Web Curios 16/03/18
So, look, I have some troubling news. You may want to sit down. Web Curios is taking a small break.
CALM YOURSELVES! STOP RENDING AT YOUR CLOTHES AND SKIN! STOP THE FLAGELLATIONS AND LET THE KEENING CEASE!
Compose yourselves, all of you, IT'S ONLY TEMPORARY. Paul, my editor here at Imperica, is going to have a bit of a rummage around the back end of the site over the next couple of weeks and do some other stuff to (read about it here); he'd be interested in hearing from you if you have any exciting ideas about what to do with the place and how to help out.
Whilst this is going on, I'm going to be catching up on my Friday sleep and possibly doing things like my laundry, or getting a haircut. It's going to be thrilling. Anyway, what this means is that Web Curios will be back in THREE WEEKS TIME - that is, on Friday 6 April. Until then, though, you will have to pass the time without it - WHAT WILL YOU DO? HOW WILL YOU COPE? Please feel free to tell us how much you'll miss this bitter, bitter shake of nihilism and ennui being forced down your gullet each week, even if it means you lying through your teeth.
Anyhow, this week's is a particularly mediocre edition in celebration of my impending break - during which I am going to be in part catsitting for my girlfriend, so there is the outside possibility that all my tendons will have -been shredded and I will never be able to type again, so chin up! = so without further ado let's pull the skin right back and take a look - it's probably fine, right? RIGHT! This, as ever, is Web Curios!
By Miwa Yanagi
THE SECTION WHICH THINKS NOW WOULD BE A GOOD TIME TO PROBABLY CASH OUT OF STANDALONE AR SOFTWARE:
- Facebook Adding Support For AR Markers: Yes, it’s a tedious and technical and headline, sorry. Still, unless you work for Layar or Blippar or one of those lads, this is EXCITING NEWS - basically Facebook’s moving to bake AR marker tech into its Camera software, which means it’ll be able to do all that ‘point your phone at a real world thing and see some slightly disappointing CGI overlaid onto the real world!’ stuff you were excited about when you first saw it 7 years ago but which now just makes you think that the future is just going to be dirty and miserable and sad’-type stuff. Still in beta - it’s being used as part of the launch marketing for 2018 megafilms Ready Player One and A Wrinkle in Time first - but it will almost certainly roll out reasonably quickly; could THIS be the thing that eventually helps AR go mainstream? More than Layar and Blippar, in any case.
- Facebook Adds ‘Trip Consideration’ Ad Targeting Options: You will now be able to target Facebook users who are thinking of going on holiday in an exciting new audience segmentation announcement! Sadly Facebook hasn’t announced its new brainwave-tracking technology - so sad! - but instead is basing this on more prosaic stuff like ‘have you visited any travel Pages this week. Still, as a means of firing ads at people when they are feeling all hopeful and sunny and like everything might just be ok, this is a good one.
- Snapchat Featuring More Creator-Made Lenses: It’s now going to be even easier to use some stranger’s shonkily-created AR overlay in your Snaps! As of...imminently Snap users will be able to find creator-made lenses, above and beyond the standard official set, simply by swiping up in the app; initially there will only be a selection of the best community-made content out there, but it seems likely that this is going to be opened up a bit more widely soon. No obvious brand opportunity here - branded lenses still need to be created as a promotion, because, well, they’re not idiots - but you might be able to have some fun with this if you can think of some tangentially brand-related graphics and sneak them past the THOUGHT POLICE.
- YouTube Adds WikiPedia Data To Help Fact-Check Videos: This week’s “guys, you’ve really not though anything through, have you?” update from the Valley comes with the news that YouTube has decided to start adding Wikipedia links to controversial / mad videos in an effort to provide some gentle debunking bromide to the swivel-eyed loon corner of everyone’s favourite conspiracy platform. Which is nice, and a lovely testament to Wikipedia’s surprisingly sensible brand of democratic information, but also does make one think that, for one of the richest companies in the world, this is something of a, well, skinflint’s solution. Also, this is an EXCELLENT opportunity for some low-key BRAND HIJACKING of Wikipedia pages - find a new trending conspiracy theory video on YT, wait for it to get a Wikipedia link, then edit the Wikipedia entry in question to contain some SUBTLE BRAND REFERENCES and then BOOM! Free PR! NB - this is a terrible idea and you oughtn’t do it, but it might give you at least one reason to think of why this whole plan might not have been thought through 100% and why Wikipedia’s editing community might be, well, a touch nervy as to how this is going to play out.
- Spotify’s Self-Serve Ad Platform Now Coming to the UK!: SO EXCITING! Actually a really sensible ad product, as I probably said last year when it was first announced in the US. Remember. “Brands can either upload scripts and choose background music, with Spotify Ad Studio recording voiceovers for the spots, or they can upload full audio spots directly to the platform.Ads created with Spotify Ad Studio can be targeted via musical taste, location, gender, age and activity, as well as to users on mobile or desktop.” See? EXCITING, isn’t it? Early-adopting brands could have some fun making some HUGELY surreal stuff here, give it a go.
- Twitter MIGHT Be Working On A ‘Discover’ Clone: BUT it might not - WE SIMPLY DON’T KNOW! “The new function would combine location-based photos and videos with Twitter Moments around notable events. Companies could sponsor events or place ads in between tweeted real-time photos and videos.” WOULD! COULD! SO MANY CONDITIONALS! Anyway, you can forget about this for 6 months as it’ll be at least that long til this even begins to become a thing in the wild.
