Gah! I am late, and, look, it's nice outside and now that it's ok to be outside - OR IS IT? - and go to the park and shout at someone I know from a distance of 2m - IS IT THOUGH? IS IT??? - then that's what I think I am going to do.
I am Matt, this is Web Curios, you know what to do by now (but don't do that; why not change the habit of a lifetime and read this week's edition instead?).
By Ahn Jun
LET’S START WITH SOME PLEASINGLY INDUSTRIAL TECHNO FROM JULIANA HUXTABLE!
THE SECTION WHICH DOES RATHER WISH FACEBOOK HAD BROUGHT OUT AN ‘I FEEL ALERT!’ REACTION JUST TO REALLY HELP CLARIFY MATTERS:
- FB & Insta Add New Local Business Features: Nothing hugely exciting here, if I’m honest, but you don’t come here for excitement these days - you come here for the banal reassurance that even in the fluxy swell of A WORLD GONE MAD there are some constants, such as Facebook making small, incremental feature tweaks to make it even easier and more advantageous for literally every company in the world, however small, to give them that sweet, sweet admoney nectar. This time it’s a bunch of (reasonably minimal) tweaks to functionality which will let users ‘find businesses nearby’ when searching for local services, setting a radius up to 150m (Americans have a...different concept of proximity, turns out), allows them to use hashtags and stickers in support of small businesses which pulls aggregated content under that hashtag, lets local influencers tag their support for specific small businesses in their posts and Stories, and..oh, look, here, it will “make it easier for businesses to communicate with customers by adding a dedicated Business Inbox in the Messenger app — allowing them to use Messenger to answer questions sent to their Facebook Page — and by allowing businesses to tag all their COVID-19-related posts from the Page composer.” I hope all the doubtless dozens of small business owners who I know come here each week in search of the nugget of information which will give them that longed-for hockey-stick-shaped growth-erection find that useful.
- Do Facebook’s Anti-Hatespeech Work For It, Win $100k: Obviously there’s nothing wrong with giving talented engineers the ability to demonstrate their chops solving hard problems in exchange for cash prizes. When you’re Facebook, though, and you’ve spent a couple of years quite explicitly ‘fessing up to the fact that your AI systems really aren’t up to the task of dealing with all the horror on your platform (including again this week, when the company admitted it its moderation update that the tech at its disposal is “far from perfect”, and acknowledging that “the adversarial nature of these challenges means the work will never be done”), I personally think that you might want to be a bit more generous with the carrot here. Anyway, if you think you’re up to the challenge of developing a bit of code that can identify ‘hateful’ memes, then step right up and try your chances. I might suggest, though, that you bargain a bit harder considering the spectacular amounts of cash that something like this would save Facebook in both staff salaries and legal/therapeutic fees.
- It’s Now Easier To Bulk-Delete Nasty Comments from Insta: “Good” is basically the only comment I can bring myself to make here.
- Twitter Updates Misleading Policy Information: As per usual, this bit of news isn’t aimed at people like you, people who Tweet only the truth and who would never in a million years mislead people for commercial or personal gain (ha! PSYCH! If you’re reading this section I have a reasonable idea of what you probably do for a living, which means that you obviously mislead people for personal gain ALL THE TIME, because that’s what you get paid to do! Live with the whoredom, it gets easier). To quote the update: “Earlier this year, we introduced a new label for Tweets containing synthetic and manipulated media. Similar labels will now appear on Tweets containing potentially harmful, misleading information related to COVID-19. This will also apply to Tweets sent before today.” Again, sensible.
- Reddit Goes Crypto: This is very much something I have only got half-a-handle on at the time of writing, but in my defence it’s 706am and I only saw this 20-odd minutes ago, and it’s about cryptocurrency which is a topic I find has that uniquely difficult combination of boring and complicated and the preserve of really, really dull people that makes me sort-of incapable of ever really getting it. Still, let’s try - Reddit is experimenting with offering a new ‘rewards’ type system, a-la Reddit Gold, called ‘Community Points’...which will be on the blockchain! It’s only a small trial on a couple of specific subs, but it will be fascinating to see whether this works, and whether there develops a small crypto marketplace alongside Reddit; the site’s scale and ubiquity amongst a certain demographic of younger web users means that if you’re interested in the INEVITABLE RISE OF THE BITCOIN then a) you’re insufferably tedious, please don’t talk to me about it; and b) you might want to keep an eye on how this progresses.
- Twitch Launches Safety Advisory Council: Impressive, this, from Twitch; Facebook only launched its version of something similar this year, so for Twitch to set it up so quickly is fast-paced governance. The idea is that the Council, made up of online experts and Twitch creators, will work to establish policies and feature updates for the platform designed to foster safe growth and community - this is of interest mainly to those of you who want to try and pitch things on Twitch to terrified clients, as a way of reassuring them that it’s BRAND SAFE (ish).
- Tinder Testing Trivia: I don’t normally write about dating apps in this section, but I find Tinder’s increasing move towards CONTENT an interesting one; this story suggests it’s looking at trialing live video trivia games to help match users and also help them test their videochat features; if you’re a particular sort of brand, though (a REALLY rich one), this is the sort of thing it might be worth tentatively approaching them about with partnership ideas. Tinder games with a bit of light sponsorship sounds...well, it sounds hideous to me, but, as is increasingly apparent from every passing day, I am a know-nothing bozo whose advice and opinions should be ignored wherever possible.
- LinkedIn Adds Polls and Live Video Events: Polls! You can ask the rest of your PROFESSIONAL NETWORK questions! Just like on other platforms! But four years later! Oh, and there’s a live event feature which is being trialed with a few invite-only users and businesses, so speak to your dead-eyed sales rep if you’d like access to this doubtless-thrilling new featureset. Actually, my miserable cynicism aside, I think the ‘live events’ thing is a smart idea - if nothing else the LinkedIn brand is probably something of a kitemark (I know, ridiculous, but) and so running an event through it might confer a small degree of professional gloss compared to, say, Facebook Rooms.
- Google Chrome Launches Better Tab Organisation: Yes, ok, this is incredibly fcuking boring, but if you are me then it is also something that will absolutely improve the quality of my life for the approximately 10 hours a day of it I spend online.
