Web Curios 16/11/18
What is it about politics that attracts the world's worst people? I mean, it's true isn't it - look at them this week, plotting and preening and self-regarding and mindwanking themselves raw on the power fantasies whilst only-just-metaphorically sh1tting all over us. Thanks, Conservatives! Thanks! Thanks everyone! I don't know if I've ever mentioned this before, but I spend a few days a week working for a firm of political consultants (I won't mention them as, well, to be honest they probably don't want the association) and this week even they - many of whom have worked in politics, and all of whom have an interest in the whole filthy mess that can at best be described as...unhealthy - even they have been wondering around with expressions of barely-concealed bafflement on their faces as they try and make sense of exactly why it would seem that the ruling classes appear to have decided that they once again want to play one of their occasional games of 'let's fcuk the electorate with knives, just because we can!.
Christ alive, these people.
Anyway, you've had enough, I've had enough, we've all had enough. You are bruised and battered and wounded after a long week - I know, sweetheart, I know - and all you want is to rest your weary limbs. Come, then, take my hand and let me lower you gently into the warm, welcoming liquid bath that is this week's Curios, like a Radox bath except, well, significantly more clotted. Read, relax, and try and forget - this, as ever, is Web Curios, and Jarvis Cocker really was right.
THE SECTION WHICH IS FIRMLY OF THE OPINION THAT IF GEORGE SOROS IS ANTI-FACEBOOK THEN THAT’S ANOTHER REASON TO APPROVE OF THE MAN, FRANKLY:
- Lasso: Look! It’s a new Facebook thing! Which, er, you can’t use unless you’re in the US, or unless you decide to go through a VPN to install it! Still, it’s always nice when Facebook decide to innovate - in this case, by creating a new app which is basically exactly the same as lipsyncing sensation TikTok (which used to be Musical.ly - Christ, what do you mean you have better things to do than keep up with this? WHAT COULD BE MORE IMPORTANT?!). Anyway, this is NEW and EXCITING and will get THE KIDS back onboard, or at least that’s what someone in Menlo Park thinks - “Lasso lets you shoot up to 15-second long videos (no uploads allowed) and overlay popular songs. The app centers around an algorithmic feed of recommended videos, but also lets you tap through hashtags or a Browse page of themed collections.” Exciting, eh? There’s obviously stuff that brands could do with this, mainly influencer collaborations at first, though there’s equally no guarantee that anyone will actually ever use the thing - still, though, don’t let that stop you filling your 2019 plan with all sorts of exciting activations involving $20k’s worth of paid-for endorsements in lipsync, because, well, it’s NEW and EXCITING and you need something to put in after the inevitable section about how ‘this is the year AR finally takes off as a mainstream concern’.
- Instagram Adds New Shopping Features: SHOPPING! As we prepare to ‘enjoy’ the annual orgy of conspicuous consumerism and ready ourselves for the inevitable onset of carpal tunnel brought on by the ceaseless, frenzied clicking as we send all of our disposable income to Jeff Bezos, how timely it is that Instagram has seen fit to launch some more ways to part morons from their pennies. “Users will soon be able to shop videos they see in their feed; save items to a specific “shopping collection” in their saved posts; and also shop business profiles more easily” - all of which is lovely, but the reports are frustratingly light on detail as to when exactly this will launch, and whether it will be US-only (it will probably be US-only). Still, if you’re the sort of advermarketingprdrone who has DIRECT ACCESS to a real human being at Facebook by dint of your impressive ad spend, why not ask your rep about this? It will make them momentarily feel loved and wanted, and that’s what Christmas advert season is all about.
- LinkedIn is Testing an Events Tool: “COME TO MY THOUGHT LEADERSHIP SEMINAR WHICH I AM ADVERTISING ON LINKEDIN!” is very much nothing that anyone ever wants to see or here, but be aware that the GaryVees of this world will soon be able to further extend their influencer brand into meatspace thanks to LinkedIn’s seemingly-imminent launch of an ‘events’ function on the platform; currently being trialed in New York and San Francisco only, but inevitably coming to everyone soon, this will apparently work a lot like events on Facebook except with more mad-eyed chat about CRUSHING IT at every opportunity.
- YouTube Launches Its Own Wellness Stuff: Another week, another digital platform disingenuously pretending that its entire business model isn’t built entirely on its ability to keep us watching, slack-jawed and drooling, for days at a time; YouTube follows Instagram, Apple and others in being the latest tech behemoth to start giving people the option to track their usage and set limits (voluntary, of course - they don’t actually want you to log off, you understand) to how much time you spend watching teenagers pretending to be excited about stuff. There’s a line in here about how this update to the app will let you turn off or mute notifications for a bit, which made me wonder for a second who the fcuk it is who has YouTube alerts enabled in the first place - “OH GOD LOGAN PAUL HAS DROPPED SOME NEW ISH LET ME PAUSE WHAT I AM DOING AND GLORY IN HIS LARGE-FACED STUPIDITY”. Regardless, it’s important to remember that these companies don’t care about you and in fact see you as nothing more than a fleshy, pliable unit of advertising revenue, and that anything that they say suggesting otherwise is a lie. Ok? OK!
- Messaging Coming to Google Maps: This is interesting. Businesses will soon (no, I don’t know when) have the opportunity to interact with customers via a messaging service accessible through Maps - they’ll be able to set up a message inbox which people can contact them through via the maps interface, meaning a whole potential new avenue of customer service, as well, potentially, as being a really rather fun opportunity to do some Easter Egg-type stuff if you think about it; there’s probably some rather fun and unexpected ‘surprise and delight’ (sorry) stuff you can do with this and some automated bot-type software and a decent script, even if you’re not a traditional bricks and mortar venue. It links into the revamped My Business app from Google, which you can read all about here if you give more of a fcuk than I do about all this.