- Google Opens Maps API To Game Developers: This is REALLY exciting, I think - game makers can now use Google Maps data to build their gameworlds, taking the 3d models used for flybys, etc, within the Maps software to create environments within which their ludic creations can take place. It’s not free, sadly, and Christ alone knows what the pricing model is, but if you make games then it’s probably worth asking about this as it could be hugely useful.
- Londoners Can Now Get Wheelchair Accessibility Data On Google Maps: Absolutely no brand application here whatsoever, but I’m including it as, well, I was talking about maps already and this is generally A Very Good Thing.
- The Cambridge Analytica / Leave.EU Pitch Doc: Released to the Commons this week, this is a scan of the document Cambridge Analytica presented to the Leave campaign when trying to get them to pay for marketing Brexit to the people via the medium of PSYCHOGRAPHIC CLUSTERING! Or, as you’ll discover as you read through this document, through the DARK VOODOO of, er, lookalike audiences. I mean, they don’t call them lookalike audiences - they use a lot of different terms, some of them wildly creative, to mask what they are actually going to be doing - but, trust me on this, they mean lookalike audiences. The main takeaways from this are: a) whether or not you like it, THIS IS JUST HOW MARKETING WORKS NOW; b) you might argue that it shouldn’t be allowed to be used for political campaigning, fine, and there are questions about where targeting data came from and was it shared legally between institutions, yes, but THIS WASN’T SUPER-CLEVER MAGIC; c) they could probably have gotten away with billing double the quoted figure; d) Carol Cadwalladr really did go a bit mental about this last year.
- Your London Commute: Nice little toy from TFL which asks you to tell it your commute and then tells you roughly how many other Londoners do the same journey as you each day on the tube. What it ALSO does is take data from you about where you live, where you work, and your email address for marketing purposes, which is obviously the point - it’s not particularly sophisticated, but it’s a good example of how easy it is to trick people into handing over data with some sort of banal question about their day-to-day life. They fcuked it almost immediately after, mind, by sending me an email which then asked me to register for ANOTHER site to take a survey (no, damn you, I HAVE GIVEN YOU ENOUGH), but the point stands.
- Stop The Everyday Killers: A US site to accompany a forthcoming exhibition and designed to showcase the extent of the cost of the US opiate problem - it features a selection of faces of people, all of whom have been a victim in some way of opiate abuse, and all of whose stories you can watch by clicking on their faces; tiny, which faces CARVED OUT OF ACTUAL OPIATE PILLS. It’s really pleasingly, horribly macabre, this, the little pharma deathmasks all laid out in grid fashion, matching the physical exhibition of the pillfaces opening in Atlanta next month. Horrid, but effective.
- Meet The Happy Medium: Mobile-only game to promote that Wrinkle in Time film - you stack rocks, basically, but it’s really very nicely done indeed and strangely soothing to boot (which I think is probably the point).
- Retold With YouTube: STORYTELLING! A site designed to showcase all the different ways you can advertise on YouTube, highlighting the differing length of ad product available and how that ought to affect the manner in which you TELL YOUR BEAUTIFUL BRAND TRUTH to the world; what this practically means is that a bunch of agencies have reimagined classic fairytales in 6, 15 and 60s versions, showing how it’s possible to tell the same narrative in different ways and within different time constraints. Slick and shiny, but whilst I haven’t watched ALL the videos (I’m not that sort of masochist) the ones I have, well, were a bit crap to be honest. Who knows, maybe YOU will find some sort of 6-second inspiration. I hope you do. I hope something good happens when you click this link and you are transported far away, to a happy place where you’re not required to shill rubbish to idiots for a living. I hope.
- Time’s Up, Advertising: A, er, tricky time for this initiative to launch, at least in London, but here we are. Time’s Up Advertising is a laudable and timely initiative, spun out of the wider Time’s Up movement from Hollywood, whose aim is “to drive new policies, practices, decisions and tangible actions that result in more balanced, diverse and accountable leadership; address workplace discrimination, harassment and abuse; and create equitable and safe cultures within our agencies.” It’s North America-led at the moment but there’s no reason why everyone can’t get involved regardless of geography; it could be a nice corrective to all the people at The & Partnership, AMV, MCann, Iris, Adam&Eve/DDB, Sapient, VCCP and W+K London who apparently - JUST REPEATING WHAT I’VE BEEN TOLD, KIDS! - like sending leaving emails about exactly who and how they’d most and least like to fcuk.
THE SECTION WHICH, WHILST IT’S QUITE LOOKING FORWARD TO A FEW WEEKS OF NOT GETTING UP AT 6AM ON A FRIDAY, IS A TOUCH CONCERNED ABOUT THE INTEGRITY OF ITS SKULL WALLS AND THE BUILD UP OF PRESSURE FROM ALL THE WEBSPAFF, PT.1:
- BBC iReporter: Another week, another game designed to teach kids - and, er, us as well - about the importance of fact-checking and stopping to check your sources and stuff. This is a really nicely-designed, simple experience - you play as a tyro BBC reporter, working to balance speed with accuracy as you spend a day covering breaking stories in the newsroom, with interactions enabling you to decide which stories to run, which to check, whether to sacrifice speed for a quick look at Snopes, that sort of thing. The integration of video messages on your phone from various recurring characters and some BBC faces is a lovely touch, and overall this is an excellent piece of interactive - well DONE everyone.
- Loomo: Thanks to Mat Morrison for pointing this out as the latest gadget designed, seemingly, for the sole purpose of making its users look like idiots; Loomo is a combination Segway-alike and ROBOT COMPANION! You ride it around like some sort of ridiculous tiny gyroscopic scooter thing, and then leap off to find Loomo has become a LOVABLE, CAMERA-EQUIPPED...er...THING! It turns into a little motorised camera robot thing which has AI (of COURSE it does!) and which can follow you around and film you and let you do videocalls and stuff. No words as to why the shuddering fcuk you’d want a little robot camera butler thing following you around - other than the fact that you’re an appalling, self-obsessed idiot with, ironically, no self-awareness whatsoever - but here we are. Anyway, it’s raised over $500k with three weeks left so is DEFINITELY happening (insofar as anything crowdfunded can be definite) so I am wrong and the idiot manchildren are right AGAIN.
- Nectome: Hands-down the MOST scifi and weird thing I’ve seen all week. Nectome is a startup which is offering the great dream of the Singularity - thanks to them, we can all FREEZE OUR BRAINS, in such a manner that, eventually, they will be able to be scanned and out entire connectome (no idea if this is actually a scientifically-accepted term, but it’s what they use to describe the network of inter-neuron connections which make up each of our brains. They’ve done it with rabbits, apparently, so OF COURSE they can do it with people too! Or, rather, they will be able to one day in the future - til then, you’ll just sit in a vat, Futurama-style. This all sounds great, doesn’t it? The promise of future immortality and all that jazz, and far more sensible than attempting to preserve the whole body - probably cheaper too. There is, er, one small catch - for the freezing process to work in a manner that doesn’t result in a damaged cerebellum being preserved, you sort of need to be, well, killed. Yes, unfortunately the technique for brain harvesting does require that the subject be actually killed during it - but don’t let that put you off! Wait! Come back! There’s a whole immortal future our consciousnesses can enjoy together! Look, this is all 100% true, I promise - MADNESS.
- NSynth Super: If you’re a musician, this is hugely interesting. “NSynth Super is part of an ongoing experiment by Magenta: a research project within Google that explores how machine learning tools can help artists create art and music in new ways.Building upon past research in this field, Magenta created NSynth (Neural Synthesizer). It’s a machine learning algorithm that uses a deep neural network to learn the characteristics of sounds, and then create a completely new sound based on these characteristics.Rather than combining or blending the sounds, NSynth synthesizes an entirely new sound using the acoustic qualities of the original sounds—so you could get a sound that’s part flute and part sitar all at once.” This site shows off the tech and how it works, and links off to all the software and schematics to allow you to build one of the Nysnth toys yourself - check out the video on the Page, this looks really very fun indeed.
- Duen 969: Occasionally during the course of my browsing I stumble across something that is so PERFECT that I almost don’t want to share it with you for fear of sullying its weird purity. So it is with the YouTube channel of user Duen969, who for reasons known only to them has uploaded hundreds - and I mean HUNDREDS - of videos showing, quite simply, sedate car journeys from various locales. He’s currently (as ever with these things, I am going out on a limb and assuming that this pointless, obsessive and, let’s face it, a bit dull, hobby is undertaken by a man) filming driving around the Czech Republic, but if you scroll back a bit you’ll find a LOT of vids of London roads, all helpfully named so you can see exactly which journey you’re undertaking (there’s some cracking footage of the gyratory around the Elephant, if you’re into that sort of thing). I love this SO MUCH - why does it exist? Why do some of the videos have literally thousands of views? WHOSE ARE THE OCCASIONAL TORTOISES??? - and its inexplicable beauty makes me almost tearful. Enjoy.
- Linky: Great novels serialised into tiny, linked texts. You want to read Jane Eyre, clipped down into a series of thousands of hyperlinked pages of 12 or so words each? GREAT! There are about 7-8 other novels on there (or at least there are if you click through to Github), and you can enjoy Siddhartha or, heaven forfend, Moby Dick in the same fashion. If you want some REALLY bitesize literature then this will be perfect for you.
- Anymal Research: “A community to advance legged robotics”, apparently - I suppose if you’re worried, looking at those in-no-way-unsettling Boston Dynamics videos then perhaps the best way to protect yourself against them is to ally yourself with the experts. Perhaps. Anyway, this is a community dedicated to discussing Anymal, which is as far as I can tell the open source, hippy version of the terrifying dogbots; maybe this is how the resistance is going to come together! Maybe.
- The Dark Web Map: Or, more accurately, a Dark Web map. Still, this is a reasonable attempt at presenting an overview of some of what’s on the Dark Web - “a visualization of the structure of Tor's onion services, a.k.a. hidden services, a.k.a. the dark web. The map consist of 6,608 dark web sites crawled during January 2018. Each site is represented in the map as a screenshot, and sites with structural similarity are connected with a line. Groups of sites that are all similar to each other are arranged into clusters. You can move around the map and zoom in to areas of interest.” What this does more than anything is show, well, quite how much really rather boring crap there is on the Dark Web, aside from the people purporting to be peddling snuff and offering to off your wife for 1.3 bitcoin; kids, it’s really not worth it, honest.
- The European Coke Water Map: Your chance to explore the data showing exactly how much drugs is in the water supply of major European cities, and how it changes over time (click ‘Interactive’ from the top nav - the site’s a bit horrid). Fail to marvel at the fact that London’s one of the top places for gak in the water supply! Scoff at the fact that people in Belgium and Holland still do speed like it’s the past! A particularly nice touch is the ability to look at the data based on days of the week - based on that, I hope all of you are really enjoying your Friday morning comedowns, kids!
- The Avocado Dream: An Instagram account for MILLENNIALS, making light of that whole ‘you can’t ever buy a house, you’re eating too many avocados!’ meme to reasonable effect. Nice pastel aesthetic too.
- Liv: The strapline to this site is the utterly joyless “Empowering creators and developers to create relatable and shareable VR spectator experiences”, which is SO BLEAK. Nonetheless, the tech’s actually far more interesting than that awful prose might lead you to believe - it basically lets you craft VR stuff in a way that means third-parties viewing the thing have more viewing options than just the first-person players view, suddenly opening the platform up for far more enjoyable spectating. You can, with a bit of lateral thinking, hopefully imagine all sorts of potential uses for this, from games to performance to even TV (THIS is how you make Knightmare work in VR)(probably)(don’t steal this, I want to make it happen one day please).
- Bot or Not: ARE YOU A BOT? It might seem like a frivolous question - you can’t be a bot! You’re ‘enjoying’ Web Curios! - but this site made me question myself rather this week, as it told me that there is in fact a better-than-average possibility that I am not, in fact, A Real Boy. It’s made by Mike Kearney and uses machine learning to determine whether any Twitter account is a real person or not. It’s, er, obviously not 100% accurate - I AM NOT A BOT, MIKE! - but it’s learning all the time and is worth keeping an eye on if you want to check the status of the person posting “SALISBURY IS A FALSE FLAG!” cant all over your timeline.
- Google Pup View: Google Pup View! No, really! It’s streetview, but in snowy Japan, where they attached cameras to the heads of the sled dogs and used them to take photos of the snowy route between some shrines and OH BAO! You can see everything from the dog’s perspective and it is SO CUTE, and I don’t even like dogs that much.
- Field Margin: I don’t know why I haven’t featured this before - I’ve known about it for ages, and I have met the founder a couple of times (hi Rob!) - but anyway, here we are. Field Margin is probably not, I concede, of huge practical use to many of you (as I always bore on about, I don’t look at analytics for this, but I’m fairly certain that the number of readers who combine a love of webspaff with a career as full-time sons of the land is vanishingly small), but it’s a really interesting idea - it’s software for farmers which allows them to create shared, collaborative maps of their land, showing what is growing where, what needs harvesting, fixing, shooting (probably), that sort of thing. A really good example of a clever product in a smart niche.
- The I Am Woman Project: “The I AM WOMAN Project is a community empowering women to elevate, motivate and celebrate themselves through shared narratives...by sharing their stories, wisdom and inspirational insights across video, audio, and digital platforms.” Effectively a woman’s magazine online, but the site’s nicely put together and there’s a seemingly wide and diverse range of stories and perspectives on offer here should you be in the market for this sort of thing.
- Emir Shiro: Instagram account of Emir Shiro, who does that collage/cut-up photo thing where you use superimposition and conjunction to make innocent things look like less innocent things. Yes, I know that that’s a truly appalling attempt at a description, sorry, you’ll just have to click this to find out more (it’s very good, you will like it, it’s SFW but really doesn’t look like it is).
- Calm: A N Other web-based synthtoy, but this one has the added distinction of being designed explicitly for mobile use and as such is a truly superb way of killing time during a bus journey. Create a backing track, sing along to it in the oblivious style popularised by soft drink ads since time immemorial, get discovered on the tube like Shola Ama! MAKE BEAUTIFUL MUSIC!
- V-Fonts: NOT SEXY AT ALL! But, er, potentially really useful if you’re after some fonts (that sounds a little like I’m trying to peddle illicit fonts from the inside of a grubby trench down a back-alley, doesn’t it?). V-Fonts is ‘a simple resource for finding and trying variable fonts’. That’s all it is, don’t look at me like that, there’s nothing else to say about it.
THE SECTION WHICH, WHILST IT’S QUITE LOOKING FORWARD TO A FEW WEEKS OF NOT GETTING UP AT 6AM ON A FRIDAY, IS A TOUCH CONCERNED ABOUT THE INTEGRITY OF ITS SKULL WALLS AND THE BUILD UP OF PRESSURE FROM ALL THE WEBSPAFF, PT.2:
- Borderlines 89: Superb Insta-artist Raj does pen-and-ink drawings with a slightly stained-glass quality to them, and which, for reasons I can’t quite explain, remind me a bit of Egon Schiele despite not really looking anything like his work at all. All the stuff you see here is apparently available to buy as a print on application, which is nice.
- The Trash Robot: This is great, seemingly not a joke, and might get funded if we all chuck a tenner at it. This Kickstarter campaign is seeking another £1500 or so over the next 12 days to build a remote-controlled rubbish collection boat to be deployed on the Chicago river in order to clean it up a bit; the fun part is that the reebot will be able to be controlled by anyone who wants to, using an online interface - which, whilst sounding like a lot of fun, is almost certainly not the most efficient way of undertaking some urban renewal. Still, balls to practicality, you’ll soon(ish) be able to play a real-life rubbish collection videogame! Although, now I write it down it turns out that ‘real-life rubbish collection videogame’ sounds TERRIBLE, on reflection, but still. Maybe adding a ludic layer to all civic tasks will usher in a glorious future where we all just do nice stuff for each other and the environment because it’s FUN! It won’t, but it’s nice to dream sometimes.
- Monobrow: A celebration of the mono(brow)culture. I don’t know why this exists, but as ever with this sort of thing I am sort of obliquely glad that it does.
- Winter Paralympics Photos: A superb collection of shots from the current Paralympics in Korea, collated by the Atlantic; these are honestly AMAZING, particularly the ones which show off the insane balance required to careen down an icy slope at multiple mph without the traditional number of limbs. Proper ‘cor, people are ACE, aren’t they?’ material, this.
- The Badass Army: A Good Thing, this - “Founded in August of 2017, BADASS is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing support to victims of revenge porn/image abuse, and eradicating the practice through education, advocacy, and legislation.” If you or anyone you know is unfortunate enough to have had to deal with this sort of thing, this is a helpful selection of resources and a hopefully supportive community. Christ, anyone remember Hunter Moore? Those were times, weren’t they?
- Spotify Line-In: Depending on your perspective, this is either exciting or an opportunity for massive trolling (or, of course, it’s just deeply tedious and you’ll just want to skip to the next link - THIS IS THE JOY OF CURIOS, TELL YOUR FRIENDS!) - Spotify’s now allowing users to provide additional information about songs and artists to help the service improve its knowledgebase and to understand more about how people interpret and describe music - this is almost certainly working towards some sort of natural language comprehension whereby you’ll be able to one day ask Spotify to play you something gently melancholic that reminds you of your childhood and it will in turn present you with the perfect musical Madeline, so it’s your call whether or not you want to contribute to the GROWING CORPUS OF MACHINE INTELLIGENCE; failing that, though, you can spend your time attempting to classify all of Little Mix’s work as Black Metal or something, whatever.
- The Terry Posters Collection: Over 20,000 posters from the former Czechoslovakia, by a huge range of artists and depicting a huge range of topics. This is an INSANE collection of 20th Century design, and much of it is available to buy - wonderful, wonderful trove, this one.
- AR Street Fighter II: I used to do PR for videogames back in the day, and one of the titles I worked on the launch of was Street Fighter IV - it was ACE, and my client at the time (the lovely Leo Tan) was charming, and it was one of the more fun jobs I’ve ever had in this beknighted industry (and in part resulted in the awesome Street Fighter mixtape, which is still the apogee of all videogame / hiphop mashups imho). Anyway, this is a prototype two-player version of Street Fighter II, playing in AR - this is sort of incredible, and SO FUTURE, and whilst just a gimmick it is SUPER-IMPRESSIVE.
- Universe: Another service which lets you make a simple, mobile-optimised website on your phone in approximately 3 minutes. In case you need to. Personally speaking, were I 19 years old and a VERY DIFFERENT sort of person, I would use this as a quick way of knocking up different sorts of personal websites to appeal to whichever girl I was attempting to chirpse at the time. I would be SUCH a virgin in this parallel universe.
- Hello I’m Nik: Nik is a woman who takes photos in videogames, most often GTAV. This is her Instagram feed, showcasing her in-game shots, and they are just amazing. I am still constantly impressed by the world of videogame photographers - the composition and stuff is excellent here, in a way which suggests proper talent.
- Utter Philth: I am honestly amazed that this hasn’t crossed my path at all in the past 8 years of doing this stuff, and yet here we are. Utter Philth is a website dedicated to photoshops - amazing, artistic, surreal, beautiful, terrifying Photoshops - of everyone’s favourite crackhead Phil Mitchell. Phil as a tattoo on Rihanna’s arm; Phil as some sort of terrifying meditative fractal vision; Phil everywhere. I love this with all of my soul, what little remains.
- Numberwang Station: I don’t know what this is, or why it exists, but I find it very, very unsettling. Turn up the sound.
- Map Phone Background Generator: This is ACE. Simple tool which lets you put in any location you like, gives you a stylised Google Map version of it which you can shift, zoom, etc, and which can then be exported as an image file optimised for use as your phone’s background image or lockscreen. These look really rather good, promise.
- Colin Combs: Colin Combs is still in High School in Drayton, Ohio, but his photographs of the slightly lost, slightly hopeless, very teenage protagonists in his small town life have already been featured by VICE and the New Yorker amongst others. He’s an excellent photographer with a superb eye, and his photos are a brilliant depiction of small-town life in the middle of the eye of the US opiate storm (Drayton is particularly hit by the epidemic, by all accounts). I looked at these and I felt OLD, and sort of glad that I am.
- Supernova Studios: My occasional link-based reminder that being a front-end dev, at least at the low end of the market, is the very opposite of a healthy-looking profession right now. Supernova Studio “is a desktop Mac OS X application that allows you to take any design of a mobile application, and convert it from design data (i.e., Sketch files) to a working mobile application using one-of-a-kind predictive algorithms. The results include native components, responsive layouts, all the assets, code, localizations...you name it. The best part? Most of the tasks are automated beyond your wildest imagination - what previously took hundreds of hours now takes minutes.” Maybe learning to code isn’t going to be the cure-all panacea that solves all of our children’s looming professional uncertainty after all, dammit.
- The Chameleon Mask: Not a joke, just Japanese! The Chameleon Mask is a project in development at the University of Tokyo - in particular, their charmingly-named Laboratoire Révolutionnaire et Romantique (more prosaically known in English as the ‘Human Augmentation Lab’) - which is experimenting with, er, letting people be virtually present in a physical space by having a screen with their face on it strapped to the face of an actual, physically present human being, who the human being ‘projected’ into physical space can control like some sort of meat puppet. Yes, EXACTLY like in Arrested Development. Want to take a moment to imagine a future in which the underclasses earn a crust by offering telepresence tours into dirty, dangerous, cold or creepy places for the edification of rich tourists, or where they rent themselves out as meaty telepresence drones, subjugating their existence to that of rich businessmen for 12h a day? No? TOUGH BECAUSE THAT IS WHERE WE ARE HEADING.
- Weird Type: Another AR-type app which lets anyone create floating, animated letters in space, to craft cool-looking messages which can then be shared in Snap or Insta Stories. Not hugely technically exciting - we’ve seen all this before, oh how jaded we are become! - but notable as it explicitly states it’s for use within other platforms; AR as a content creation tool not an end in itself, basically, which seems like a THING.
- Deep Field Antartica: This site collects some frankly astonishing photos of some very, very icy landscapes by the evidently intrepid Christopher Michel. You will feel cold just looking at them.
- Pixdar: An Instagram account sharing images of ghost signs in France - you know, old, faded signage from The Past on walls and shopfronts and stuff. If you have ever owned a ‘Doors of Provence’ poster then you will know exactly the aesthetic that’s on display here (also, how OLD are you?).
- Gameboy iPhone Case: It’s an iPhone case, which also doubles up as a Gameboy. Or at least a slightly rubbish GameBoy knockoff with 10 pre-loaded games, included Tetris. You know that this is going to be a bit crap and disappointing; you know that it is going to feel shoddy and cheap; you know that you are TOO OLD for a novelty phone case, especially one that plays crap retro games; and yet, YOU WANT THIS. I know you do. And I judge.
- Curious Cryptid Curios: Sculptures in the style of those ones that your nana used to have, with the porcelain woman selling balloons and some 30s-style women wearing cloche hats and stuff, except for some reason all the heads are slightly horrific insect creatures. Available to buy, in case you were interested.
- Japanese Matchbox Sets: HUGE Flickr set of surprisingly excellent and wide-ranging design, including some unexpected erotica (I mean, I say ‘erotica’; it’s about as erotic as a nicely designed depiction of a tastefully arranged nude on a matchbox cover is likely to be - you are unlikely to be able to bring yourself to a clotted, shuddering climax over these, is what I’m saying, unless you employ an awful lot of imagination).
- Buy Me A Coffee: Like Patreon, but not Patreon! For all those who’ve fallen out of love with the creative’s funding source of choice.
- Word Land: As far as I can tell this is totally pointless, but I am glad that this exists. Word Land takes the texts of a bunch of film scripts and presents them, for no apparent reason, as a series of navigable word clouds which you can zoom through in a sort of 3d VR manner. No idea why you’d necessarily want to, but there’s an undeniable joy in swooping through a script, past recognisable fragments of dialogue and the like; there’s definitely an embryonic music video concept in here I think.
- Rate A Species: The best Twitter hashtag you will see all week, no question. Just lots of people, rating different species of animal. Basically a firehose of cute whimsy, so almost certainly what you’re after after a long, hard week exploring the battlefields of the culture wars.
- We Buy Any Pr0n: Got a whole load of old bongo you want to get rid of? Why not sell it to these lads! They buy ‘ANYTHING’, from magazines and books to old Super8 film reels - does make you wonder at some of the, er, conditions, that the material is discovered in, but I suppose they know their business. So much to love about this, not least the ‘discreet removal’ notice - reassuring to know that they won’t turn up outside your granddad’s house with a huge van marked “FILTHY BONGO WAGON” or anything similarly compromising. Of course, everyone knows that the BEST way to dispose of old, unwanted remnants of a physical bongo collection is to put it all in a binbag and then lob it over the fence of your local secondary school so as to give the adolescents therein the most exciting afternoon of their young lives, but I guess it’s your scudmags and as such YOUR CHOICE.
- Mis Picaderos: Amazing site, this, which is basically a global map of, well, places you might want to fcuk outdoors. It’s Spanish, which means that the tips all very much major on Spain, but it’s honestly hilarious to read through the annotations (if, again, you can speak Spanish). Amusingly, the only locations that amorous outdoor Spaniards have flagged in London appear to be Primrose Hill and, er, a small carpark opposite a bus stop in Ashworth. SO SEXY AND GLAMOROUS!!
- Voyages In Sentence Space: I adore this immoderately. Put in two sentences - one to start with, one to finish with - and this site will attempt to map a path between them using its rudimentary understanding of language. Much of the output is sort-of gibberish, but occasionally it will give you fragments of poetry which are all the more beautiful for their random nature. Linguists and poets will love this.
- Unsilenced: One of those ‘click to change the perspective’ music videos, the gimmick here being that you can switch between the version of the ‘song’ that is being signed and one which is not, the gimmick being that it forces a user to consider the extent to which people who communicate by signing can be ignored or unheard. The video and transitions are LOVELY, though I’d argue that the ‘silence/unsilence’ thing doesn’t really work as, well, there’s no vocal track to the song. Still, nicely done from a tech perspective.
- Slashington: Finally, a twenty-minute piece of interactive fiction. I don’t want to say any more than that - you should go into this cold. It is very, very good indeed, and I was really impressed by some of the touches and flourishes here - the use of CSS is particularly nice imho. Enjoy.
THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!:
- This Isn’t Magic: A Tumblr getting angry at those instances where people say something is magic when, well, it isn’t in fact magic at all because MAGIC DOESN’T EXIST. Pariticurly pleasing when it has a go at people who take Potter just that little bit too seriously.
- Sigmablade Collage: Excellent, surreal collage art. The lines on this stuff are REALLY nice and clean, there’s something hugely pleasing about the work here.
- The Darling And The Dirty: Gif art - looks a bit collage-y too, come to think of it. Lovely.
- Lee Gatlin: Lee Gatlin is a cartoonist, this is their Tumblr. His style is sort of scratchy and a bit watercolour, and reminds me a bit of Ronald Searle’s Molesworth illustrations, should that mean anything to you.
- Tony Stella: Tony Stella makes watercolour versions of film posters. Lots of Japanese calligraphy influences in this stuff, but the overall effect is sui generis and just LOVELY. I would buy the fcuk out of these were they for sale; he does take commissions, so if you like his work then get in touch with him direct.
LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:
- National Geographic and Race: A fascinating and well-written editorial from National Geograohic, taking a long, hard look at the publication’s history of representation of non-white communities both in the US and outside of it, which concludes, unsurprisingly, that much of the magazine’s coverage of aforementioned non-White communities was racist and persisted in the othering of non-whites in the mind of mainstream US (and thereby Western) culture. Its laudable to see an institution having such an honest - and difficult - conversation with itself about race, particularly when the conclusion is so unpalatable. Well done them.
- The SimuLife Diaries: This is FASCINATING to me, though I equally appreciate that you might have to have something of an interest in immersive theatre or ‘transmedia’ (sorry) or ARGs in order to really get it. Anyway, this is an account of the reporter’s experience having an immersive theatrical experience for one at SXSW - I would, honestly, give my eye-teeth for something like this, where a narrative just sort of emerges around you, blending in with your real life til you’re questioning whether everyone around you is in fact an actor, though I appreciate that there may be those of you to whom this gives the howling fantods. Anyway, go down the rabbithole, it sounds INTENSE.
- The 25 Songs That Tell Us Where Music Is Going In 2018: This is now the second or third year in a row that the NYT has done this feature, and once again it’s an excellent collection of music/culture writing with a nicely laid-out page; it’s nice to be able to listen to the tracks as you read about them, though (and I know that this is an old man’s opinion, but really) it does bring home exactly how alike about ⅓ of the songs on that list sound.
- Reddit, and Detoxifying the Internet: An excellent piece on Reddit and its place in the pantheon of internet - and indeed modern - culture, looking at how the site grew up, and how efforts to moderate it have been….tricky. It’s a really well-written piece, in part a profile of Ohanian’s right-hand man and Reddit CEO Steve Huffman and in part a look at how, on a practical level, enforcing a sense of right and wrong on massive websites is a very human endeavour indeed; the scene depicted when they are going through discussing as the ban subreddits is wonderfully human and very filmic indeed.
- A Quick Field Guide To The New Culture Wars: Oh me oh my, where to start with this one? Well, it’s an interesting read - it’s also a massively incomplete and skewed and weirdly tone-deaf in parts, and seems to think that ‘culture’ only means ‘culture that springs up in and around Silicon Valley’. Jay nailed it rather well in her thoughts on Twitter, but despite it being a very flawed piece it’s also to be applauded for at least trying to make some sense of the multiply-fractured discourse currently going on across about 3million different intersections. Tell you what, critical analysis of cultural phenomena is HARD, especially while it’s all happening at you.
- On Sheldon County: You will, of course, recall that I wrote about Sheldon County - an AI-generated podcast, with stories unique for every listener - a few weeks ago; this is an interview with its creator, James Ryan, and a more complete explanation of how the project will work than was available on his website. It’s not quite as exciting as I had at first thought - I had initially envisaged each listener having their own persistent AI-generated world in which the stories would ‘live’, which doesn’t seem to be the case as far as I can tell - but I am being a curmudgeon by so saying as the whole thing is just INCREDIBLY exciting overall.
- This Is What Happens When Bitcoin Miners Come To Town: A brilliant piece of journalism, of the sort that takes a current phenomenon (to whit, Bitcoin mining) and forces you to look at it from a completely new perspective. In this instance, the piece looks at where people who mine Bitcoin at scale are going to establish the massive processing setups that are increasingly needed to do computation of that scale at, er, scale - the real estate and power needs are becoming crazy, which means that remote US locations are being seen as increasingly attractive places to set up shop. What does that do to local communities? If you ever doubted that there’s a very real 18C gold rush thing going on here, this is your proof.
- The Spotify Playlist Black Market: I’ve featured articles about the insane power of the Spotify playlist in making a track on here a couple of times now - this article looks at the parallel market whereby people offer inclusion on playlists in exchange for payment. This really oughtn’t be news to anyone here in 2k18, but the dream of the music industry being a democratic, talent-led paradise in the post-Napster future has been pretty much shown up to be dead.
- How To Lose Your Job From Sexual Harassment: A 33-step primer by Deborah Copaken, detailing how she went from having a promising media career to not really having one at all, as a result of persistent sexual harassment and the failure of employers to take steps to deal with it. Really quite startlingly depressing, and all the moreso for not really being particularly surprising at all. Huge kudos to Copaken for writing this at all, when so many people are still so wary of speaking up for fear of harming what careers they have left.
- Dank Is The New Umami: This just made me laugh quite a lot. A linguistic analysis of the term ‘dank’ and its many meanings.
- This Is 40 - And Pregnant: I wouldn’t normally expect to feature an essay from Vogue here, but perhaps the adult publication is learning from its Teen sibling and upping its game, because this is a really interesting piece looking at motherhood in one’s 40s and how a variety of women (US) approach it. Serious, unsentimental, and well-written, this is a good piece of writing on an increasingly common phenomenon - a friend of mine is currently pregnant with her second kid, which will (all being well) be her second conceived and born post-40. Which is mental, really.
- Meet Dragonman: Dragonman sells guns. Dragonman LOVES guns. Dragonman is, basically, in some real-and-on-reflection-not-in-fact-metaphorical sense, is guns. Dragonman runs a frankly insane-sounding gun shop in Colorado, which is approached by a road featurint the burnt-our, punctured carcasses of old cars, labelled with signs saying things like “THIS WAS A REGISTERED DEMOCRAT ONCE!” and stuff about “HER EMAILS”, and Dragonman runs it with his family, and Dragonman is that unique type of eccentric local superstar rightwing nutcase that somehow only the US can produce, and Dragonman has known tragedy, and Dragonman has known tears, but you will not take Dragonman’s guns away from him SO HELP HIM GOD. This is, obviously, MAD.
- Dinsenhancing Animals: Bit of moral philosophy for you as a palate-cleanser now. Should we genetically engineer animals so as to eliminate their ability to feel pain, thereby eliminating them from physical suffering when slaughtered? No? Why not? This the question posed by Jonathan Latimer, who’s an Oxford undergrad and who won a prize for this essay which I very much enjoyed because a) it’s a premise I’d not thought of before; and b) it’s a classic piece of philosophy writing and I realised quite how much I miss thinking like this on occasion (only on occasion, though - I am not clever enough and my temples start to sweat after a while).
- I Am The Very Important Longread Everyone Is Talking About: McSweeney’s here, with an article which was basically written bespoke for this section of Curios. Very funny, as ever, damn them.
- Bitcoin Is Ridiculous: I mean, it really is - but this is an excellenty explanation as to exactly why it is ridiculous, and why the blockchain is less ridiculous but a lot more frightening, potentially. This is a really interesting example of the sort of thinking that runs through the piece: “In other words, the blockchain can be a form of media...Remember that anonymously created list of men who worked in media and who were alleged sexual harassers? You could, by whispering the allegations from one wallet to the next, put that information on a blockchain. You could make a web browser plug-in so that whenever someone visited a sexual harasser’s LinkedIn page, that page could glow bright red. You could have a distributed, immutable record of sexual harassment allegations on the internet.”
- The Shocking Assassination Of President Guy Fieri: This is a rather good short story, imagining what the logical extension of the attention economy is when coupled with the post-DeepFake ability to, not yet but soon, fake any video you like, with anyone’s face in it. This is SO plausible it almost feels like real life.
- Fat Leonard’s Crimes of the High Seas: EXCELLENT Rolling Stone piece about the bribery and corruption in the US Navy, which saw naval commanders being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of bribes - in booze, drugs, food and hookers, CLASSIC NAVY! - in exchange for encouraging naval vessels to dock in certain places rather than others. Properly sleazy crime caper, this, and a great example of how crime will happen literally EVERYWHERE given the opportunity.
- Ball Breakers: An essay profiling a selection of female pool players, preparing for a national-level tournament, and a dispassionate look at what is very much still considered a man’s sport and a man’s world.
- She Found A Dating App On His Phone…: I don’t want to spoil this, so won’t tell you the rest of the title - just click the link and read the most wonderfully-quotable news story of 2018 so far. The man sounds like a dick, it’s true, but he also sounds like the human embodiment of the turtles from Finding Nemo.
- The Blockade: This is a quite astonishing profile of former Nike exec Erik Hagerman, who upon Trump’s election in 2016 decided that he was simply going to turn off the news - Hagerman’s been existing inside what he terms ‘The Blockade’ since then, avoiding all news and maintaining a complete degree of ignorance as to what’s going on in the White House and indeed elsewhere. It’s honestly a rather incredible piece - the tone is almost otherwordly, and Hagerman definitely is - obviously independently wealthy, although it’s not clear whether from Nike or a previous life, he is a very, very strange man indeed; this feels far more like the first draft of the opening chapter of a novel than it does actual journalism, in a good way.
- The Man In The Mirror: This is the story of a woman getting over her rape, and then not, thanks to the wrong man. It’s about how someone who helps you can also be someone who betrays you, and I found it a beautiful piece of writing whilst also finding it exceptionally hard to read in places. If you’re a man and you’ve ever been a total sh1t to someone, you may recognise this feeling. A wonderful essay, nevertheless.
- A Thousand Splendid Stuns: WONDERFUL piece of writing about being the child of immigrant parents into the US, in particular of the experience of being an Afghan kid in 90s America. Reminiscent of Persepolis - if only because it has that same teen punky vibe to the writing - this is a lovely and wide-ranging piece about memory and family and culture and identity and being foreign and and and.
- Does Anyone Have The Right To Sex: Finally this week, this is a brilliant, smart and chewy essay, looking at sexual politics and economics; the marketplace of lust and what that says about our prejudices and privileges, and how we ought to think about them. It’s not an easy essay - there’s a lot of gender theory stuff in here that I had to pause to think through, which is perhaps a factor of my ignorance rather than difficulty, on reflection - but it’s one of the smartest pieces of thinking about sex I’ve read in ages.
AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!
- Is there anything more tediously lazy and cliche than ‘FRENCH IS SO SEXY! OMIGOD EVERYTHING FRENCH IS SO SEXY!’ fetishism? No, there is not, and yet that is exactly what I am indulging in by including this video, for a song which by dint of its being French I find, well, really sexy (sorry). This is called ‘Je Veux Tes Yeux’ and it’s by Angele:
3) This is by Gengahr, it’s called ‘Before Sunrise’ and it’s a lovely, Spring-friendly tune which is perfect for this sort of sunny day. Love the video of the kids mopeding around a nameless middle-Eastern locale, too:
4) Arcade Fire are, it’s fair to say, occasionally a bit self-indulgent. This, though, is justified - the video for ‘Money + Love’ is a wonderful piece of musical filmmaking, and is a decent watch in its own right, whether or not you’re a fan:
5) UNLIKELY COMEBACK CORNER! I did not expect to be typing the words ‘Daphne’ and ‘Celeste’ in close proximity to each other in 2018, and yet here we are. Having finally gotten rid of the smell of stale urine after THAT Reading Festival, they are BACK - this is latest single ‘Alarms’, which is, well, surprisingly a really good pop song. They do look quite weird old, though:
6) Finally this week in the videos, another French track and the best body positive video I’ve seen in ages, This is by Charlotte Abramow and Georges Brassens, and it’s called ‘Les Passants’. BYE EVERYONE, BYE, THANKS AGAIN FOR READING AND KEEPING ME COMPANY IN Q118 THANKS SEE YOU IN A FEW WEEKS AND IN THE MEANTIME TRY NOT TO DIE OR HURT OR HEAVEN FORFEND FORGET ME BYE BYE BYE BYE!!!