- Snacks Dot Com: Stuff that THE RONA has changed - our ability to just pop to the shops and pick up a dozen packets of Skips on a whim. Still, as part of the growing direct-to-consumer boom brought about by the quarantine, there’s a solution (or at least there is in the states) - SNACKS DOT COM! Honestly, the sheer power of that url! SNACKS DOT COM (sorry, but it’s hard for me not to read it in my head in the voice of one of those US sports announcers with the gravel-gargling tones) lets you buy snacks from the Frito-Lay Group (massive junkfood company outside the UK) delivered directly to your home, for the low, low minimum order of $15. Leaving aside that $15 seems like a LOT of corn snacks - I have just done the maths on the site and it buys you ONE FCUKING KILOGRAMME of Cheetos; dear God, THAT IS WHY YOU ARE ALL FCUKING OBESE FFS!! - this seems like a huge move. I know Heinz started doing something similar in the UK a month or so back, but this feels significantly more likely to catch on - crisps get eaten faster, and more regularly, and it’s far easier to imagine signing up to a fortnightly delivery of Quavers than it is to receiving a crate of ketchup every six months. I would personally be very surprised if Walkers or KP weren’t exploring something very similar about now.
- A True Statement: I don’t ordinarily link to ‘funny things people said about the field I sort-of work in on Twitter’, but I’ll make an exception for this as it made me feel very seen.
NEXT, TRY AN HOUR OF AMAPIANO, WHICH IS APPARENTLY A SORT OF AFRICAN HOUSE AND WHICH IS ABSOLUTELY ACE, TURNS OUT!
THE SECTION WHICH IS GLAD WE’VE NOW FOUND AN ANSWER TO THE PERENNIAL QUESTION ‘WHAT TYPE OF BONGO WOULD MACHINES IMAGINE IF MACHINES WERE ABLE TO IMAGINE BONGO?’, PT.1:
- Appeasement: I got quite bored of Led by Donkeys’ stuff during Brexit, I confess; whilst I agreed broadly with their point of view that the people in charge of it were dreadful, lying cnuts, I was increasingly of the impression that using giant printouts of Tweets to make that point was possibly not broadening that message as much as they thought it was (turns out that using a platform that most normal people think is the sole preserve of a vanishingly-small proportion of weirdos in media and politics to tell said normal people that what they think is wrong doesn’t do much to persuade said normal people that everyone telling them that what they think is wrong isn’t just a member of a whinging Westminster liberal elite). This is their latest thing, though, and it’s rather good imho. Appeasement presents a simple timeline of known facts about the spread of COVID internationally, contrasting the events taking place and other governments’ response to them with the steps taken by our own. Regardless of whether you think our leaders have made a massive mess of this - and, if you don’t, HA!! - this is, objectively, a really good piece of communications; simple, effective and clear.
- The Machine Gaze: This is, no contest, my favourite website of the week - FULL DISCLOSURE, though, that I was in-part involved with its creation. Over the past year or so, Shardcore’s been messing around with GANs (you know them by now - that form of AI whereby you train a machine on a set of visuals and then use what it ‘learns’ to seed new images) and bongo, with the idea of seeing what would happen if you trained a machine just on pr0n and asked it to ‘imagine’ new stuff. Well, this is it. The Machine Gaze is a website collecting images and video from the collection - everything you see on there was created by a machine which had previously been exposed to hundreds of thousands of pictures of naked people, either alone or together. The results are...honestly, they’re not quite like anything I’ve seen before, part Bacon, part Zoo Magazine, and wholly unerotic. They are, it goes without saying, not entirely kid-friendly, and they are on occasion a bit...disturbing, but there’s also something weirdly beautiful about them and the questions they ask - about what machines ‘see’, and what we are training them on - are interesting and pertinent. Oh, we tried doing this with male-centric bongo, by the way, but it turns out that for quite a few reasons it’s significantly harder (ahem) to get decent results, not least because of the fact that it tends to be a little more aesthetically varied and therefore the machines have real trouble imagining where the cocks ought to go (no, really). Please, please do take a look at this - I think it’s amazing, and you might too (or you might think it’s honestly horrid, for which sincere apologies).
- This Word Does Not Exist: My second favourite website of the week, this is another AI-generated...thing-repository, which rather than presenting imaginary people or cats or anima girlfriends that have all been imagined by machine instead offers up a selection of words and their definitions that have been generated by a machine (in this case, it’s the GPT-2 code underpinning it). Honestly, I could sit here all day and click refresh and be happy. So far it’s offered me ‘slipsub: a short burst of light on a surface’ and ‘gaière: a small goose raised for protection by its owner or a keeper’, and ‘tripship: a person who travels through space on specially designed rides’ and each of them is wonderful. So, so pleasing for any of you who are into words for their own sake.
- The Houseparty Festival: I am very much not the target demographic for this, as evidenced by the fact that I think I recognise approximately six of the named artists performing over the course of the upcoming three-day festival. Taking place inside the titular app, this is a really interesting idea which I am fascinated to see in action (whilst at the same time having no real desire whatsoever to actually participate in); the deal is that from this evening (Friday 15 May) til Sunday night over 40 artists will be appearing live on the app, doing...no idea, actually, and given the mix of people (there are musicians like Doja Cat and Dua Lipa and Katy Perry and others, but also people like Zooey Deschanel and Neil Patrick Harris and the bafflingly-ubiquitous Chef Mike who I presume will...I don’t know, just be famous and hope that that’s entertaining enough? Anyway, the idea is that these streams will all exist for a set amount of time; Houseparty users can jump on calls with their friends, per the app’s standard mechanic, and then watch these famousstreams together as a shared experience. Which strikes me as a really decent way of running these things - no mass-instances, with your friends, but with the opportunity to mix with strangers if you feel like it...honestly, whilst I honestly couldn’t think of much I’d like to do less than watch a jerky, pixellated stream of Katy Perry gurning her way through one of her ‘hits’ while wearing a ‘comedy’ lockdown outfit, the way they are running the whole thing seems very future indeed.
- Wongle: ANOTHER excellent website (I really am spoiling you today), this needs to be launched on a phone or on a tablet to work - once you do, though, prepare to be slightly-amazed (well, if you’re me). Wongle is a really simple game that plays through your mobile browser and camera; it simply tasks you with finding things around you that you can photograph which begin with the letter the site’s suggesting - so just now, for example, it asked me to take a picture of something beginning with an ‘a’, so I snapped a wrinkled, shrivelled apple and felt momentarily-guilty about my fruit intake. That’s literally it - it doesn’t get more complicated than this - but it’s honestly a bit magical how good the image recognition is, and as a game for kids who are learning the alphabet it’s a possibly perfect distraction (honestly, you could just give them a tablet with this loaded on it and go to sleep for an hour! JUST IMAGINE). Lots of fun, and nicely-made to boot by agency Hello Monday.
- Twitch Roulette: I’ve featured things in here before looking at the slightly odd loneliness of the streaming experience for the vast majority of people on platforms like Twitch, performing nightly for an audience of, well, often literally noone. Twitch Roulette takes that concept and makes it a feature, promising to match you with a random streamer from the site, at random, at the click of a button. The particular nature of Twitch makes this surprisingly fun - whilst the quality of the streamers varies enormously, the fact that you’re never going to end up being confronted by a naked man worrying at his disappointing foreskin makes the whole experience an interesting journey of discovery rather than a more penile variant on ‘Pop Up Pirate’. You can choose to limit streamers to particular games, should you simply want to browse within a category, but otherwise this is a wonderful way of dipping your toe into the odd multiverse that is the streaming ecosystem. I just popped in now and had a few Animal Crossing streamers on in the background whilst typing - there’s something fascinating to me about the sort of person who can maintain a measured, constant descriptive monologue about their virtual farming activities at 3am on a Friday morning to an audience of literally two people.
- The Office (On Slack): Blah blah blah anothe MSCHF project blah blah. You know the drill by now - this is the latest in NYC creative funsters MSCHF’s series of mysterious experimental digiprojects, and to my mind one of the more interesting ones they’ve done lately. Because we’re all now experiencing the office digitally rather than physically, MSCHF made the sensible decision to take the entirety of the US series of The Office and play it out on Slack, in realtime, between the hours of 9-5 (US time). So you can sign up and join the channels to see the scripts being played out between the characters, dip in and out to see how the plotlines are developing, and genreally experience the show as a sort-of minimalist readthrough. This is such a clever idea - as far as I’m aware, this isn’t actually that hard to build; all it needs is the script of the office split between characters and uploaded to a series of Slack bots built to spit out the dialogue in turn, which, fine, I couldn’t personally build but which I know is possible. I really think there’s something interesting about the idea of making stuff like this available as Easter Eggs - could owners of creative properties not license Slack bots for purchase, so you could buy characters from your favourite shows to live in your virtual chats? Is that an appealing idea or just really, really sad? I honestly have no idea any more.
- ISS Docking: I’m not proud of what I’m about to type, but I feel we’ve known each other for long enough that I can be honest with you. This has been in the notes for Curios since Monday, and every time I have opened it up to add a new link I have giggled to myself at the fact that it reads like the term ‘ice docking’ - long-term readers of Popbitch (and, if she’s reading this, Lisa Stansfield) will know what I am talking about here, but can I please encourage those of you that don’t to please not google the term? Thanks! Anyway, that largely-pointless digression done with, this is a newly-released in-broswer simulation of what it’s like to dock with the International Space Station - YOU are in control! YOU are piloting thousands of tonnes of space vehicle as it attempts to connect with another massive hunk of metal somewhere out in the cosmos! This is VERY hard - although I appreciate that the fact I can’t drive a car, let alone a massive spaceboi might count against me here - but it’s also very slow and quite meditative and possibly the sort of thing that you might want to have on while you deal with the latest round of pointless calls with stupid people about things that don’t matter (ie your job).
- Life In Quarantine: Another project collecting people’s personal thoughts and experiences of their time in lockdown; the project is being run by Stanford University’s Poetic Media Lab, and anyone can contribute their words - they want contributions in multiple languages from across the world, so please do add your own and share this with anyone you know who might be minded to contribute; I know I’ve mentioned this before, but I would hate for the majority record of...all this to be nothing but TikTok dances and Stories about how much you need a haircut.
- COVID and You: In fact, while we’re doing this sort of thing, COVID and You is a similar project being conducted by The Young Foundation and the Open University, specifically to track the emotional impact of the lockdown on people in the UK. Again, collecting this sort of stuff is important I think, so do consider getting involved if you have a spare 5 minutes to tell them how you’re doing.
- Pose Animator: Another week, another piece of technology that should make animators look nervously over their shoulders and possibly start to consider alternative careers. Pose Animator is a little proof-of-concept toy which users your webcam to identify your face and limbs and then maps those to a small, simple cartoon character, which tracks your movements and facial expressions with a remarkable degree of fidelity considering quite how homebrew the whole thing is. You wouldn’t, fine, expect Pixar to be using this stuff anytime soon, but it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility to imagine this sort of thing being used quite widely to create a welcoming, non-threatening digital onboarding assistant for A N Other software, or to allow for realtime avatar creation for live digital events - in fact (and bear with me here), a combination of this sort of stuff and virtual clubbing starts to feel really interesting to me.
- Mojo: “Meet Mojo Lens, a smart contact lens with a built-in display that gives you timely information without interrupting your focus. By understanding your real-world context, Mojo Lens provides relevant, eyes-up notifications and answers. Designed by optometrists, technologists, and medical experts, Mojo Lens gives you the knowledge you need—exactly when it’s needed.” Or so speaks the blurb - the reality is that this stuff is nowhere near ready, and the website is basically a collection of stock photos of people looking a bit future and a couple of videos of how it might work in the future, which are very much all ‘hey, look, it’s like Minority Report but significantly more benign!’ Interesting less for what it is now, and more for how it’s being sold as what will be; when this stuff really does come to market - a decade or so? - expect the really interesting questions to be around who gets all that LOVELY VISION TRACKING DATA.
- I’m Back 35: I am a truly terrible photographer - annoyingly, mobile telephony has now reached the point where software corrects my nonexistent eye to such an extent that my phone now won’t let me take bad pictures anymore, altering everything I snap into some sort of borderline-CGI improved-simulacrum of real life. STOP LYING TO ME ABOUT MY PROWESS, MOBILE PHONE! This is how Brooklyn Beckham ended up believing he was a photographer, isn’t it? Anyway, if you’re someone who still enjoys the CRAFT and PRECISION of manual photography but who also quite likes the convenience and photoshop of digital, then you may want to chuck some money at this (already-funded) Kickstarter (an update to a previous iteration of similar tech), which lets you augment your analogue machine with all sorts of digital photos. “The main innovation...is the software, that gives now the possibility to take photos with the MANUAL mode, leaving the user full control of the shutter speed and the diaphragm aperture of the camera. I'm Back 35 will then record the images as it was set through the analog camera!” I don’t, I confess, totally understand what this means, but I imagine that those of you who actually own cameras might be able to make more sense of it than I can.
- Stream: I’ve seen a lot of people in and around the hiphop community getting annoyed that there aren’t currently any decent solutions in place to allow them to monetise their Insta Lives during lockdown, which is a fair point; this software, a plugin for Zoom, does exactly that (except, er, not for Insta) - it basically lets a users set up a stream with a paywall, requiring a fee before users are able to access it. You can add tip donations too should you so desire - is it terrible of me that the first thing I thought of was that this would enjoy a brief, not-quite-legal life as an Onlyfans equivalent for people who wanted to avoid platform charges? Who knows! Anyway, if you’re looking for a way to monetise your digital streams, events, etc, this is a potential way of doing that very thing.
- The Big Picture Competition 2020 Winners: The competition’s ethos is, I am told, to “celebrate and illustrate the rich diversity of life on Earth and inspire action to protect and conserve it through the power of imagery.” Judging by the selection of winning pictures this year, they’ve succeeded admirably - LOOK AT THE BAT! Honestly, it really is worth clicking through to see the finalists from each category, these are spectacular (and, weirdly, more pleasing than usual after 7 weeks of being stuck in a very urban environment indeed).
By Miriam Tolke
NOW HAVE SOME DRUM’N’BASS WHICH IS LITERALLY PERFECT MUSIC TO DO JUST ABOUT ANYTHING TO!
THE SECTION WHICH IS GLAD WE’VE NOW FOUND AN ANSWER TO THE PERENNIAL QUESTION ‘WHAT TYPE OF BONGO WOULD MACHINES IMAGINE IF MACHINES WERE ABLE TO IMAGINE BONGO?’, PT.22:
- Postcards from Isolation: Beautiful collection of small interactive digital art experiences designed to communicate in a series of tiny ways some of the changes brought about by quarantine and the pandemic. Pulled together by (I think) one-person design outfit Studio Sabato, these black and white digital experiments each feature a toggle allowing you to experience them from a ‘before’ and ‘after’ perspective, and each offering a very small artistic response to an aspect of the change in our circumstances. I love everything about this, not least the self-contained nature of each of the works which nonetheless cohere quite wonderfully.
- This Long Century: This is a wonderful, long-runnning project which, at the time of writing, has collected nearly 400 of these...things. It’s almost-indescribable, but let’s try: This Long Century is “an ever-evolving collection of personal insights from artists, authors, filmmakers, musicians and cultural icons the world over. Bringing together such intimate work as sketchbooks, personal memorabilia, annotated typescripts, short essays, home movies and near impossible to find archival work, THIS LONG CENTURY serves as a direct line to the contributors themselves.” The best articulation I can give is that it feels quite a lot like browsing through an exhibition catalogue, except one where the catalogue is the exhibition (I’m not doing this very well, am I?). You could absolutely get lost in here, as I did the other afternoon; the sheer breadth of material and perspective and subject and work is a little dizzying.
- Live Rave In Half-Life: This is really very inventive indeed. Graham Dunning (I think) has modded the game Half Life and replaced all the game’s audio files with samples from 90s rave tracks; in this video, he uses these modified sounds to effectively play a live gig on Twitch by playing his altered version of the game; every action he takes, every environmental reaction, is accompanied by whatever synth stab or 404 he’s appended to it in the code, making the whole thing like some sort of live electro improv rave-type-thing. If you ever happened to see dance improv troupe The Bays play back in the day (and if you didn’t, check them out here), it’s not a million miles away from that (but totally different). I could imagine something like this done by a famous DJ/producer in a bigger game engine - imagine, I don’t know, this but my Deadmau5 (or someone the kids actually like), in Fortnite. See? HUGE.
- Ogmios: I don’t know who this person is; they have had this YouTube Channel for 8 years, but with minimal output and certainly no breakout hits. I think Marcus might have pointed me at this - thanks Marcus - but, whoever it was, I am very grateful indeed. Ogmios’ last two videos have been entitled ‘School of Zen Motoring’ and, honestly, they are the most relaxing and gently hilarious things I have seen in an age. Ogmios (for I presume it is he) drives around doing very gentle, very slow commentary on his route around (I think) East London. It’s perfect, I promise you, and is definitely worth 20 minutes of your time; he is SO NICE AND SO PURE.
- TV Chart: I presume the majority of you are at the point of quarantine now where you’ve exhausted all the ‘quality’ entertainments on the major streaming platforms and are now looking nervously at the more ‘niche’ series, the ones that have seemingly managed to rack up six seasons without you or anyone you know having ever watched an episode, or knowing anyone who’s watched an episode. If you are looking through the unknown dregs to find the next medium through which to avoid thinking or talking, you might find TV Chart useful - type in the title of any (no idea how comprehensive it actually is, but let’s just say ‘very’) series and it will pull data on its episode-by-episode rating on IMDB, thereby offering you a useful overview of its perceived quality trajectory so you can decided whether or not to watch a show that falls off a quality cliff come season 4 (like you care - this is literally just chewing gum for the eyes and brain and you know it).
- 36 Cinema: Another interesting idea - 36 Cinema is a new project offering you the opportunity to pay to watch a livestream of a classic film along with key principles involved in its making. The first they did was Shaolin Vs Wu Tang, which was live commented by (as you might expect) RZA from the Wu and some guy from the Hollywood Theatre which is also involved; that’s being rerun again tomorrow night for UK audiences, but there will doubtless be other similar screenings as time progresses. The price for the initial one was $10, which on the one hand isn’t super-cheap, but on the other hand what the fcuk else are you going to spend your funmonies on?
- The Saul Steinberg Foundation: You might recognise the art style but not the name - Saul Steinberg, I learned this week, was a hugely-influential 20thC artist and designer whose style basically became the de facto blueprint for the New Yorker’s cover art style, but who was also an acclaimed and respected fine artist beyond that. This website presents his life and work, and is SO full of wonderful history and drawings and sketches that you could happily lose a few hours in the New York art scene of the 50s, 60s and 70s.
- Birdsound Finder: Now that we’re allowed outside again - ALONE! NO TOUCHING! - we all need to remember what it’s like being surrounded by the cacophonous sounds of nature. If you’d like some help reacclimatising yourself to the terrifying racket that is birdsong (something I don’t need, what with the fcuking cnuts deciding to start shouting on my roof every morning from about 6am, unbidden), this site might help - pulling data from a bunch of different places, it will find your location and, at the push of a button, give you information on locally-prevalent bird species as well as an aduiofile of what those combined birdsongs might sound like. It’s really quite lovely, not least zooming around London to see how the birds of Tooting differ from the birds of, say, Hammersmith (the birds of Hammersmith are probably a touch more emphysemic, I’d guess).
- MegaNighwatch: Rembrandt’s Nightwatch has been SUPERDIGITISED by the Rijksmuseum and put online for you to gawp at up-close-and-personal. This is quite, quite remarkable - the extent to which you can magnify the image is such that even individual brushstrokes are clearly visible, and you can get so intimate with the work that you can literally see the whites of the patrol’s eyes. Wonderful, particularly if you’re experience of the painting has previously been the classic museum-y one of being surrounded by 200 w4nkers attempting to take poor-quality digital photos.
- Shutdown Gallery: After a bit of a hiatus in recent years, it’s really been a boom period for 3d representations of physical galleries in digital space. Shutdown Gallery is the latest version to cross my field of vision; Patrick Hubner has created this space which he intends to act as a rotating showcase for the work of international artists and designers over the coming months as real-world gallery space continues to be impossible to access: “The digital gallery adapts to the physical situation of the viewer and is freely accessible: On mobile devices such as telephones or tablets, the visitor can view the room directly and from all perspectives by tilting the device or moving it freely in the room - the boundaries between the physical and the digital disappear suddenly and intuitively. As a web-based project, the gallery is publicly accessible worldwide. Every week there will be a new exhibition with works that move the world of art and design, thus maintaining the fertile environment of constant change. A growing list of world-renowned designers and artists has already confirmed their participation in what is the start of a new chapter for galleries.” I rather like the explicitly-game-y interface, and the way the works are arranged with proper notes, etc, gives this an air of legitimacy that many of these projects lack; on the other hand, it’s (at present, at least) not doing anything hugely innovative with the concept of ‘virtual white cube’. Still, worth a look for those interested in how digital art presents in 2020.
- Spamflix: One of the miserable things about the way media ownership has worked out is that it’s nigh-on impossible to find decent, obscure, old, arthouse cinema on any of the streaming platforms. You want any number of straight-to-DVD 4.8*IMDB abortions? GREAT! You want anything from pre-2000 that isn’t super=famous? LITERALLY IMPOSSIBLE! Which is why Spamflix appeals so much - it’s a pay-per-rental site rather than a streaming subscription offer, but it’s promise is that it provides access to the obscure, the weird, the indie and the offbeat, all the stuff that Netflix and Amazon won’t necessarily have. A cursory glance suggests that, yes, there is a lot of odd and obscure - it also suggests that ‘odd’ and ‘obscure’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘worth watching’, as evidenced by the inclusion of 2006 ‘classic’ Italian comedy romp ‘Fascists on Mars’, which is noone’s idea of good in any country. Still, this will still be better than approximately 90% of what you see after three right-side-scrolls on Netflix.
- Bimble Space: Small, digital toys built by Amy Goodchild which are small, colourful and very pleasing indeed.
- The Psy Trance Guide: I think I might have alluded in here before to having spent a not-insignificant chunk of my youth being very into psytrance, the least-cool of all the dance music genres (although personally I think that title rests with happy hardcore, but wevs) and the one most-indelibly-associated with white men with dreadlocks, dogs on strings, UV paint and aggressively-skeletal men with very, very blue eyes dancing at you at around 180 BPM (they were GOOD TIMES, man). This website - Christ knows why it’s still live given the only two places where psytrance is still a thing are seemingly Oxford and Tel Aviv - seeks to provide a deep taxonomical guide to all the different subgenres of wibbly 404-and-pounding-beats and MY GOD did I just fall into a hole and do some hard reminiscing. You probably won’t like what most of this sounds like - it’s fair to say that most people don’t, and I had some...robust conversations with housemates at university about the exact volume at which it was acceptable to play this stuff at when drying oneself off of a morning - but please have a listen as it is THE SOUND OF MY YOUTH. I know I am too old, but I am absolutely getting boxed off my tits on cheap speed and going to one more of these before I die (it might kill me tbh).
- All The Peel Sessions: This may be the best lockdown link yet. Every single Peel Session, linked from this one webpage. Except it’s not every single session - there are a few missing, as seemingly dozens of massively joyless pr1cks from around the web have seemingly decided to tell the kind stranger who bothered pulling this together. Imagine - you find this, an incredible labour of love put together for the general enjoyment of music fans worldwide, and your sole desire is to inform its creator that they missed a bit over there. People, Jesus Christ. Anyway, this is a truly spectacular resource for anyone who’s into any sort of music from about 1960-2000, and if you can’t find anything to enjoy in this list then you are basically dead or deaf.
- Have You Seen This Dog?: You have now. You’ll get the joke when you click - it’s not a very sophisticated joke, fine, but I think you could probably keep a five year old amused with this for approximately three minutes or so, which is probably enough to pop out for a fag or to get a swift drink down you if you hurry.
- Dinos Tomato Pie: Old-school websites are one of Web Curios’ favourite things, and this one, for Dino’s, a VERY trad-sounding pizza pie joint in Seattle, is SO LOVABLE. Look, just read this from the homepage and try not to fall in Love: “The truth is people sometimes wanna have a good time with their friends and family. And to tell the truth, pizza and drinks can help with that! Most of my friends agree that Dino's is the right place to enjoy these things.” YES DINO THAT IS THE TRUTH! Can we all make a collective agreement that we’re going to enter into a sustained period where this is the accepted standard of webdesign again? Please?
- The Bug’s Life Fleshlight: Does anyone remember Pixar’s ‘A Bug’s Life’ fondly? No, they don’t, do they? That and ‘Antz’ are both largely forgotten by audiences - which is perhaps why this STELLAR bit of tie-in merch is still unsold on eBay, despite being listed for the low, low price of $2,000. Would YOU like to own a wanktorch (aka a fleshlight) which has been fashioned to resemble cuddly German worm-creature Heimlich from the 1998 cartoon? Would YOU like to bring yourself to sticky completion betwixt the rubberised lips of an anthropomorphic grub? I really, really hope not, for your sake. This is horrible, but, equally, almost entirely perfect - such is the dichotomy of the web.
- Hideous Cave: This is quite astonishingly clever. Pico-8 is the 8-bit games creation engine that I often feature stuff built in; someone has used it to create a pseudo-3d adventure game, and the skill and scope here is quite remarkable. Honestly, I am agog at what they have managed to achieve here with such basic code and kit.
- The World Was Sad Since Tuesday: Also built in Pico-8, this is a far-more-traditional piece of top-down interactive storytelling, but I loved the story it tells and the manner in which it’s delivered. This is very beautiful indeed.
- Deathtrap Dungeon: Finally in this week’s miscellany, something that is PEAK DAD. Are you of an age where you remember Ian Livingstone and Peter Jackson and Fighting Fantasy adventure books, and staying up late under the covers with a torch and a pencil trying to work out how the fcuk to find the ending in that bloody space one that I never, ever managed to complete? Do you miss the storytelling and comforting familiarity of the interface? Would you basically like a version of it that’s modern and a bit interactive and also a bit like Jackanory? WELL GREAT! This is a demo, fine, but it gives you enough of an idea and is long enough to be fun to play - the idea is that it’s a standard Fighting Fantasy setup, with a quest and branching narratives and a bit of light-RPGing, but the gimmick is that the whole thing is played as though you’re being read a story, with the game narrated by Actual Proper Actor Eddie Marsan. The whole thing works superbly, and if I have ⅞ year old kids I would absolutely be preordering the fcuk out of this as I think it would captivate them. Also, it would captivate me. I want this to come out now, SO MUCH, and I am too excited to be ashamed.
By Vicki Ling
LAST UP IN THE MIXES, HAVE THIS SET OF SLOW TRACKS MIXED BY DJ SUPERMKT, PERFECT FOR A SUMMER EVENING!
THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!:
- Gatos Y Respeto: Cats and respect? The blog’s named after Albert Schweizer, apparently a byword for respect to animals and indeed all living things, and basically exists to celebrate animals, especially cats, in Spanish. WHY THE FCUK NOT, EH?
- Topher Chris: This came to me via the genuinely superb Garbage Day newsletter, which I almost want to keep to myself it’s so godd but which I will generously recommend to you because I am nice like that. Garbage Day is written by Ryan Broderick and each week it finds awful meme-type stuff from around the web, and this week it included this Tumblr and my God these memes my GOD. So cursed.
THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!:
- Sunset Selfies: Look, this isn’t really my sort of thing at all, but I accept that whilst everything’s a bit crap you might be in the market for something a bit Hallmark and twee; these are silhouetted cutout artworks photographed against pretty sunsets, which is very Fiat500 Insta but, well, sometimes that’s ok.
- Mouse Magic: ‘The art of Victorian taxidermy, with a modern twist’. SO MANY CUTE LITTLE STUFFED MICE OH ME OH MY THAT ONE LOOKS LIKE SUPERMAN!
- Fashion Can Drag: I fcuking love Insta accounts like this one; I have no interest in or understanding of fashion, but reading this feed - which takes images from queer and high fashion and explains their significance in the context of the wider fashion world, the history of the catwalk, etc - is fascinating and informative in a way I could never have imagined.
- Vic Lee London: Via Simon, this might be my favourite quarantine record to date; Vic Lee is recording their experiences of lockdown via illustrations in their notebook, and is sharing said illustrations via Instagram. I would LOVE to be able to buy a copy of these when this is all over; as a personal illustrated history I find this fascinating.
LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:
- 162 Benefits of Coronavirus: No, don’t worry, I haven’t suddenly gone all moron-Pollyanna and bought into the canard that ‘this is the greatest time in the history of all human endeavour to be alive’ (DO YOU NOT UNDERSTAND THAT CANDIDE WAS A SATIRICAL EXERCISE YOU FCUKING IDIOTS???); I’m just presenting this as a potential corrective to some of the more doom-ish commentary doing the round at present. This list has been pulled together by Ben Finn, who’ss a VC-type person and (I think) violently rich - as such, a lot of what is in here is, I would respectfully-argue, rubbish, or at the very least based on a worldview that isn’t exactly anchored in reality (his assertion in a footnote that the growth in online shopping is a net positive because he doesn’t believe that conditions for workers are as bad as people say is...well, give me the confidence to make assertions about minimum wage work like a multi-millionaire does, is all I can say). Still, though, it’s interesting in an intellectual-exercise sort-of-way to try and think of things that you could reasonably categorise as ‘good’ about this situation, and there are a few things in here that made me pause for reflection; it’s worth reading through, if only to force yourself to consider things from a cost/benefit point of view.
- I Just Flew: This account of what it was like for the author taking a flight across the US the other week is an excellent series of reasons to believe we won’t be going on mass holidays anytime soon, whatever Mr O’Leary might want the market to believe. It sounds...horrible, frankly, and even less pleasant than flying currently feels. Every single element of this seems miserable, most of all the interaction with other people; I firmly believe that remembering how messy and unpleasant dealing with actual meatsacks is on a day-to-day basis is going to be one of the hardest and most jarring and, over time, most problematic elements of any reduction in quarantine measures; we are awful, and, frankly, maybe we should all just hide away and be alone.
- How The Pandemic Is Messing With AI: Or, how building systems which work based on the evaluation of data and predictive models based on said evaluations tends not to work perfectly when confronted with instances where behaviour or need changes significantly and at pace. Another one of these pieces - alongside the one about supplychains from a week or two back - which indicates that one of the main shifts we might end up making as a result of COVID is around the way in which we try and govern systems; I wouldn’t be surprised to see a significant rise in interest in ‘fuzzy’-type systems (blast from 25 years ago there) to attempt to hedge against stuff like this.
- Sometimes A Bot Is Just A Bot: I love this story. The basic thrust here is that all the people who regularly get upset at seeing multiple versions of the same pro-Government text on Twitter and start frothily screaming COORDINATED BOT ACTIVITY BY THE EVIL MEKON GENIUS CUMMINGS DID YOU SEE THE GREAT HACK CAROLE CAROLE COME QUICKLY are perhaps being a bit too quick to jump to conclusions, and that in fact a lot of these duplicate messages are just being posted by normal people who really do just want to c&p a pro-Johnson bit of copy into a status update and share it, and who don’t want to write their own. There’s just such a wonderful rabbithole here - firstly in terms of the fact that this sort-of proves that, by certain measures, the disinformation campaigns have absolutely achieved their goal, leaving us all totally confused as to what is real and what isn’t; secondly, in terms of the fact that you should never overestimate the British people; and thirdly, around the fact that there’s another explanation whereby these people are totally real but are also being paid to act as organic bots. I appreciate that this is on some level a sad expression of defeat, but I have totally stopped caring about this in any meaningful sense beyond just sort of rubbernecking from the sidelines - at this stage it’s just another layer of pomo ‘entertainment’.
- Experiencing Online Experiences: Nora Caplan-Bricker explores some of the ‘experiences’ available to enjoy through Airbnb as part of its lockdown offering, where you can pay a set amount of money to join a virtual event with a host in which they’ll tell you about their world-leading collection of echidna phalluses, say, or show you some sleight-of-hand over webcam. The article opens as a sort-of investigation as to whether these offerings will ‘work’ for the company, but it becomes a wider meditation on what a virtual guided experience can give you in a time of isolation.
- Squad Shopping: A trend coming from China but which I could see gaining popularity here, as the prospect of being able to go shopping for stuff, with friends, as a leisure activity, grows more remote by the day. The gimmick here is Chinese shops and platforms creating opportunities for virtual shopping in groups; so vouchers for multi-person online discounts, say, or interfaces which allow for groups of multiple users to browse, chat, etc, together; add this to the growing trend for livestreamed shopping assistance and there’s a really interesting intersection; I can imagine a Houseparty-type app whereby a limited number of attentive assistants guide a group of well-heeled virtual buyers through an empty Hermes concessionary, talking them through next-season’s must-have tooled leathers.
- The VR Winter: I presume you all read Benedict Evans’ newsletter (I can’t bring myself to; it’s not that it’s not good, it’s more that the idea of someone making that much money just from writing a newsletter does something so caustic to my own sense of self-worth that it takes me literally days to recover) and so you might have seen this already; if not, though, it’s a very good piece looking at why this might still not be the age for VR as a mainstream entertainment, despite the lockin and the isolation and the boredom. Evans’ main assertion is a compelling one - that all the stuff people talk about when they discuss the killer use-case for VR as a mainstream thing is predicated on an idea of VR tech which is practically a couple of decades away, and that that sort of barrier is too big for it to make the leap to normies just yet.
- 2014 Nostalgia: When I was at school and university, it was seemingly a fact that nostalgia ran at about a twenty-year lag; so by the time I was finishing my undergrad, the most-popular terrible student disco was a late-70s disco revival night called ‘Carwash’; now, though, it seems that nostalgia’s on about a 5-year delay, meaning all the GenZers are apparently waxing wistful about those halcyon days around 2014 when everything was SO MUCH SIMPLER. This piece looks at exactly what cultural artefacts and tropes are most-affectionately recalled - if you’re old, you will find this utterly risible, but know that we were ALL like this once and that it is a beautiful and blessed state to be in; old enough to know that there is stuff worth missing, but not old enough to know that everything really does tend to entropy and that it really is all downhill. I did get a genuine moment of rage when I read the author describing the ‘twee as fcuk’ pop of the 2000s, though - DEAR GOD DO YOU HAVE NO FCUKING HISTORY OR CULTURE GO AND LEARN ABOUT C86 YOU PRICK etc etc.
- Memers & TikTok: The slow, inevitable loss of TikTok’s innocence continues apace, this time with the news that it’s being invaded by meme accounts, which is basically the point at which the content=stealing and grifting starts in earnest, if Insta’s anything to go by. Another step in the platform’s evolution, but I found it interesting mainly as a sign that being conversant with online culture is now going to require me to keep up with a whole load of NEW, video-based visual signifiers whose semiotics I need to internalise if I’mn going to be able to keep up and OH GOD SO TIRED. There’s a Tweet that’s been doing the rounds recently in which some woman tries to explain a meme to a guy and, after she does so, he asks ‘so what, I’m expected to memorise all these pictures you keep in your phone so we can communicate?’ and, well, I FEEL THIS VERY STRONGLY.
- Ways We Are Annoying Each Other: I think this is quite a useful piece for you and anyone you are living with at the moment to read together, or possibly to each other; in it, a selection of individuals share the small things that are annoying them about their partner during isolation; these are small, benign and mostly said with love, but might afford you the opportunity to broach ‘the fcuking way you make tea every seven minutes’, say, or, if my girlfriend’s cat was capable of reasoned argument, ‘the 6am morning wakeupcall during which you demand treats with increasingly-frenzied howls of despair and occasional assaults on the toes’. It’s full of stuff like this, and it’s very, very pleasing: “My boyfriend eats almonds by slowly nibbling on the end of one, then shoving it gently into the side of his cheek until his face is bursting with them like a cartoon squirrel. I hate it! I hate him! It’s driving me insane.”
- 50 Ideas That Changed My Life: I don’t, as a rule, go in for stuff that might be considered ‘improving’ or ‘self-reflective’ or ‘instructional’ - as I think I’ve previously alluded to, I simply don’t care enough about my life to want to expend any effort optimising it - but I thought I might make an exception for this; it’s by a David Perrell (no idea), and whilst some of it set my teeth on edge slightly (I get the sense that Mr Perrell is somewhat more of a ‘go-getter’ than I am, and that he and I probably wouldn’t have an awful lot in common) there is enough in here which struck me as common sense as to be worth sharing. In particular, this is my personal lodestone and I will stand by it forever: “Avoid competition. Stop copying what everybody else is doing. If you work at a for-profit company, work on problems that would not otherwise be solved. If you’re at a non-profit, fix unpopular problems. Life is easier when you don’t compete. (Hint: don’t start another bottled water company).”
- The Fascinating Origins of Greyhound Racing: A wonderful history of how greyhound racing in its modern form came to be - I loved, in particular, the detail that the mechanical hare was invented because the cries of an actual hare being dismembered by hounds is too upsetting for audiences by dint of its uncanny resemblance to the sounds made by a small child undergoing a similar fate. Also, the newspapermens’ description of the new sport - ‘the hounds of the endless oval’ - is pure poetry and I love it.
- Don’t Fear The Robot: For complicated reasons, I have an unusually-emotional response to the Roomba; this piece is by its inventor, and explains how they came to invent and perfect the machine that is still by far and away the most successful domestic robot in history. Unlikely to be surpassed for quite a few years yet, Roomba’s success is its simplicity; this piece offers practical recollections of how it came together as a project, but is more enjoyable for the simple-but-pleasing prose, and the more general teachings it can impart about focusing on simplicity and easily-solvable/improvable problems.
- Reading James Joyce: I read Portrait of the Artist for my IB and, honestly, even as a kid who’d spent most of his life to that point at Catholic school staffed and attended by mostly-Irish people, it was a fcuking slog; I have never attempted Ulysses, and as for Finnegan’s Wake...still, this essay Brianna Rennix is a lovely ode to the pleasure of reading Ulysses in particular, and Joyce more generally, and how one might go about it, and how Joyce himself viewed readers’ responses to his work during his lifetime. I didn’t realise that Nora refused to read Ulysses, which does go some way to explaining some of Joyce’s...particular obsessions.
- Party in GDocs: The author of this piece, Marie Foulston, curated the V&A’s videogames exhibition last year and is a supremely creative individual; in this piece,she describes holding a houseparty in Google Docs one weekend recently, from the setup to how it went, and in so doing tells a series of beautiful small stories about how the social impulse finds a way to express itself regardless of medium. I love this very much indeed - it’s beautiful writing and I love the playfulness of the subject - but I can’t help but feel sad when I read stuff like this, that I lack the creativity and imagination to either create or participate in the same way. Still, I write a massive thing on the internet that noone reads, so I am special in my own way.
- The Paternoster: My colleagues and I were discussing office space recently, and how it might change, and lifts came up; I mentioned a Paternoster as a possibly viable replacement for current lift setups and NOONE knew what I was talking about, which is frankly a terrible indictment of the education received by the youth of today. If you don’t know what a paternoster is, read this NOW and then look up videos of them on YouTube and start lobbing your employer to get them installed as post-pandemic antiviral transportation devices. This is a lovely read, which teaches you more about the history of design and architecture than you might realise.
- Carrot Bread: This is a very short piece of writing about what it feels like when your brain stops working the way you feel like it ought to; it’s beautifully-written, and, as someone who’s discussed what having brain cancer feels like with someone with brain cancer, incredibly reminiscent of some very sad, very distant conversations.
- My Appetites: Finally this week, a triumphant piece of writing and a weird callback to a piece I featured in here a month or so ago. You may recall I featured a very funny, slightly-ranty piece by some guy in New York getting incredibly annoyed at the way in which NYT art critic Jerry Saltz consumed coffee, and going into forensic detail about why Saltz was not only wrong to drink coffee like that but was in fact an ar$ehole for so doing. I have no idea whether this article is in response to that piece or just a coincidence, but here Saltz explains in long detail exactly how he has arrived at his peculiar, individual attitude to food, and how it works within the context of his life and his marriage. I am not ashamed to say that I stopped reading this at various points to have what I believe is known as a good old cry - honestly, this is beautiful and if I read a better piece of prose about love this year I will be amazed. Please, please take the time, this is utterly sublime.
By Gideon Rubin
AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:
- ART VIDEO! This is very good, and I normally hate videoart: “Employing the method of single frame editing, primarily focused on sound, the realistic film image transforms into a surreal, structuralist and finally even abstract film. It creates a musical composition while experimenting with the human voice and transforming language into sound and music. DONT KNOW WHAT questions classical rules of different film genres by combining elements of avant-garde film / video art and entertainment cinema.”:
- My notes for this just say ‘french’, which shows you some of the curatorial rigour being employed here these days. Still, a re-listen suggests I included it because it’s a glorious bit of French loungepop called ‘Les Choses Invisibles’ by Alfa Rococo - the video’s a beautiful combination of animation and art styles, and the whole is very stylish in a ‘play with the windows open to the sunny streets below’ kind of way:
- It’s meant to be Eurovision this weekend I think - is it happening? Is it not? Regardless, if you’re in the market for something that is both Eurovision AND very Curios, why not enjoy the AI Eurovision Song Contest, which took place this week and which presented AI-penned tracks by a variety of countries competing for the coveted title of Europe’s Best AI songsmith. The songs are of questionable quality, fine, but at least the whole thing’s over in 30m:
- I love the way this is animated, and the song’s not bad at all. This is Manhorse (also, GREAT NAME) with ‘Husbands’:
- Finally this week, this was just made live on YouTube and you should all spend the afternoon blasting it LOUD - it’s Prince, in concert in the early 90s, for the first time ever available online. It went up overnight and I’ve had it on in the background for much of this morning, and it’s as good as you’d expect - turn it up LOUD and dance around your house and play air guitar and HAVE FUN SEE YOU NEXT WEEK WE’RE OUT OF TIME AND MORE IMPORTANTLY LINKS BUT I WILL BE BACK AND THERE WILL BE MORE AND IN THE MEANTIME TAKE CARE OF YOURSELVES AND STAY SAFE AND TRY NOT TO WORRY AND INSTEAD JUST RELAX AND TRUST IN THE FACT THAT IT WILL ALL BE FINE AND, IN ANY CASE, IT’S ALL OUT OF YOUR CONTROL ANYWAY SO YOU MAY AS WELL JUST SEE WHAT HAPPENS THAT’S RIGHT KIDS LET’S EMBRACE FATALISM I LOVE YOU SEE YOU NEXT TIME I LOVE YOU I LOVE YOU SEE YOU NEXT TIME BYE!: