fact that I could have done them but chose not to. The illusion of a fixed nature gives us an excuse to repeat bad behavior. To insist that what we do determines who we are — and not the other way around — is to make freedom and therefore responsibility a part of our worldview at the most basic level.” I’d be fascinated to know if this resonates with the parents among you.
  • Palindromes: OH GOD I LOVE THIS! Palindromes are wonderful, magical things, and this piece takes a language-lover’s delight in exploring how they work, what makes a ‘good’ one, and how computational power has allowed for brute force palindromic construction (which is cheating a bit). If you’re a linguist of any sort you will absolutely adore this - also, the fact that the Japanese word for ‘tomato’ is palindromic is SO PLEASING.
  • Meet the Femcels: Welcome to your depressing slice of internet life for the week; the online communities for women who, for various reasons, consider themselves to be involuntarily celibate - hence the construction ‘femcels’ This is an interesting if miserable read.
  • Macauley Culkin: This interview with Culkin has been widely mined for quotes, but it’s worth reading the whole thing - less because of Culkin, who doesn’t say anything particularly interesting throughout, more for the genuinely weird tone and style of the whole piece. From the incredibly grating authorial affectation of referring to Culkin as ‘Mack’ throughout, to the strange reverence that his most banal utterances are granted, this is truly odd piece of fame-sycophancy, painting someone who, whilst pleasant-seeming, doesn’t demonstrate anything remarkable whatsoever in the course of the profile. No wonder famous people are weird.
  • Emotion Eric: I cannot tell you how happy I was when this floated across my field of vision this week. I’ve spoken before I think of my love for early web sensation Eric, of ‘Eric Conveys An Emotion’ - a website in which the titular Eric would solicit requests for emotions to act out, and post images of him evoking, I don’t know, ‘uncertainty’ or ‘mistrust’ or ‘the feeling when the door shuts behind you and you just KNOW you’ve left your keys in your other trousers’. This is an interview with Eric who is, I promise, literally THE sweetest man you will come across in 2020. I promise you, this is SO PURE and SO GOOD, you will grin like a loon throughout.
  • The People of Las Vegas: Oh wow, this is superb. Amanda Fortini lives in Vegas - the real Vegas, not the strip - and this essay is her portrait of the city and its people and the weirdness and the artifice and the lies and the magic and the crime. So, so good: “One early morning as I am leaving my apartment, two esoteric sports cars are idling in front of me, bumper to bumper: a man gets out of the rear car holding a giant aspirin-pink designer purse and hurls it, with all the rage in his body, into the first car, which is presumably occupied by the purse’s owner. Recently, at a party on the Strip, a four- or five-year-old girl in a mermaid costume posed for photos with partygoers; her parents, also dressed as mermaids, were placing her in people’s laps. “I don’t think children should be used as props,” my friend whispered, after the parents tried to sit the child on her, “but that’s just me.” I agreed, but the kid seemed to be enjoying herself. Downtown, on a sweltering late-spring afternoon, my husband and I watched as a man in a wheelchair determinedly kicked his way up Fremont Street, backward and uphill, with one leg, his only limb. My heart collapsed in on itself, as it does so often here. Just last Saturday, I saw a woman on the sidewalk outside my apartment, bathing her legs in beer. Well, it’s not water, I thought as I passed her, but it works. That’s a thought I never would have had before moving to Las Vegas.”
  • Colgate Lasagne: I didn’t think that the best essay I would read this week on truth and falsehood and the nature of what is ‘real’ would also be about Colgate’s ill-fated expansion into frozen foods, and yet here we are. This is an attempt to find the ‘truth’ of the persistent internet legend of the Colgate Lasagne, but morphs into a far more interesting and smarter series of investigations into what ‘true’ means in an era of layered narratives and no sources and little critical thinking. Superb.
  • I Don’t Want To Be A Strong Female Lead: Finally this week, filmmaker Brit Marling talks about what it’s like being a female actor and why she doesn’t want to ever be offered the role of a ‘strong female lead’ ever again. This is excellent.

By Natasha Law

AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:

  1. This is called ‘Lust’, it’s by Julia Bonnar, and I want to describe it as an absolute kinetic banger or ‘propulsive techno’ or something like that, but I can’t because it will make me sound like a total cock. Still, that’s exactly what it is - reminds me vaguely of Gearwhore, but better. SO GOOD:

  1. Next, Beaches with ‘Want What You Got’ which is basically the Instagram anthem that we didn’t know we needed. Love the video here too:

  1. This is superb - King Princess singing ‘Ohio’, seemingly recorded live:

  1. HIPHOP CORNER! This is Fat Tony & Taydex, and it’s called ‘Get Out My Way’. Very wonky indeed, but interestingly so:

  1. Finally this week, this won Best Short at the Oscars - watch and see why. It’s called The Neighbour’s Window and it’s brilliant. Oh, and BYE BYE BYE I LOVE YOU LOADS ESPECIALLY BECAUSE IT’S VALENTINE’S TODAY BUT FRANKLY I LOVE YOU ALL THE TIME EVEN WHEN IT’S NOT AND I HOPE THAT YOU HAVE A LOVELY WEEKEND PLANNED THAT INVOLVES EROS AND AGAPE IN WHATEVER PROPORTIONS YOU PREFER AND I LOVE YOU AND I WILL SEE YOU NEXT WEEK AND I LOVE YOU BYE BYE BYE I LOVE YOU BYE!:

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