- You Will Soon Be Able To Buy Bitmoji Merchandise From Snap: Is there anything more ‘Suburban parent’ than the idea of buying and then wearing a tshirt with your own Bitmoji avatar on it? No, there is not, but if this is the thing that saves Snap from financial ruin and convinces Wall Street that no, really, there is a long-term strategy behind the business, honest guv, then who cares? There’s actually more to it than this - there’s a whole emphasis on ‘Bitmoji Stories’ in which Snap users can, for reasons that escape me, see ‘cute’ depictions of their friendships on the app, rendered in sickly, bland avatar analogues, and the ‘Frienship Profile’ where you can access a bunch of information about and messages from specific individuals. I’d be AMAZED if there didn’t end up being some sort of brand linkup here, with deep-pocketed corporates paying for the right to have digital versions of their products, etc, available as gifts or stickers or whatever here but, well, it all sounds a bit rubbish if I’m honest.
- The Fenom Effect: How long have you been putting “do a podcast” as a standard line item in every proposal you do, safe in the knowledge that, while it will make you look as though you’re taking a proper, 360-degree approach to, your client will probably never actually sign it off? Years, right? Well Nike have actually gone and started their own podcast series (they may have had other ones previously but I’d never seen them and so as far as I’m concerned this is NEW GROUND) and as you’d expect it’s pretty slick. The Fenom Effect is only two episodes old, but focuses on interviews with and profiles of remarkable female athletes who ‘redefine’ sport - combining the access Nike obviously have with a strong theme and purpose, this seems like a very smart piece of marketing imho.
- Water: How do they do it? How to French web agencies keep managing to get commissioned to make pastel-coloured, charming and completely over-engineered web experiences for ostensibly tedious corporates? From SNCF’s oddly excellent pinball game to, now, this bizarre interactive site from water company Veolia, in which you navigate a water droplet through 4 distinct stages meant to represent the work the company does in ensuring France stays hydrated; I think this is meant to act as a friendly, appealing, light-touch guide to the company’s areas of operations, but who cares when you can spend a pleasing 5 minutes guiding a virtual clump of H2O along some lovely waterways? NO FCUKER, that’s who. Thames Water - LEARN, please.
- Paul Hughes: This is...CRIKEY. Meet Paul Hughes, a...hang on, who is Paul Hughes? A business leader? A motivational guru? A sage, near-spiritual advisor? Probably all of those things to be honest, and maybe even more. Whoever he is, he was employed by accountancy firm Baker Tilly to create this...content in which he talks to a frankly baffled audience about creativity or storytelling or somesuch horrorwank and OH MY GOD this is one of the most painful pieces of corporate leadershipbollocks I have ever seen. I can’t urge you strongly enough to watch at least some of this - the combination of Mr Hughes...unique...slightly staccato...delivery style, coupled with the all-too-frequent cuts to the audience who, to a woman, appear to have been captured and held their against their will and with little to no understanding of what they are meant to be doing there...Honestly, were this not posted by an official corporate account I would be convinced this was a parody, and even now I’m slightly convinced that the accountants have a far more sophisticated sense of humour than I at first gave them credit for. Astonishing, and I really can’t recommend it enough.
By Al Mefer
THE SECTION WHICH DOESN’T NORMALLY ADVOCATE VIOLENCE BUT WOULD REALLY, REALLY ENJOY GIVING MICHAEL GOVE A KICK, PT.1:
- The Unknown Face: Remembrance Sunday has, of course, just passed, but that doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate a few excellent pieces of webwork created as part of the centenary of the anniversary of the first World War. The first of two remembrance projects in Curios this week, the Unknown Face is a site which presents stories and memories of combatants from the Great War, using a large selection of photographs of combatants from around the world to create a composite image made up of elements from over 30,000 individual photos of individuals from both sides of the conflict. The site lets you explore the images used in the work, and presents the stories of some of the individuals featured; far more, though, are nameless and anonymous, which fact makes the whole thing even more powerful. A lovely piece of coding and a beautiful historical project, this really is rather excellent.
- A Street Near You: The second commemorative project is by James Morley, who, using public records and photo archives to map the locations of 410,000 men and women who died in World War One; it gives an incredible sense of the scale of the conflict and the breadth of its effect - deaths are recorded in locations as diverse as Cape Verde and the Pitcairn Islands, and the general effect is slightly overwhelming overall.
- Mikutap: Segueing directly from records of war deaths to a browser-based synthtoy featuring virtual Japanese pop moppet Hatsune Miku is, fine, perhaps a bit jarring, but this is exactly the sort of screeching tonal shift that you all come here for, right? RIGHT! Mikutap is an awful lot of fun, and makes surprisingly great noises (presuming your tolerance for Helium-vocaled bubblegum Jpop is reasonably high, that is). Click ‘start’ and then either click and drag the mouse or hammer the keyboard and listen as the software churns out some honestly really rhythmic results. Honestly, given the right sort of crowd you could probably play this live and people would mistake it for actual music - the software does a superb job of turning even my hamfisted keybashing into something halfway-pleasing, and the sort of visual synth effect which visually accompanies it is pretty cool too. This is rather a lot of fun, although your colleagues may disagree as you segue into hour three of your own impromptu Japanelectro gig.
- Rescue Time: We all love animals, don’t we? Those cute, fluffy animals we see on the internet, with their fur and their tails and their irrepressible spirit and their ability to distract us for literally minutes at a time from the general overwhelming horror of everything! What’s even better than animals on the internet? ANIMALS IN REAL LIFE! Sadly not everyone has the time, or the inclination, to look after a pet full-time, which is where Rescue Time comes in - a service which lets you rent pets either by the hour or overnight like the whores they are! You can - and I am not making this up, I promise - order a bundle of 5 puppies to come and hang out at your office for an afternoon, and then just send them away again when they start doing annoying things like needing a crap or needing to be fed. This is…look, I am not really an animal lover - they’re fine, ok, and obviously my girlfriend’s cat is a really special little guy, and I obviously don’t want them to be hurt, but give me a choice between animals and people and, well, I’m choosing the faceless anonymity of the internet every time, obs - but this is SUCH an appalling idea. What about the kittens? What about the puppies, with their sad eyes, all in love with you, their latest temporary parent, til you CRUELLY REJECT THEM and send them back to their cage in the kennels. This feels very much like A Bad Thing, but that ought to be no barrier to seeing an analogue service launching in London in Q119.
- The Spirit’s Lair: You remember a few months ago I featured an MIT AI-ish experiment which used machine learning to doctor photos by removing certain elements; it was a bit shonky, but the idea was rather interesting and resulted in some rather cool visual effects when the system’s photoshoppery went a bit wonky. This site is an offshoot of that project, which collects some of the best, slightly creepy, OH GOD THERE’S A GHOST IN THE MACHINE-type images thrown up by the software; here’s the high concept, should you care: “Object removal algorithims have been getting a lot of attention lately. By removing people from images, they have concerned people about automated censorship, changed the way we think about digital media, and even spurred a cultural movement surrounding the aesthetics of absence. By training a generative deep neural network on thousands of images people provided all over the world, we conjure phantasms into being. In doing so, we commemorate those missing via algorithmic omission.” So there.
- Vipassana: What could be more 2018 than a website to digitally guide you through a classib Buddhist system of meditation? Vipassana is a site which is meant to assist you in undertaking...uh...Vipassana meditation, in which, as far as I can tell (it may surprise you to learn that meditation’s not really my thing, and overall I am roughly as spiritual as an ashtray) your goal is to empty your mind or to notice everything around you or somesuch jazz. The idea is that you sit and you focus on - oh, sod it, here’s their explanation: “The core principle of Vipassana is not to expect anything and accept everything. Experiences come and go. This principle is called 'Equanimity', and it requires you not to crave pleasant experiences, and not try to avoid the unpleasant ones. You should only see the reality the way it is at any given moment.The experiences that you notice can be your body sensations, feelings or thoughts. They are represented in the practice window by eight symbols. Every time you notice an experience, click on its symbol. It can appear several times repeatedly, then just notice-click it several times.” So basically you sit and try not to think of stuff, but when you do think of stuff you have to click on a symbol. I have literally NO IDEA how this in any way helps with or improves the meditative experience, but if you think that this will help you acceleration along the path to Nirvana then, well, more power to you and OMMMMM and all that jazz.
- The Dating Brokers: Oh this is GREAT. “In May 2017 Tactical Tech and artist Joana Moll purchased 1 million online dating profiles for 136€ from USDate, a supposedly US-based company that trades in dating profiles from all over the globe. The batch of dating profiles we purchased included pictures (almost 5 million of them), usernames, e-mail addresses, nationality, gender, age and detailed personal information about all of the people who had created the profiles, such as their sexual orientation, interests, profession, thorough physical characteristics and personality traits.” The site’s fairly horrid, fine, but click through and you’ll be presented with a randomised set of criteria as an auction profile; another click and you’ll be presented with an anonymised selection of, say, blue-eyed, non-smoking social drinkers, whose profiles you can browse and explore whilst at the same time getting the creeping realisation that these really are commodities to be bought and sold by databrokers for whatever nefarious ends they choose. Which is, er, nice.
- Gra.in: On the one hand, these are rather beautiful; on the other, is there anything more toe-curlingly pretentious than the idea of buying a specially-constructed, one-off vintage phone housing for your home Alexa unit? No, no there is not. Still, if you’ve got a bunch of money to burn and a particular domestic aesthetic you’re striving for (one which involves an old rotary phone, in particular) then this might be PERFECT for you - you can’t buy anything on there at the moment, but there’s an option to reserve a coming creation if you have, er, over a grand to spend on a personal, Bezos-endorsed spying device.
- Krisp: Conference calls are horrid, aren’t they? Noone likes them, they’re incredibly inefficient, and you know that every time you speak everyone else is almost certainly putting you on mute and swearing repeatedly at everything you say (it’s true, you know, and they only do it to you). One of the only good things about them, in fact, is those rare occasions when someone’s working from home and you get an occasional comic insight into their real life as it impinges on their professional pose - a dog having an absolute mental fit with a chew toy, for example, or a child absent-mindedly singing to itself in the background. Now, though, you can eliminate all traces of human fallibility from your calls from home - Krisp is an app for desktop which magically eliminates background noise from your calls, leaving only your voice. Which, fine, I’m sure is probably pretty useful, but it’s NO FUN, is it? IS IT?
- 30 Years of American Anxieties: Another superb dataviz piece by The Pudding, this time analysing three decades of nationally-syndicated US agony aunt column Dear Abby and pulling out trends in the themes and issues that Americans have asked the titular Abby for advice on over the years. This is not only a fascinating snapshot of the changing mores of North American society, or a(nother) superb piece of data analysis and visualisation, but it’s also a massive archive of problem letters and, frankly, who doesn’t want to read a whole bunch of sex and relationship advice from the past? Well quite! This is genuinely fascinating, particularly in terms of mapping shifting attitudes towards LGBTx identity and sexuality through the late-20thC.
- Da Vinci’s Drawmaton: Of all Leonardo’s sketches and inventions, which one would you most like to see made real? It’s the helicopter, isn’t it, closely followed by the submarine or the tank. Sadly, though, this Kickstarter is only offering you the ability to back Da Vinci’s design for an autonomous drawing machine, the ‘Drawmaton’ - still, though, it looks rather cool. The Drawmaton is basically a wooden, programmable robot and is a neat summation of the man’s genius; the maths here is astonishing. The idea is that by placing differently-shaped gears into the mechanism you can make it draw an infinite number of different designs; the Kickstarter also includes software to design your own, eventually 3d-printable or laser-cuttable, new gear designs, turning the kit into a theoretically-infinite toy. If you’re an artist, designer or mathswonk you might rather like this, though personally I’m not 100% convinced of the aesthetic they’ve gone for her (everyone’s a critic, eh?).
- Emoji Builder: You might have seen this already this week, but if not then WELCOME to the exciting world of building your own emoji! Yeah! Fcuk you, Unicode Consortium with your rules and strictures around what is and isn’t emoji canon! This is a lot of fun, if a bit fiddly, and even just hitting ‘randomise’ will throw up some interestingly ridiculous results. You can save your creations as a PNG file, so feel free to make your own signature emoji and plaster it all over your Stories and suchlike in a desperate, pathetic attempt to create a visual brand for yourself that noone will ever acknowledge or care about.
- The Depolarisation Project: FULL DISCLOSURE: I know Alison Goldsworthy, one of the people behind this, a little bit, but I would have featured this regardless as, well, it’s a good idea. The Depolarisation Project is a new initiative seeking to provide resources and thinking around how best to foster dialogue between conflicting perspectives and opinions and to work to break through filter bubbles. It’s an interesting and valuable field of enquiry, and a potentially hugely useful repository of resources for communication, both political and otherwise.
- Project Foodie: A N Other cookery app, but this one has the gimmick that all the recipes and guides are prepared and presented by actual chef Daniel Holzman, who is rather dispiritingly referred to as a ‘celebrity’ as though that makes his mashed potato any better. Still, if you can deal with the slightly-grating North American enthusiasm and tone this doesn’t look like a bad way of slightly professionalising your food - although if the look of the bloke is anything to go by, you’ll be sick to fcuking death of recipes for steak by month two (look, he just SCREAMS ‘sous vide machine’ to me, I don’t know about you).
- Sweet Escape: Despite the name, this isn’t in fact some sort of bespoke, artisanal euthanasia service - instead, it’s a platform that connects travellers with professional photographers in their destination country, with the idea being that you can book a local snapper to take photos of your once in a lifetime trip, thereby a) giving you some very high-end images that you can post to your social feeds to confuse your friends as to why you had a professional photographer following you around on holiday; and b) making you feel better about your massive, throbbing ego through supporting local workers. This isn’t a dreadful idea, but at $2-500 per two-hour session it’s certainly not cheap - still, your mates’ minds will be BLOWN at the idea of a photo of you that’s not a fcuking selfie so, you know, cough up.
- Italic: This is an interesting idea. Italic is a service which purports to let you buy directly from factories which ordinarily fulfil orders for luxury brands - so, the thinking is, you can get a Birkin-quality bag, with none of the branding or labelling, at a fraction of the cost (BUT WHAT’S THE POINT IF NOONE CAN TELL HOW MUCH IT SHOULD HAVE COST YOU???). Details are a touch on the sketchy side, and it’s yet to launch officially, but the premise seems solid - worth signing up with your work email, just in case.
- The Worst Toy in the World: You lot with children may already be aware of this - those of you without kids might be as shocked as me to discover that someone actually green-lit this idea. Whoever invented this absolutely hates parents - honestly, if you want a present that will absolutely ruin the Christmas of any family you bestow it upon, this is for you. Meet the ‘Yellies’, a small, slightly cute, ,motorised spider toy on wheels which, if that description wasn’t enough to give you the fantods, operates like this - the louder the noises you make, the faster Yellie moves - yes, that’s right, it’s a toy aimed at small kids that actively encourages them to shout and scream. I mean, WHICH DARK MIND CONCEIVED OF THIS?! There is no way in hell that this isn’t going to lead to some...spirited arguments as the sugar highs hit, mid-morning, on the 25th. Honestly, if you, like me, are a godparent, I suggest you stock up on these and ensure that you never get invited to another child’s birthday party ever again.
THE SECTION WHICH DOESN’T NORMALLY ADVOCATE VIOLENCE BUT WOULD REALLY, REALLY ENJOY GIVING MICHAEL GOVE A KICK, PT.2:
- The Corporate Song Library: Thanks to Josh for drawing this to my attention - this is a stock audio library which, it transpires, has the most incredible selection of corporate Muzak you will ever have seen in your life. Just click the link and browse the titles and feel your soul shredding itself into tiny particles as you do so. I suggest you all take a moment to pick the title that speaks most to you, and then use it as the soundtrack to a moment of meditation at your desk (you may want to return to the Vipassani thing from earlier, go on). What will you choose? Corporate Mood? Maybe Corporate Joy is more your speed? How about High-Pressure Presentation? This is...incredible. What a world we live in.
- The Kinetic Clock: A Kickstarter seeking funds for a rather beautiful-looking wall clock, which changes shape throughout the day and works as a sort of part-timepiece, part-sculpture hybrid. It’s just ticked past its goal with a month left, and the prototype on the site does look very lovely indeed - although at nearly £500, it probably ought to. Still, if you work in a particular type of agency, expect this to turn up on one of your walls in due course (this isn’t a criticism, you understand, it’s just that the aesthetic does rather scream ‘digital design shop’).
- Stickermaker: Or, to give it its full title, Sticker Maker for Whatsapp - this lets you take any photo from your camera roll, isolate elements of it and cut it out and then use the subsequent cutout as a Sticker in Whatsapp. Totally pointless, but the opportunity to troll your family by using their faces as stickers in all your conversations in the Christmas group chat is surely too tantalising to ignore.
- Google Webdev: A TEDIOUSLY PRACTICAL LINK, for which apologies - still, if any of you are dabblers in webdev, this might be rather useful. This is a Beta service from Google which is designed to help developers learn the latest techniques and protocols which will help with site speed, ranking and the like - I mean, this isn’t fun or very Curios-ish at all, but if one of you find it useful then it’s probably worth it. God, I’m so selfless, aren’t I? So good.
- Persuasive Cartography: When is a map not a map? When it has a secondary objective aside from the geographical, and it effectively acts as some sort of propaganda tool (except, obviously, it’s still a map even then, meaning this opening sentence really hasn’t worked at all which is rather embarrassing), exactly like the examples collected here in this digitised archive from Cornell University. “This is a collection of “persuasive” cartography: more than 800 maps intended primarily to influence opinions or beliefs - to send a message - rather than to communicate geographic information. The collection reflects a variety of persuasive tools , including allegorical, satirical and pictorial mapping; selective inclusion; unusual use of projections, color, graphics and text; and intentional deception. Maps in the collection address a wide range of messages: religious, political, military, commercial, moral and social.” Honestly, this is FASCINATING - the propaganda on display here is quite incredible.
- Stretcher Railings: This is one of the best ‘wow, London history is GREAT’ things I’ve seen in a while, and made me very happy indeed. If you live in South London you might have noticed some of the mid-20thC estates have this sort of weird grated fenced railing system on the walls around them - this site explains that those are in fact recycled metal stretchers that were used around the city during the Second World War, which were repurposed in peacetime and made part of social housing developments. There’s a map of the known sites of said railings on the site, and whilst they’re probably not worth a dedicated pilgrimage you might want to take a look in case there are any near you to take a quick look at next time you’re passing.
- All The Fallouts: You will need to know a bit about the videogame series ‘Fallout’ to appreciate this, but if you have the requisite knowledge then you will like it very much. To mark the release of the latest title in the series, Fallout 76, the gaming website Rock Paper Shotgun commissioned Twitter funnyman Nate ‘Frog Croakley’ Crowley to write a series of Tweets imagining all the lost Fallout titles between the last game to be released (Fallout 4) and this one. 71 beautifully-imagined nonexistent games, each a perfectly-realised little story in its own right, some of these are just PERFECT - I mean, really: “Fallout 12 was particularly noteworthy, as the only way to play was to insert the disc in a chimp’s mouth & look into the creature’s eyes, while softly holding its hands as controllers. Nobody will say what they saw in the eyes of the ape, but it changed them all.” Man’s a genius.
- Stoner: Stoner, as may have been able to surmise, is a podcast about weed. Personally speaking I can’t think of anything more boring than listening to people drawl on about the relative merits of indica vs sativa, but if you’re more invested in the mechanics of getting stoned than I am then you might find something of interest in here.
- Listen Later: This is potentially very useful - take any YouTube video and turn its audio into a podcast that you can listen to later. Given the number of YT vids which literally just consist of someone shouting into a camera whilst mugging desperately, I can very much see the appeal here.
- The Beatboxing Project: I used to be sort of vaguely interested in beatboxing, and then modernity happened in which everyone seems to think that they can do it, and Tottenham Court Road is regularly annexed by people quite literally spitting everywhere whilst attached to an outsize PA system and calling it ‘busking’ (just because you can really doesn’t mean you should). Still, despite its current status as the musical equivalent of white men with dreadlocks, the technical aspect of the skill is still pretty fascinating - The Beatboxing Project features a whole load of videos of people doing specific beatboxing tricks and techniques whilst in an MRI scanner, so you can see exactly the sort of mad laryngal contortions they’re making whilst, I don’t know, mimicking the sound of a pneumatic drill. Really, really quite gross - there’s no way you can look at this and not think to yourself “God, I really am made of meat, aren’t I?” - but equally really compelling.
- Stan Lee in Photos: I personally never had any interest in Superhero comics, but, regardless, Stan Lee was a pretty remarkable 20thC cultural figure - the list of genuinely world-famous characters he created is remarkable, as is their longevity, although it’s also weird to think back to the 80s and even 90s when they were still considered the preserve of nerds and manchildren rather than being the all-encompassing money factory cultural juggernaut they are since become. Anyway, this is a lovely selection of photos of Lee through the years, collected by Buzzfeed in celebration of his life and work; he looks like a man who had a lot of fun.
- The Megalithic Portal: Do YOU want a map of megalithic sites around the UK, Europe and the world? Would YOU like to plan all the places you can visit to find dinosaur bones with your young children? GREAT! The sort of thing you can use to plan elaborate half-term fossil-spotting trips with your dino-obsessed kids as a distraction technique, which is what I imagine parenting is basically like.
- Squoosh: A VERY dull but also very, very useful and user-friendly image compression and resizing website. Honestly, this is a piece of p1ss to use and doesn’t appear to attempt to infect you with malware at all, which is a nice surprise when it comes to this sort of site.
- Audioburst Search: This is potentially very useful indeed - effectively Google for podcasts, this lets you search for topics within podcasts and online news broadcasts, with apparently over 1000 sources being scanned and tagged and cut daily. Obviously the downside to this - the downside with all podcasts, etc - is that once you’ve spat out the results you still have to listen to the bastrd things to find out what’s being said and if the results are relevant, which strikes me as being violently inefficient - still, might be worth having a play.
- Decopix: Billed as ‘The Art Deco Architecture Site’, this is a wonderful archive of photos and information on the art deco movement in architecture, Nothing fancy, just a lot of great photos and commentary on art deco buildings from around the world.
- Unlikely Likes: An excellent Twitter feed curated by Anya (whose surname I’m unsure of and so won’t guess at) which highlights the occasionally surprising ‘Likes’ from celebrity Twitter accounts. Who knew that Leo Sayer was so into bongo? Who knew Sir David Attenborough wasn’t a fan of Hillary? So much to learn. This is GREAT, and definitely worth a follow.
- Cool Videogames: SO GREAT - A Twitter thread in which games developers share screenshots or gifs of whatever cool thing they are working on at the moment. Scroll down and marvel at the sheer breadth of style, visual and ludic, on display here, the creativity and the skill and imagination and WOW these make me very excited about the future of the medium in a non-AAA sense.
- Trolling Air Traffic Control: Did you know that there are videogames which people play in which they roleplay being commercial air pilots with other people online? Did you know that in those games you can pretend to be an air traffic controller? No, you didn’t, did you? This is a genuinely brilliant video in which the creator gently messes with the wider pilot-simulating community to increasingly surreal effect; honestly, however unappealing this premise is I promise you that you will laugh to the point of tears here (or, er, you will if you’re me).
- Pretzel After Dark: Have you ever wanted to play a videogame which effectively sets you up to play two-player naked sex-Twister with a partner? Yes, of course you have, and now you can! Pretzel After Dark is a browser game in which you and a partner get yourself into various contortions and, well, see what happens. ELBOW TO BUTT! CROTCH TO FACE! Pleasingly, it’s accompanied by illustrations depicting what you’re meant to be doing - you can choose whether the illustrations are clothed or naked, and everything’s very queer positive, and I think you should pick someone at work to play this with RIGHT NOW. GO!
- Dime Trap: Rapper TI recently released his 10th studio album, and this is the accompanying website and WOW is it shiny and WOW is it RICH WITH CONTENT, with TI telling you a bunch of stories about his life and times, how he’s got to where he is, all that sort of jazz. Some of the stories are more interesting than others, and there’s a hefty dose of hiphop braggadoccio in all of this, but the site is beautifully-made (if a little processor-heavy, and the way the album tracks integrate with the voice-over is really nicely done, presenting a proper audio-collage and creating quite an intimate sense of atmosphere. The real reason I’m including this, though, is because of the bit right at the start when TI’s explaining the concept behind the site and then explains the UI and says ‘drag around to explore the artwork, thass’how you use this sh1t’ in a proper gangster drawl and, honestly, I nearly wet myself laughing.
THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!
- Pixels Huh: Probably not a Tumblr! Still, it’s the site of pixel artist Octavi Navarro, whose work is lovely, so you should click and enjoy it anyway, taxonomy be damned.
- Puzzle Montages: Also not a Tumblr! Jesus, I’m not even trying any more. Anyway, “Jigsaw puzzle companies tend to use the same cut patterns for multiple puzzles. This makes the pieces interchangeable, and I sometimes find that I can combine portions from two or more puzzles to make a surreal picture that the publisher never imagined. I take great pleasure in “discovering” such bizarre images lying latent, sometimes for decades, within the pieces of ordinary mass-produced puzzles.” Honestly, these are GREAT.
- Witch IO: Tumblr collecting the browser games and interactive fiction of star of the scene Anna Anthropy, whose works explore love, romance, gender identity, mental health and all sorts of other things. Loads of really good stuff in here, particularly if you’re an IF enthusiast.
THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!:
- Martin Rosner: Martin Rosner draws small, funny comics. You will enjoy them, and they will make your Instagram feed marginally less cnuty.
- Extraweg: The work of digital artist and animator Oliver Latta whose work on Insta tends towards the pepto-bismol pink bodyhorror, and which is infinitely better (read: worse) if you experience it with the sound up.
- Pattie Gonia: Literally EVERYWHERE this week, Pattie Gonia is your new favourite hiking queen, making every effort to look fabulous even when halfway up a foggy mountain. In heels and Daisy Dukes. You can read more about the character and her alter ego here, but in general these are just immensely pleasing, hugely queer shots.
- Colin Raff: Because you almost certainly don’t follow enough accounts which post creepy, cut-out-style animations which look a bit like Terry Gilliam crossed with Cyriak.
LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:
- That Facebook Story: In the UK at least this one’s been a bit buried this week by all the excellent news about Brexit; if it passed you by, it’s very much worth a read. The actual story here is basically ‘large corporation pays communications consultants a hefty whack to mitigate against the beating its reputation is taking’, in essence, with the Soros smearing stuff actually a very small part of the piece; it’s a great piece of reporting overall, and the picture of Zuckerberg and Sandberg’s leadership styles that emerges is fascinating. Honestly, though, what do people think large companies are doing when they hire political consultants and reputation management firms, ffs? Oh, if you’re interested you can read Facebook’s response statement here - it’s, per much of their official communication when addressing corporate issues, not great.
- Meet Noah Harari: A fascinating profile of Noah Harari, Israeli thinker and current darling of Silicon Valley, whose pronouncements are sought by the 1% tech-utopianists out there in California to somehow bring meaning and purpose to their billion-chasing existences. As ever with these sorts of profiles and people, you get the impression that Harari is a perfectly smart and reasonable person who’s possibly had his head turned a bit by having all these billionaires paying him violent amount of cash to act as their outsourced ethical avatar - there’s a line in the piece, in which he reflects on Brave New World and wonders whether the majority of people in the Valley would see it as less of a piece of dystopian fiction and more of a picture of how a perfect civilisation would look, which is genuinely a bit chilling, and made me think perhaps he needs to work a bit harder to, well, change their minds about that.
- China’s AI-Training Children: Children are infinitely imaginative and creative, unfettered as they are by the tedious chains of adult responsibility. Children are also fundamentally cruel and sadistic creatures who will happily revel in the suffering of others. Combine these two traits and what do you have? The new programme being put in place by the Chinese government, in which 31 ‘intelligent and patriotic’ teenagers will be trained in AI development with the express intention of then being fast-tracked to work on the development of autonomous weapons systems. “This is the first university programme in the world designed to aggressively and strategically encourage the next generation to think, design and deploy AI for military research and use.” This sounds….fine, doesn’t it? Definitely totally fine. Stop letting your kid watch Sarah and Duck (“SARAH AND DUCK! SARAH, AND DUCK!”) and start them reading Jane’s Defence Systems, quick smart.
- How The YouTube Algorithm Really Works: Or, more accurately, some reasonably well-founded speculation about how the YouTube algorithm really works, based on some recent research by Pew - this looked at the recommended videos suggested across a wide range of individual instances and analysed the findings to occasionally interesting and surprising effect. This included YouTube’s propensity to recommend longer rather than shorter videos, and its propensity to suggest content which has already proven popular on the platform. Nothing HUGELY surprising in here, but if your job involves ‘trying to make people watch stuff online’ then you might want to have a read of this.
- This Is All Trump Has Left: Yes, I promise, I’m bored of reading about him too, but this is an honestly great piece of writing which drips with pleasing anger and disdain and is well-written to boot; “He won’t stop because he’s never told the truth in his life and because this is all he has and all he has ever had. He wakes up every day to the mess he’s made and says and does whatever he must, at whatever cost, to get through the day. Like many in his generation, Trump has mistaken the end of his life for the end of the world. He can’t imagine, let alone care about, what will be left after he is gone, if only because no one who matters to him will be around for it. His politics, such as they exist, boil down to this: he is trying to hold on, and will spend the rest of his life trying not to be found out.” Feels plausible, right?
- Meet the Nanoinfluencers: Not, apparently, a joke, this NYT piece looks at what it claims is the next (final?) frontier in influencer marketing, to whit the ‘nanoinfluencer’, someone with a very average number of followers on social and yet who can still command a fee from brands in exchange for shilling some tat to their 1500 followers. I know that the young are famously unconcerned with a life lived entirely through transactional interactions with brands, but, in all seriousness, if you’re a normal persona and start peppering your socials with #ad and #spon and exhortations to try Vileda supermops (I have no idea if Vileda do nanoinfluencer campaigns, but, frankly, if you want to pay me £100 to tell a few thousand people about how much I love wiping down my kitchen then I am ALL EARS) then, well, won’t all your friends start to hate you very quickly indeed? Isn’t this basically like the people who spend all their time on Facebook peddling pyramid schemes and the like? If everyone has sold out, is it even selling out any more? WHY DOES NO CNUT WANT TO PAY ME TO SHILL THEIR TAT?
- That Iceland Advert: An excellent WIRED article explaining exactly how that Iceland campaign worked, why the advert was banned, and why Iceland knew exactly what it was doing. I was grudgingly impressed by the activation and the results, but to suggest that it’s anything other than a transparent ripoff of the Greenpeace / WWE playbook is a bit naive.
- Welcome to Riace: There are many sad aspects to the current political situation in Italy, but they’re all encapsulated in the story of Riace, the town which a couple of years ago was helped up as a model of how a country such as Italy can integrate and assist migrants arrived in extremis. Riace’s mayor was lauded for his efforts in building a relationship between migrants and the existing local community, and in demonstrating to a country not renowned for its multiethnic integration that immigration, specifically non-white immigration, could be a positive thing for all parties. Then Matteo Salvini became Home Secretary and, as part of the culture wars, saw fit to try and dismantle Riace and diminish its status as a beacon of hope for the left. This piece looks at the degree to which he’s succeeded; it’s a heartbreaking article in may respects, not least the evident despair felt by the mayor who’s found himself an unwitting and largely unwilling international figurehead when all he wants to do is get on and carry on with his job.
- How London Became the Capital of the World: This is a fascinating piece in National Geographic, presenting a very positive view of booming London, international financial capital and exciting home for the global super rich. It very much glosses over all the stuff that isn’t really working so well - the housing crisis gets sort of glossed over, as does the subsequent draining of all ‘real’ people from the centre of the city - but it takes great pains to point out how incredibly shiny and new and BIG stuff is. Honestly bizarre, it makes me wonder which PR agency placed this and on behalf of whom.
- Manchester: A Review: By way of stark contrast, this piece is by a US coder/writer/geek Devon Zuegel, who recently spent a Friday night in Manchester and wrote of her experience on her blog. Bless Devon, she seems genuinely bemused by the drinking - not so much shocked or disapproving as genuinely baffled as to why people would get themselves into this state, or indeed how. There’s something sort of sweet about the naivete on display here, if perhaps a touch Pollyannaish; is...is this really what we look like to the outside world? It is, isn’t it? Jesus.
- Podcasts and Slippery Storytelling: This is a great piece, looking at the development of podcasts as a medium, their incredible growth in popularity, and the rather odd way in which they can sometimes approach truth and fact as part of their storytelling. It’s very good on the peculiar qualities that podcasts possess which can make them odd vectors of fact and opinion, in particular the narrative styles and devices employed by Serial et al which create all sorts of ambiguity which can occasionally feel a bit irresponsible and misleading.
- The Band Who Played to Noone: You have probably heard this story already this week - if not, though, enjoy the honestly remarkable tale of Jared Threatin and his eponymously-named band, who ended up playing a gig to just three people in Manchester recently, in the culmination of what is a very odd tale of bought likes, fake video views and, depending on your point of view, performance art or mental illness. Threatin broke his silence yesterday to suggest that it was all part of an ELABORATE GAME - and, to one extent, he has ‘won’, given we all now know who he is and, if you’re me, have listened to some of his ‘music’ (really, don’t bother). In the main, though, you get the impression that Jared has very much lost.
- No Nut November: I found myself trying to explain this to people with whom I occasionally share an office last week; it wasn’t fun. Instead, let the New Statesman guide you through the oddity that is No Nut November, the online movement which, for reasons unsurprisingly born out of weirdo misogyny because, well, what isn’t in 2018?!, requires its adherents to go without ejaculating (alone or in company) for the entire month of November. Combining weird 4chan men’s rights stuff, massive bongo companies and Burger King, this is my new go-to article to point people at when they want an example of the pervasiveness of weird internet culture. Also, lads, just go and have a wank, eh? You’ll feel better.
- The Sex Recession: A nice companion piece to the above, this piece in the Atlantic has received a lot of attention this week - it looks at possible reasons for the statistically-reported fall in the average rate of sexual activity amongst humans over the past decade or so, covering dating apps, bongo and the like. There’s a lot in here, and nothing in the way of definitive conclusion, but there were a couple of bits that stood out in particular, not least the observation that it wasn’t libido that was decreasing so much as the need to have another person involved when you reach orgasm. Put simply, we just can’t be bothered to deal with anyone else when we want to get off, suggesting we may well eventually become the first species in history to extinguish itself because we’re too annoying to procreate with.
- The Ballpoint Pen: You might not think that the history of the commercial launch of the ballpoingt pen in the US would be a thrilling read, but you would be WRONG - this is great, and full of daring corporate skullduggery and some truly classic examples of advermarketingpr, from the days in which you really could get away with saying anything, regardless of truth value, to flog a pen.
- An Oral History of Nirvana Unplugged: If you’re in your late-30s you will almost certainly have owned a copy of this on CD, and rightly so as it is a cracking record. This is a beautifully-compiled oral history of its recording, packed with great anecdotes and reminiscences; an excellent reason to dig it out again.
- The World’s Most Sadistic Endurance Race: I included a piece about teh Barclay Marathon, a truly MENTAL marathon-type endeavour in the US, a few years back, and had forgotten about it entirely til I read this piece, about a similar race organised by the same man. Big’s Backyard Ultra sounds simple - it’s a 4-mile outdoor course, which competitors must compete within an hour. And then again. And again. And again. Every hour. They do this NON-STOP until noone can move any more. This piece is a profile of Courtney Dauwalter, a woman who, honestly, sounds like the hardest person in the world and who I would not want to enter into an endurance contest with - honestly, you will read this and feel exhausted and in pain by proxy, it is INSANE.
- How To Make Your Dog Famous: Or, how to become a manager for influencer pets. Except, sadly, it’s not actually a how-to guide, otherwise like fcuk would I be sitting here writing this, I’d be running a successful stable of Purina-peddling Weimaraners or something. Still, if you want to read about the genuinely bizarre and slightly appalling world of pets on Instagram, go right ahead; contains gems such as “Pets can’t work as many hours as a human. They need breaks, they get tired, and so we have to explain that to brands all the time. “No, the dog can’t do a five-hour meet-and-greet!” Sometimes, it also takes longer to create content because you can’t communicate with the dog to tilt their head this way. They’re not as human as we think.” Jesus, he wept.
- The Old Testament of Sonic The Hedgehog: In a week in which the web got all excited (and is it me, or did it also get weirdly thirsty?) about Detective Pikachu, let’s remember another oldschool gaming icon - Sonic the Hedgehog has been around for years, and through many iterations, but did you know that throughout his existence he has been underpinned by a canonical backstory, detailing his upbringing and family history, his early years, the genesis of Dr Robotnik, the works? I bet you didn’t, and I bet you had NO IDEA how honestly mad the whole thing is. It is, you know, it is VERY mad.
- When A Scar Is A Choice: On the body and physicality, and carrying memory on you forever through the scars you’ve chosen to acquire. This is a lovely piece of writing, particularly for any of you with a background in sports or athletics.
- Lessons from the Last Swiss Finishing School: This is SO GOOD. Ever wondered what it’s like to go to finishing school, what you’ll learn, who you’ll share a classroom with? Wonder no longer! This is honestly superbly written, with just enough gentle mockery throughout; honestly, though, this really is another world. I wish I would ever have cause to know what the accepted topics of conversation would be when at a formal dinner with a Nigerian diplomat (DON’T MENTION BENIN!).
- An Axe for the Frozen Sea: On being a woman, being angry, and throwing axes. This is superb, and the best prose I’ve read all week - it is a very cathartic read, too, so if you’ve spent this week staring at politicians on television and screaming “WHY IS EVERY SINGLE ONE OF YOU SUCH A SPECTACULAR CNUT?!?” then you might find it helpful.
By Vivian Maier
AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUND!:
- This is the most incredible magic trick I have seen in years. Honestly, I never like this sort of thing but it’s quite remarkable:
2) This is by ‘Selling’, which is someone from Simian Mobile Disco, I think, along with...er...someone else. It’s called ‘Dicker’s Dream’ and it’s a really rather excellent slice of slightly tense ambient electro: