Web Curios 14/12/18
YOU HAVE TO LAUGH, DON'T YOU, EH? EH???
You know what? Fcuk it, neither you nor I want to read anything about the news or the state of the world right now. It's almost Christmas, and I am tired. I imagine you are too.
This is the last Web Curios of 2018 - in a rare moment of genuine sincerity, I'd like to say thanks to everyone who subscribes and reads and shares it, to everyone who sends me tips, and to everyone who's work I've featured on here in the past 12 months and without which there wouldn't really be much on which to hang this appalling prose.
It's been an incredibly long and jagged and grinding year, and the likelihood is that it's now always going to be like this, til we all die. Still, while you're all waiting to fall victim to the terminal illness that is MODERN LIFE, get right into the festive spirit with this, THE FINAL WEB CURIOS OF 2019!
(happy christmas, everyone)
By Tim Schutsky
THE SECTION WHICH IS GOING TO VERY MUCH ENJOY IGNORING ANYTHING TO DO WITH S*CI**L FCUKING M*D** UNTIL JANUARY:
- Instagram Testing ‘Creator’ Accounts: Facebook wants Instagram to be YouTube. It’s not going to be YouTube, at least not anytime soon, but that’s sort of immaterial - MARK WANT! So it is that it continues in its almost certainly doomed attempt to persuade all those floppy-haired, blindingly-toothed children to migrate from Google’s platform to its own. Basically this is the introduction of the sort of simple features for serious ‘creators’ (honestly, I don’t know how many times I can keep typing that word in this context) that YouTube’s offered them forever - “growth insights such as data around follows and unfollows; direct messaging tools that allow users to filter notes from, for example, brand partners and friends; and flexible labels that allow users to designate how they want to be contacted.” Thrilling, eh?
- Insta Introduces Voice Messaging: You know how there’s nothing worse than someone sending you a voicenote on Whatsapp? Yes, well, those deviants will now be able to ruin your life on Instagram as well. Another reason to stop using this stuff, frankly.
- Google + Now Shutting Down Even Earlier: I know, I’m upset too, but it turns out that G+ is even more of a security nightmare than was previously thought - thank GOD noone’s ever used it, eh? - and as such is going to be shutting its virtual doors in April of next year. I will, honestly, be sad when it finally dies; it’s never served any purpose to me whatsoever, but I will always fondly remember my abortive attempts to troll pseudo-fancy pizza chain Firezza into giving me free food in exchange for boosting their engagement numbers on G+. Raise a toast in its memory this festive season.
- 360 iFly: On the one hand, this is a really nice and shiny website by KLM which presents a series of travelogues (or it will when the campaign’s done - there’s only one live at the moment) hosted by...er...some bloke who I presume is an ‘influencer’, in which he goes to interesting and picturesque places around the world to EXPERIENCE THINGS, which experiences are captured in 360 video for the edification and entertainment of viewers. On the other hand, let’s be realistic, there is no way in hell that any actual, real people are going to spend 6-10 minutes of their lives watching a slightly banal piece of travel journalism which is pretty much identical in tone, style and feel to the sort of thing you might see on BBC2 at 8pm. I mean, look, this obviously cost an reasonable amount, what with the location shoots and the talent and the webdev and the 360 gubbins and yet there is no discernible reason for it to exist whatsoever, other than to give the production team and the marketing people and the presenter an income. Look, can we make a pact? Can we agree something together? Can we MAKE CONTENT STOP in 2019? THERE IS TOO MUCH STUFF AND NEARLY ALL OF IT IS MEDIOCRE.
- Gift Rapper: Having said all that, of course, this is a totally frivolous piece of disposable non-culture and I think it’s ace. Ticketing company StubHub have partnered with (excellent) rapper Murs to produce this site which encourages you to buy tickets to an event for a friend or loved one and then accompany it with a ‘bespoke’ (not actually bespoke) rap song. It’s a slick piece of digital sleight of hand - you go through a series of questions about the type of tickets you’re giving, who you’re giving them to, etc, and at the end you get a personalised rap track which reflects your choices, frankensteined together in pretty seamless fashion, to send to the recipient. Cute.
- The Year in Bongo: We’ll close out the ‘professional’ section of Curios for 2018 with the now-traditional look at the globe’s bongo consumption over the past year, which gets a nod in this section due to the fact that they just do this sort of thing really, really well. You can scoff and titter all you want, but the level of detail and granularity they go into with this information is why it always does so well for them; from the point of view of data-led comms, this is sort of an object lesson in how to do it. Of course, it’s also a whole bunch of statistics about what people like to wank to, and as such is utterly compelling - there’s nothing in here to rival the sheer weirdness of Giantess Porn being the big breakout hit of 2016 (please tell me I’m not the only person who remembers that), but it’s still a fascinating read. Shame on the 34million+ of you who searched for ‘Bowsette’-related smut (if that means nothing to you then I envy you) and all of you who attempted to crack one off to ‘Sexy Fortnite’); you could spend an eternity attempting to derive some sort of significant insight from all of this, but my main takeaways are: 1) the fetishisation of Asian bodies is a genuinely global phenomenon; and 2) there was an essay I linked to a few weeks back about how we’re all having less sex and how there’s an argument to suggest that porn consumption backs that up, based on the increased interest in non-human (videogame/cartoon) bongo, and this data absolutely backs that up; honestly, there’s something genuinely interesting about the near-global rise in the popularity of videogame-themed smut, hentai, futanari and all the rest although I’ve no idea what it all means. Anyway, have a read - if nothing else it will give you ample fodder for Christmas lunch conversation.
THE SECTION WHICH WOULD HONESTLY LIKE TO SAY THANKS FOR READING ALL OF THIS AND WHICH HOPES YOU ALL HAVE NICE HOLIDAYS AND STUFF, PT.1:
- The Most Future Thing I Have Ever Seen: It’s fitting, I think, that the final Curios of 2018 opens with something that left me honestly agog when I saw it last night. I can’t be bothered to go back and check, but I seem to recall that way back in January I made some sort of prediction about fake video becoming a problematic thing by the end of the year in terms of our ability to discern truth from fiction; whilst we’ve not yet seen the first ‘world’s media fooled by GAN-generated footage’, the pace of technological improvement over the past 12 months has been spectacular, and this is the most impressive implementation of ‘imagined’ video I’ve seen. Honestly, just click the link; I’ll wait here *waits* OK good, you back? OH MY GOD WASN’T THAT AMAZING?!?! Fine, Christ only knows what sort of computational power it’s using to generate all that stuff, but you take this and multiply it by Moore’s Law and you’ve got tech which will let anyone create near-photorealistic video of fake people and things, outputting at a quality good enough to easily fool a cursory glance. You remember last week there was a longread about some of the ways you can spot GAN-generated faces? Yeah, well this tech has already outpaced that. This honestly feels watershed-ish, like the first talkie or colour film, and like it’s going to presage a very, very interesting time indeed (perhaps in the Chinese sense, fine, but still).
- Fake Face Recognition Test: You think you can tell real from fake? You reckon you know what a real person looks like? GREAT! Take this test, being run by MIT researchers, which assesses one’s ability to identify fake faces generated by GAN software; there are a series of different ‘games’ which ask you to determine whether the face you’ve just been shown belongs to a real person or whether it’s a computer-generated fizzog. Each round of the quiz asks you to make the call after being shown the faces for less time - what’s immediately apparent is that it’s already very, very hard to tell the real humans from the CG renders when you’re only exposed to them for half a second or so. Welcome to the future, in which we’re simply not biologically equipped to distinguish fact from fiction any more!
- Christmas Experiments: A sort of advent calendar of WebGL toys, each vaguely Christmas-themed. I am pretty sure I’ve featured this in previous years, but the work for 2018 is generally great and in a few specific instances honestly incredible; there are a couple of these that are truly beautiful, and if you only play with one of them can I recommend ‘Plume’? Thanks.
- Towwwwwwwwwer: Utterly frivolous websitetoything, which lets you take a photo of yourself and turns it into an image which it adds to the INFINITE TOWER OF SCROLL on the site; the ‘about’ section suggests it’s a meditation or reflection on the disposable nature of online content and ART, but to my mind it’s just a pleasingly-designed Geocities-ish piece of webwork. See what you think.
- The AI Art Gallery: A curated collection of AI-generated artworks, collated by Luba Elliott. This is a genuinely great site if you’re interested in the intersection of computation and art; the works featured are collected by general theme, so there are standard (ha! The very fact I can refer to machine-imagined artworks as ‘standard’ in any way is honestly boggling to me) GAN pictures but there are also AI music experiments and design experiments, and there’s a whole host of stuff collected here that I’d never seen before. If you’re looking for a convenient primer on who’s doing what with all this tech this is a decent place to start finding out.
- Lensa: I’m featuring this with a very heavy caveat that it is A Bad Thing and you oughtn’t use it, but, well, who am I kidding? Lensa is made by the same people who developed Prisma, that style transfer app that was all the rage a couple of years ago and led to a weird spate of people having Picasso-tinged interpretations of themselves as their avatar; this new app, though, is basically an incredibly powerful auto-Photoshop analogue which can do frankly incredible things to your face with a couple of taps. You want an instant unblemishing? You got it! You want to make your eyes stand out more, or give yourself a contoured face without the need to paint weird panda stripes all over your actual countenance? All yours! We’ve seen auto-retouching apps before, but nothing quite this impressive - it’s honestly staggering how good the finish is on the effects, which on the one hand is just an impressive technical achievement but on the other is yet another nail in the coffin of our ability to distinguish fact from fiction. Yet another reason to never, ever believe that someone looks anything like the photos they put on the internet.
- The Worst Things On The Internet in 2018: Buzzfeed have been running these for 6 years now, and looking back through the 2012 edition just now gave me a genuinely warm sense of nostalgia for a time in which ‘echidna penis’ had even a chance of being named one of the 50 most cursed online things of the year. 2018 has, it’s fair to say, been another year that’s felt not unlike being placed in a tumble drier with a load of rocks - relive some of the best (really not the best) things that have done a bit of a viral, and try and unsee the mousemat (you will never, ever be able to unsee it).
- Eyezon: Bafflingly described as an “Аll-new on-demand LIVE streaming tool for tailor made peer-to-peer reviews for shopping and lifestyle decisions in real-time” (catchy, eh?), Eyezon is the sort of thing which you can sort of half-see the point of but which you know is literally never going to take off (sorry, but). The idea - based on my interpretation of the slightly garbled descriptions onsite - is that it’s a platform which connects people who want to know about a place with people who are in that place, so that the physically present can share their view with others who want to see it. That’s an AWFUL description, I know, but you click on that link and try and see if you can make head or tail of it. Basically, imagine a situation when you’re in a restaurant; you take a photo of said restaurant and upload it to the app; the backend tech analyses what’s in the photo and adds searchable tags to it, along with your location, etc, meaning anyone who’s looking for information on restaurants of a particular type or in a particular area can in theory find your pic and (and here’s the gimmick) request that you share a livestream of the place so you can see it. You can interact with the person streaming (and they with you) with text, voice or on-screen scrawls, and you earn virtual currency for interacting with others, which currency can be redeemed for...er...no, there’s no indication of that. It’s not a terrible idea, but it does rather seem to have forgotten that there’s a really very good visual search engine called Google Images, and that literally the least efficient way possible to find out about a place is to ask a stranger to stream you grainy footage of it over an iffy 4g connection.
- Moodify: A nice little Spotify hack which lets you login to your account and then generate a mood-based playlist simply by moving a few sliders around to denote what sort of vibe you’re after. Simple, but nicely made.
- The NYT Year in Review 2018: Want to remember all the GREAT THINGS that happened in the news over the past 12 months? Of course not, it was mostly terrible! Still, the New York Times has put together this cheery jaunt down memory lane, so the least you ingrates can do is click on the link. This site presents a succession of news stories, presented in pairs, which does an excellent job of showcasing exactly how mad and schizophrenic 2018 has been. Someone on Twitter this week observed that this is the first December in a few years which hasn’t been characterised by people giving a general ‘well thank God that one’s over’ sigh of relief, and that’s because we’ve all come to the realisation that this is just what it’s going to be like all the time. Merry Christmas!
- Make Your Own Die-Hard Christmas Ornament: Is it a Christmas film? I don’t care! It can be if you like! Anyway, if you want instructions on how to make your own tediously pomo pop-culture-referencing John McClane bauble then consider this my gift to you.
- Mikhail Larionov: Larionov, I learned this week, was a Russian artist born in the late-19th Century and who is credited with founding Russia’s avant garde movement in the early 1900s. I’d never heard of him before, but I very much like the style of his work and the site, which accompanies an exhibition of his work in Moscow, is lovely and a beautiful showcase for his paintings.
- Old Apps: This is a fascinating time machine - Old Apps is a site that collects old Windows software for download, so if you want to fiddle around with an antediluvian version of Firefox then, well, you’re a strange and lonely-sounding person but you’re also one of us and you are welcome here.
- HTTPBey: Beyonce gifs representing HTTP status codes. Unless you’re a developer there’s a large chance that the only part of that that made any sense to you is ‘Beyonce gifs’, but there’s no shame in that. Those of you who do get it, though, please can you start employing these on every site you build from hereon in, please? Thanks.
- Rocky Bergen: The fabulously-named Mx Bergen makes very, very impressive papercraft models of stuff like ghetto blasters and old computers, and if you’re likely to need some sort of simple, meditative pursuit to help you get through the coming weeks of familial ‘joy’ then this may well be the thing that keeps you from murder.
By Xuebing Du
THE SECTION WHICH WOULD HONESTLY LIKE TO SAY THANKS FOR READING ALL OF THIS AND WHICH HOPES YOU ALL HAVE NICE HOLIDAYS AND STUFF, PT.2:
- The Information Is Beautiful Awards 2018: Once again, David McCandless picks out the best examples of dataviz of the past 12 months; there’s some typically stellar work in here, though I’m personally slightly weirded out that there doesn’t seem to be any acknowledgement of Pudding’s work over the course of the year.
- Sounding Nature: You probably live in some sort of hideous urban hellscape, don’t you, all concrete and smog and carcinogens and mangy, broken pigeons eking out a miserable existence on fried chicken carcasses and McDonald’s buns. Think of Sounding Nature as an antidote to all that brutal human sprawl - “Sounding Nature is the biggest ever global exploration of the beautiful sounds of nature, covering 55 countries with almost 500 sounds. The sounds have been reimagined by 250 artists to reflect upon the damage being done to our natural world by human-generated sounds.” You can search the sounds by type, but I’d recomment just having a scroll through and picking stuff based on the title - I’ve personally just been enjoying ‘Baboons disturbed by hyena’, but you pick your own favourites.
- Water Shapes Earth: A lovely project collecting photography which demonstrates the manner in which waterways shape and alter physical terrain - so lots of spectacular photos of river basins and physical geography just sort of happening. Beautiful shots.
- Choir: A small, slightly surreal, ever so slightly disturbing webtoy which lets you create a synthesised choir-type sound by, er, dragging open a hideous, disembodied, fleshy pair of lips into a rictus of performative horror. Really quite impressively horrid in a sort of frivolous way.
- Branded Fruit: This doesn’t look like a joke but, well, it has to be, right? Many years ago I did some work for a bookmaker’s (not proud of that, but, well, a boy’s got to drink) which involved me commissioning a bunch of footballer’s faces to be laser-etched into apples and presented as gimmicky gift to journalists at the start of the football season (the footballers depicted were Premier League ‘bad boys’, the BAD APPLES, so to speak dear God PR is a miserable and dirty thing). That involved me scouring the weird internet for people who could brand fruit for me - which is exactly what this company does, except instead of doing some sort of fancy laser sculpting these chancers seemingly just, er, cut out a logo from craft paper and superglue it to a pineapple (or apple, or orange, or whatever). Honestly, click the link and look at the examples - this is a pisstake, surely, right?
- Dark Reader: Chrome plugin that lets you toggle a ‘dark mode’ for any website you visit. Potentially useful if you’re in the (bad) habit of surfing the web just before sleep, or if you want to make your normie office colleagues think you’re some sort of wizard who can INVERT THE WEB.
- The 2019 Social Justice Kitten Calendar: I think I featured this last year for the first time, but the 2019 iteration is as good. A 2019 calendar which features a selection of pictures of kittens parodying hyperwokeness - if you’d like to see in June with a picture of a sad-eyed cat captioned “There’s no such thing as ‘unprovoked violence’ against a fascist” then this is for YOU.
- Webjets: A N Other browser-based moodboard creator, this has a really nice interface and the drag-and-drop nature of it works perfectly. If you need to do lookbooks and the like, this mightn’t be a bad tool to play with.
- Dimensions Guide: “Dimensions.Guide is a comprehensive reference database of dimensioned drawings documenting the standard measurements and sizes of the everyday objects and spaces that make up our built environment. Created as a universal resource to better communicate the basic properties, systems, and logics of our world, Dimensions.Guide is a free platform for increasing public and professional knowledge of life and design.” Erm, that. Sorry, not got much else to say about this one. NEXT!
- Long URL Maker: Want to make a link 1000% longer and more sketchy-looking than it needs to be? OH GOOD! No reason at all that I can see for this to exist, which makes its inclusion here almost mandatory.
- Black Grooves: This is an EXCELLENT site if you’re a muso. “Black Grooves is a music review site hosted by the Archives of African American Music & Culture (AAAMC) at Indiana University. Our goal is to promote black music by providing our readers with monthly updates on interesting new releases and quality reissues in all genres─including gospel, blues, jazz, funk, soul, R&B, world music, and hip-hop—as well as classical music composed or performed by black artists.” Even a cursory 10 minutes rooting around on here introduced me to a host of excellent stuff I’d never heard before; this is well worth your time.
- A Profound Waste of Time: A beautiful, glossy and superbly-designed high-end magazine all about videogames, for grown men and women who take their childhood hobbies just that little bit too seriously. The design of this is glorious, my snark aside.
- Make Your Playlists Secret: I have no idea why you might suddenly feel the need to change the visibility of your Spotify Playlists to ‘Secret’, but, in case you ever do, this website will sort it with one click. What do you have to hide?!
- Civil War Photo Sleuth: A lovely historical investigation aiming to identify all combatants in the American Civil War from old photographs; it hosts a huge number of photo portraits of soldiers sailors, and is inviting people to browse them to see if they recognise family members. As a collaborative historical project it’s a fascinating one, and there’s something oddly haunting about the collected photos on here.
- Hypehop: It’s quite hard to keep up with where we are with Bitcoin, but it’s safe to say that there will be significantly fewer people HODL-ing this Christmas. Still, if you still think there’s worth in crypto then you might be interested in this platform, which pays you in Bitcoin (infinitesimally small quantities of it, fine, but Bitcoin nonetheless) for watching videos. I have no idea why this has been created, but there’s something sort of darkly interesting about the way it works - it activates your webcam while you’re watching the video, to ensure your gaze is consistent and that you’re really earning the coin with your full attention. This is the future, isn’t it? Paid fractional amounts in exchange for staring fixedly at a promotional message from a biscuit brand on our morning commute. MAKE THE FUTURE STOP, MUM.
- The Rollercoaster Database: You want a huge, ugly compendium of every single rollercoaster in the known world? YES YOU DO! Take a look at the section collecting the UK’s coasters, and marvel at the sheer number of weird, slightly shonky-sounding themer parks we have in this country. Have any of you been to Symonds Yat Leisure Park? WHAT IS IT LIKE?
- Weight of the World: I think this is LOVELY. Weight of the World is such a clever piece of storytelling; it takes a static 3d image which users can look around and zoom into/out of, and which uses that simple static point to tell the story of the image. It’s hard to explain, particularly when you’ve been up since 6 and frankly just want this to be over and done with, but trust me and click the link - WOULD I LIE TO YOU?
- Cragne Manor: This is an astonishing effort. Part interactive fiction, part spraw;ling game of exquisite corpse, Cragne Manor is a collaboratively-written text adventure written by 80+ different authors and exactly as stylistically schizophrenic as you’d expect it to be. “Each contributor was assigned one room. We didn't tell anybody what was going on in anybody else's room. Your name is Naomi Cragne. Your husband is missing. That's why you're taking the train to Vermont, to look for him in his family's old mansion. You'll explore creepy environments, consult eldritch tomes, and solve bizarre puzzles as you search for Peter, but your surroundings, your past, and even your identity seem to change subtly—or dramatically—as you make your way through the town of Backwater and approach Cragne Manor. Each location is a different author's take on a tribute to Anchorhead, or an original work of Lovecraftian cosmic horror, or a deconstruction of cosmic horror, or a gonzo parody of cosmic horror, or a parody of some other thing, or a portrait of life in Vermont, or a pure experiment in writing with Inform 7, or something else entirely. There are tons of puzzles. The puzzles get very weird.” They’re not lying about the weirdness of the puzzles, but this is a joy - surreal and fun and clever and witty and self-aware, and a brilliant way of spending the rest of this afternoon.
- Lovetron: The very last miscellaneous link of 2018, and, per Curios tradition, it’s something weirdly and unpleasantly sexual! I stumbled across this on Saturday whilst waiting for my sausage rolls to cook, and found myself typing the phrase ‘subdermal vibrating cock implant’ - in a weird way a sort of apt summation of the past 12 months. What is Lovetron? “Lovetron9000 is an implanted intimacy enhancement that delivers strong on-demand vibrations for their partner’s enjoyment.” So, then, literally a subdermal vibrating cock implant. Merry Christmas, and God bless us EVERYONE!
By John Karborn
THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!:
- Goreyana: Not a Tumblr! Still, it’s a tribute to the work of the late Edward Gorey, whose grotesque and somewhat macabre pencil illustrations you will, I promise, recognise.
- The Adventures of Solid Snake: Snake from MGS, in doll form, photographed. This is...more amusing to me than I feel it probably ought to be.
THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!:
- Sooselli: Ossi Saarinen is a young Finnish photographer whose Insta feed is a genuinely magical selection of great wildlife shots, of the sort that make Finland look like a magical wintry paradise full of beautifully cute fauna rather than the miserable, cold, ice-and-slush-blighted permadark nightmare that I’m reliably informed it in fact is (ONLY JOKING, FINNS!).
- Kook of the Day: I learned this week that ‘kook’ is a dismissive term used by surfers to denote other, slightly crap or plastic surfers (muchlike ‘toy’ in graffiti terminology, from what I can tell). This Insta feed posts videos of people being a bit derpy at the beach, in the main, but it a sort of generally not-too-mean way.
- Joe Pascale: Excellent, terrifying, horrible, brilliant animations. These are AWFUL and therefore perfect - thanks to Dan for the spot.
LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!
- The 2018 Jealousy List: Bloomberg’s annual selection of the best journalism that its writers wish they had written is once again an excellent potted ‘best of’ the past 12 months’ longform writing; you’ll have seen about half of these in Curios, but there lots of pieces in here which were new to me and may be to you too. Bookmark this should you want a hand repository of great writing to dip into while you’re ignoring your blood relatives.
- The Guide to Advertising Tech: This is a superb resource. Put together by the Tow Centre for Digital Journalism, and intended as a primer for reporters, this is an incredibly comprehensive guide to digital advertising - its history, how it works, what it can and can’t do, the whole deal. It’s kilometric, but if you’re after a well-researched and clearly-presented explainer about how all this stuff REALLY works then this is perfect.
- Spying Apps: At this point in 2018 there’s probably nothing less surprising than a long investigative piece of journalism into all the shady ways that all the myriad apps on your phone mine and profit from your data - still, if you wanted another reminder as to why all those exciting free downloads weren’t maybe as free as you initially thought, this NYT investigation is a cracker. Turns out loads of the apps on your phone are tracking your location and flogging all that data for profit - WHODATHUNKIT?!
- The New Autocrats: An excellent piece of writing looking at the regimes in Hungary, Romania and Poland through the prism of the rise of less-than-democratic practices across Central Europe, and the extent to which this can be seen as some sort of localised, proxy expression of the broader global Culture Wars. It’s...not hugely cheery.
- Will Uber Survive?: I found this negative assessment of Uber’s mid-term prospects fascinating; obviously I don’t know the first thing about business and making money, but if all that’s in this article is true then it’s hard to envisage the business turning a profit anytime soon. The fact that it only covers about 75% of its costs per ride is staggering and doesn’t look great - I’m still expecting Amazon to buy them at some point, because I am a firm believer in the Bezos Singularity by which point 99p of every £1 spent anywhere in the world will pass through MechaBezos’ fingers.
- Uber Ads: Of course, there’s nothing to say that Uber won’t do something hugely innovative and clever and sort themselves out - this type of thing, for example. Advertising on Uber is such an obvious and clever and potentially powerful thing - you know where people are, you know where they’re going, etc etc - that I’m kind of amazed it hasn’t been exploited more already, but this is obviously going to be a huge deal in the next few years.
- What Going Viral Looks Like: An interesting post breaking down the spread of news around a recent VIRAL SENSATION. You will OBVIOUSLY recall the mashup jigsaws project from a few weeks ago, Tim Klein’s frankensteining of two separate jigsaw puzzles into a single, often beautifully-surreal whole - this is an account of how it became massively, globally viral after being written up on BoingBoing. Fascinating to see how this stuff spreads, as always, though I’m personally a touch sniffy that Web Curios isn’t cited as an instrumental factor in its global spread.
- Cold Discovery: I very much felt this piece, about the weirdness inherent in consuming books or music or art within convenient digital wrappers - the difference between ‘listening to an album’ and ‘listening to Spotify’, say, or ‘watching a film’ and ‘watching Netflix’. There are lots of excellent and interesting points made in here about the flattening nature of these delivery mechanisms, and how they tend to blur everything within them into one; I for one have terrible trouble remembering the names of books I read on Kindle because I never see the covers, which is a tiny example of the phenomenon.
- 52 Immersive Things: An excellent roundup of immersive and interactive work from the past 12 months, from games to theatre to pop-up ‘experiences’ and everything inbetween. If you do events or interactive stuff, or even just advermarketingpr, there is a LOT of excellent inspiration to be found in this list.
- All The Best Products: In which a young Brooklynite, 26 year old Rebecca Jennings, spends a week living in a life in which she can temporarily afford all the fancy lifestyle schtick marketed at millennials JUST LIKE HER - the magical internet mattress, the organic tampons, the smoothies and the acai bowls and the lovely accessories and the pastel-hued knitwear and and and it makes her desperately miserable. This is a very odd piece, veering between standard ‘my millennial life’ diary-type observation and a howling void of existential despair, and I very much enjoyed reading it whilst at the same time being so, so glad that I am old and near death.
- How Premium Mediocre Conquered Fashion: Remember Premium Mediocre? SO LONG AGO! Still, whilst it’s not the zeitgeisty buzzword it was a year or so ago it’s still very much a thing - this is an exploration of how the idea (the slightly crap illusion of ‘premium’ which very much isn’t ‘premium’ at all) has colonised fashion, and in particular how brands such as Supreme and Louis Vuitton have wholeheartedly embraced the concept as a way of flogging branded tat to idiots (as an aside, if you go to Via Condotti in Rome - where all the fancy shops are - you’ll see endless hordes of tourists queueing up to spend £50+ on a Fendi biro or something, which is exactly the vibe this article is on about).
- Emails to Trees: Years ago on here I featured the project in Melbourne whereby the City assigned email addresses to 70,000 trees as a means for people to report on their condition and to crowdsource information about their health. Instead, people used the addresses to pen messages to the trees themselves, paeans to their beauty and stature and leafy spread. This piece collects some of those emails and, I promise you, you will not read a purer thing all day.
- The Fiverr Economy of Venezuela: You want 2018 in a nutshell, this isn’t a bad place to begin. Venezuela, everyone’s favourite failing economy, is in some pretty parlous financial straits, and residents are struggling to make ends meet - so some of them are turning to Fiverr to whore themselves out for YouTubers’ LOLs. How desperate and humiliated would you have to be to film yourself eating slime or custard pie-ing yourself for pennies, knowing that the footage will be used in some idiot child YouTuber’s (highly monetised) content? Welcome to the future, in which poor people quite literally wank for pennies for the amusement of the rich! Except it’s not the future, it’s now!
- The Super Smash Bros Manual: I was never a Nintendo person and so Smash has always been something of a mystery to me; my brothers used to play it when they were alive, and it always looked like a baffling, technicolour mess as far as I was concerned. Still, younglings amongst you may be fans, and may well be playing the latest iteration of the franchise on Switch - if so, you might appreciate this BEAUTIFUL fan project, a fully-realised old school manual for the game, of the type you’d have found accompanying games in the 90s and which you would excitedly read cover-to-cover on the bus home from town as you imagined the INCREDIBLE EXPERIENCE you are about to have. Honestly, if you’re a gamer of a certain vintage this will give you BARE nostalgia.
- A Gay Historical Love Story: You may have seen this doing the rounds on Twitter - a THREAD all about a gay love story from World War 1. It’s wonderful, and it’s also a work of total fiction; read the thread, and then read this authorial explanation where the person behind it explains the work. Aside from the fact it’s a great story, it’s also a wonderful example of using formal constraints and quirks of a medium to inform narrative design (sorry, that was VERY pseud-y).
- The History of the Moka: As per any good Italian, I own three or four stovetop coffee makers in varying states of disrepair (and like any good Italian I remain convinced that it’s basically impossible to make proper coffee outside of Italy, mainly because the water anywhere else doesn’t taste quite right - the same is true of England, tea and milk, fyi); this article explains the history of the gadget, how it spread across the world, and how it’s in danger of extinction thanks to George fcuking Clooney and the marketing juggernaut that is capsule coffee. Side question - WHEN WILL ALL COFFEE IN LONDON STOP TASTING OF LIQUORICE AND GO BACK TO TASTING LIKE COFFEE? This is important, can someone sort it please?
- Roleplaying in Fallout 76: Fallout is a long-running videogame series set in post-apocalyptic America; the latest iteration is the first to focus on multiplayer gameplay, and it’s been widely panned as being a slightly janky, near-unplayable mess. This article looks at the efforts players are making to enjoy the game despite its technical limitations, and is a genuinely wonderful examination of the ways in which creative play can flourish in even unpromising settings. Honestly, this is SO charming.
- Sassy Parkingbot: A blog on IDEO’s website all about their office slackbot which was designed to help people identify free parking spaces but which developed an...unexpectedly confrontational character. This is very funny but also quietly amazing in terms of code and its unintended consequences.
- A Thread of Weird Facts: SO MUCH ODD! I’m sure that there are lots of these that are untrue or not 100% accurate but, frankly, when I’m learning things like this, I don’t care: “Monkey" is a paraphyletic group, unless you include the apes. "Fish" is a paraphyletic group, unless you include the tetrapods (mammals, reptiles, birds, and amphibians). So, if we stick to monophyletic groups, humans are monkeys, which are a type of fish. Don’t you feel enriched for that knowledge?
- The Pipe Smoking Revival: I don’t really believe this is a thing, not least because pipe smoking’s just a bit, well, unpleasant - not the act of smoking it so much, more the genuinely disgusting spittle-sodden lumps of tobacco which occasionally invade your mouth which no warning and which are pretty much guaranteed to launch a bout of the dry heaves. Nonetheless, this piece would have you believe that we’re in the middle of a pipe-smoking boom, as the young decide to LAUGH in the face of mouth cancer and halitosis. What’s your pipe influencer strategy? WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU DON’T HAVE ONE??
- The North Face: An interesting blog by musician/artist Cory Arcangel in which he reflects on what the performative role of the DJ is in 2018, and to what extent they fulfil a symbolic rather than practical function, and how their weird and itinerant and light-touch existence is weirdly reminiscent of drop-shipping and other oddities of modern supply chains and logistics. This is, I promise, far more coherent and interesting than this spectacularly poorly-written description would suggest.
- Kelly Slater’s Shock Wave: This is a GREAT piece of journalism, and one of those occasional transcendent pieces of sports writing which manages to communicate an awful lot about an activity and community I have minimal understanding of without letting me realise I’m being taught. This is about Kelly Slater, widely acknowledged as the greatest competitive surfer ever, and his quest to build a machine that makes perfect waves, but it’s also about surfing as a sport and a lifestyle and ethos, and about whether or not there’s something inherently better about uncertainty and organic chaos than a prefabricated slice of perfection. The final 3-4 paragraphs of this are some of my favourite pieces of prose of 2018, FYI.
- Welcome to our Modern Hospital: McSweeney’s, on the insanity that is the US healthcare system. Very, very funny, but only if a) you don’t live in the US; or b) you have very good health insurance.
- Warning Signs: An excellent-if-dark short story, exploring abuse and control and virtual assistants. It’s a bit horrible, but it’s also very well conceived and executed, and might make you talk more politely to Alexa.
- Candy Making: My last longread of the year, this is the author’s account of how she came to love sweetmaking, and how that contrasted with her family falling apart. This is glorious, beautiful prose, and the writing about food, sugar in particular, is quite superb. Enjoy it, maybe with an aniseed ball.
By Eylul Aslan
AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!
6) My final video of the year, though, is also my song of the year - I heard this earlier this week and I honestly cannot get it out of my head. It’s called ‘Peaks & Valleys’ by Dan Mangan - happy Christmas, all of you, thanks for reading BYE I LOVE YOU KEEP SAFE AND WE WILL MEET AGAIN IN 2019 BYE TAKE CARE BE NICE TO EACH OTHER BYE HAVE FUN DON’T EAT TOO MUCH AND DON’T STEAL ALL THE GOOD QUALITY STREET AND I MISS YOU ALREADY AND THANKS FOR READING THIS BASTARD THING I LOVE YOU BYE!:
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