47 minutes reading time (9438 words)

Web Curios 17/01/20

Web Curios 17/01/20

Hi everyone! Hi! Have we all returned to normal now? Worked off the Christmas pounds and returned our cheekbones to their previous razor-sharpness, sloughed off the excess of comfort and returned to fighting fitness, ready to take on everything 2020 can throw at us and more besides?

No, me neither to be honest - can we all go back to the safe, slightly-yeasty fug of the perineum, please? No? FFS. FINE. If we must continue onwards through the blasted, rain-slicked lowlands of the new year then at least perhaps we can do it together. Take me by my hand - or at least what you assume is my hand; whatever, grasp the proferred, fleshy multidactylate lump and come with me as we venture deep into the Dantean horror that is this week's web. I'm your Poundland Virgil, and what follows is a slow descent through innumerable circles of hell - Sartre was right, it really is other people. 

Welcome to Web Curios - it's designed to make you feel better

By Sam Weber

LET’S KICK OFF WITH THIS EXCELLENT AND VERY, VERY LONG MIX OF BANGERS CURATED BY WRONGTOM!

THE SECTION WHICH WOULD LIKE TO ASK EACH AND EVERY ONE OF YOU WHO HAS EVER HAD A CONVERSATION ABOUT HOW AI COULD ‘NEVER’ REPLACE HUMAN CREATIVES TO READ THE PITCHES CHURNED OUT BY THE ADWEEK SUPERBOWL BOT AND, AS YOU DO, TO ‘ENJOY’ THE CREEPING SENSATION UP THE BACK OF YOUR NECK AS YOU COME TO THE COLD, FINAL REALISATION THAT OUR DAYS IN THIS STUPID PROFESSION REALLY ARE NUMBERED:

  • Facebook Offers New Video Traffic Insights: You want a better idea of where your views are coming from on Facebook? I mean, other than ‘people on Facebook’? Well, LUCKY YOU! You’ll now be able to see whether video views have originated from your Page’s followers, as a result of a users Sharing the video to their friends, whether it was due to a ‘recommendation’ from a Facebook algo (‘Next Up’ video card, for example, or featured in Facebook Watch), or whether it was as a result of paid promotion. More for getting a better, more granular understanding of exactly how your audience is ‘enjoying’ your content rather than being a new, seismic set of ad features, but still potentially useful if you really, really care about this stuff - work out what content gets most views through shares, mechanically identify every single potential variable quality that video has, A/B test each quality in future videos to see what works best, optimise the fcuk out of everything, get more views, wonder what the point of all of this is anyway.
  • Insta Testing Desktop DMs: Of very little interest to anyone other than community managers, who will, if they are anything like me, relish the ability to type messages to irate punters on an ACTUAL KEYBOARD rather than on a bloody phone. No word on exactly when this will be with everyone, but probably ‘soonish’. As an aside (which I think comes up in one of the longreads later in some way, iirc), it very much feels like the next big online generational schism will be between old people like me who like ‘big’ (ie non-mobile) computing/browsing, and younger people who are all mobile-uber-alles; there will come a point at which I know most new digital experiences are going to be mobile first, and at which I will start to feel like an antediluvian, sausagefingered lummox shouting at the sky about how things just work better with a proper keyboard ffs. So it goes.
  • Boomerang Launches New Creative Features: One of the best things about TikTok is the quality and ease-of-use of the in-app editing features; honestly, one of the most incredible things about the past 20 years has been watching the democratisation of video production tools and people’s growing ability to make stuff on their phones which would have taken days of studio time and a proper editing rig to create back in the early 00s. Anyway, Insta’s launching a few new toys for its ‘Boomerang’ video tool, letting you run them in slowmo, with motion blur, or with some sort of slightly digital-ish filter on it - you can read more here about how to access them, should you wish to. I wonder how weird / deep-fried this stuff can get if you multiply apply these, export / save out the video and then overlayer the resulting video with other sets of effects, ad infinitum? There’s almost certainly a nicely messed-up aesthetic you could arrive at with a bit of effort.
  • TikTok’s Misinformation Rules: Included mainly to point out, again, just how bad Facebook’s equivalent statement from last week was (in case you missed, it, here). See, Mark, TikTok maybe a Chinese Trojan horse seeking to covertly steal the faces of all good US citizens as part of the terrifying communist plot to eventually enslave America by creating robot clones of all teenagers and slowly-but-surely using them to infiltrate and take over the nation, but at least they can write a sensible policy on deepfakes, lies and misinformation.
  • When Brand Banter Goes Wrong: Do you remember when Disney formally launched Disney+ and they had this sort-of cute, sort-of nauseating ‘thing’ on Twitter where all the various sub-brands and franchises that were coming to the service chimed in and had a ‘conversation’ with each other? No? WHY AM I CONDEMNED TO RECALL THIS STUFF FFS???? Anyway, Facebook joined Twitter the other day (as in, the specific Facebook app rather than the parent brand - do keep up) and attempted something vaguely similar with all of the other products chipping in to welcome it to the platform (even typing this is giving me huge, awkward fantods, to be clear) and oh god it’s just so, so embarrassing. Please, please, please, unless you’re the owner of a massive stable of the most popular entertainment franchises in the world, don’t attempt to do this cutesy ‘let’s all pretend to be brands having a chat’ thing ever again. And even then, think twice.
  • The Adweek Superbowl Bot: Really, this is so, so good. One of the big trends of the past decade or so in advertising is that now everyone in the Western world is obligated to pretend to give a fcuk about the annual orgy of spending that is the Superbowl ad break jamboree, pretending that it’s the absolute pinnacle of creative endeavour in advermarketingpr when in reality it’s about 15% that and 85% ‘let’s spend all the budget on a famous and / or some CGI, and double down on whatever the internet thinks is ‘relatably surreal’ this year!’. Enter Adweek: “perhaps you’ve looked at how famously formulaic most Super Bowl ads are, with their celebrity cameos, animal hijinks and inspirational voice-overs, and questioned whether a machine could generate an ad idea that would fit right in. Enter Adweek’s Super Bowl Bot, a text-generating AI trained on nearly 3,000 descriptions of Super Bowl ads—134,000 words in total, so far—sourced from around the web”. This uses the now-ubiquitous GPT-2 AI text generator as its base, and, whilst there is obviously quite a lot of human curation of the output going on, the results are glorious. I mean, honestly, let me just pick one at random - here, look, this would TOTALLY get made: “An ad for Quaker Oats by Havas - A horse shows an uncanny resemblance between him and actor Anthony Hopkins. The two share a telepathic conversation about the quinoa in their cereal, and how it is in fact sustainably grown”. SEE??? That is totally plausible; I mean, in real life there would probably be a final line that reads “We pull out to see that Anthony Hopkins is wearing a Furry-style horse suit, but we can chalk that down to it being early days yet. Honestly, I’m uncertain whether I will see anything better from adland all year, this is golden.

By Ellen Von Wiegand

NEXT, A TRULY GREAT SET OF JAZZ, FUNK AND SOUL PULLED TOGETHER BY SHABAKA HUTCHINGS!

THE SECTION WHICH THINKS THAT THE ROYAL FAMILY IS MISSING A TRICK BY NOT ANNOUNCING A NATIONWIDE REALITY-TV-LED SEARCH FOR A NEW PAIR OF ROYALS TO REPLACE THE OUTGOING PAIR AND CALLING IT ‘THE SUSSEX FACTOR’, PT.1:

  • Connect BTS: Ordinarily I’d shy away from including something by one of the planet’s biggest musical acts, what with Web Curios’ raison d’etre being pointing you at weird, obscure stuff that isn’t already the subject of obsessive squealing from a literal army of teenagers, but this new project by Korean pop juggernaut BTS is exactly the sort of thing I’d be rhapsodising over were it instead created by an obscure witch house outfit from Dudley and so here it is. ‘Connect’ is BTS’s BIG ART PROJECT, all accompanied by some vague guff about wanting to CONNECT THE WORLD THROUG ART AND MUSIC, and which, more interestingly, is going to comprise 22 artists and works across five cities, presenting works both physical and digital. It’s...unclear the extent to which the individual members of BTS have been involved with this, and there’s much of the wording on the website which very miuch makes the whole project sound like the sort of thing that was invented in a marketing meeting rather than as a project born of artistic passion, but maybe I’m just being cynical - certainly, the first work, Catharsis, by Jakob Kudsk Steensen, which you can either see at the Serpentine Gallery or in its digital version here, is genuinely beautiful, and I’m curious to see what the other works are like and how they interconnect with each other - all my cynicism to one side, it’s hard to imagine One Direction having done this (though you know full well that Harry Styles has a full and impressive command of International Art English). Thanks to Alex Fleetwood for this, who emailed it to me and DEMANDED that I credit him.
  • Lovot: I know it’s only the second proper week of January, but I can already tell I’ll be hard-pressed to find anything more unsettling and vaguely-depressing all year - well done, 2020, it’s a STRONG START! Meet Lovot, a horrible portmanteau name combining ‘robot’ and ‘love’ for a smol, ambulant robot companion, who wants nothing more than to be loved by YOU! But, thank God, at least not in that sense - no, Lovot is all about the Agape rather than the Eros, a tiny wheeled robot that exists solely to be the recipient of its owners affection and to return that affection in kind, with its odd, fleece-y body and its dull eyes and its slow, wheeled gait. It’s a combination of motorised home assistant, complete with camera and microphone to act as a sort of ambulant domestic surveillance system, and teddy bear, which will actively seek out its owner, ask them for hugs, and even, if there’s more than one unit, get demonstrably ‘jealous’ if humans lavish more affection on one Lovot than another. I honestly can’t look at this without feeling deeply, immeasurably sad - I think it’s the Lovot’s face, or absence of one, just these huge eyes staring sadly up at you, designed to elicit emotions that it itself can never feel. Or maybe it’s the fact that the design and finish of the thing looks almost exactly like the model that would be used in the horror version of this, which starts out gentle but which picks up pace massively in the final third in which the Lovot gains sentience and the blood and gristle and hatred starts flying everywhere. I know that things like this are probably good for the old, the infirm and the lonely, and that they can fulfil a positive function in the lives of the elderly or infirm, but, honestly, the Lovot breaks my heart.
  • Doublicat: Create your own slightly-sh1t deepfakes, in an app, on your phone! This is quite shonky but sort-of fun, and as ever with this stuff you’ve probably got a short window before this sort of thing is baked into Insta, Snap et al directly and EVERYONE uses it, so here’s your chance to fill your stories with something NEW and DIFFERENT. The results are...well, crap, frankly, but sort-of funny in a ‘JESUS CHRIST WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO MY FACE??’ way, but I think the most interesting thing about this is how it proves quite neatly exactly what an incredible head-start the established tech platforms have when it comes to this stuff; the difference in quality between this and the stuff that Snap in particular puts out is like night and day, and one wonders slightly at the barriers to entry for any non-established players to enter into the video fx market. Or at least I do, funless pr1ck that I am.
  • Receptiviti: Things I have learned after two decades or so of work which I would like to pass on to the younger readers of Curios, part x of y: in 99% of workplaces, they really don’t monitor your internet access or email usage AT ALL, unless you give them good reason to think that they ought to - I mean, who has the time? Seriously, when I (briefly) worked for the Department for Work and Pensions I spent the last month leaking stories to the media from my work email address FFS. Or at least that used to be the case - now, though, thanks to the ineluctable march of AI (or at least stuff that’s being peddled by chancers as being AI, which is basically the same thing) bosses can buy services like Receptiviti and you’re fcuked, mate. This is a genuinely creepy service offered to businesses, which plugs into each and all of their systems (the Office Suite, Gmail, Slack, the Bloomberg terminal, etc) and offers large-scale analysis of ALL their employees’ communications across these platforms, employing sentiment and semantic analysis to monitor things like levels of stress, relationship qualities, etc, amongst the workforce. Anyone whose ever done any work at all with automated sentiment analysis (why HELLO social media monkeys!) will know exactly how crap it is, and will be feeling a very real sense of fear at the prospect of their future career trajectory being determined by a series of red and green pie charts. This sounds HORRIBLE, but is very much the future - it’s worth having a read of the ‘ethics’ section on the site, which makes it very, very clear that when it talks about ‘privacy’ it’s talking to employers about their data rather than to staff about their private correspondence, which is...nice. And yes, fine, I know that technically when you’re at work everything you type is owned by your paymaster but, well, no.
  • The Kickstarter Make It 100: Genuinely amazed that I’ve never spotted this before given it’s been going for a few years - I am a disgrace. The Maker 100 is a Kickstarter initiative, obviously a marketing gimmick but a nice one, designed to encourage people who’ve got a small, niche idea for a thing to have a go at getting a simple run of 100 editions funded on Kickstarter. Anything goes, from comic books to art to design to prints to mugs to stitching to cards, and the link up top takes you to the collected entries so far. If you’re not a maker yourself, this is still a pleasing selection of small, idiosyncratic projects to browse and maybe support; if, on the other hand, you’ve always wanted to do that craft thing then this might be the incentive you need to give it a go. The project runs til the end of January, so you’ve still got a couple of weeks to get involved if you fancy it.
  • Pet Playlists: Yes, I know that this is technically marketing for Spotify but it’s also silly and internetty and noone reads the first section and it would be a shame if this got missed as a result, hence its inclusion down here. Tell the site a few things about your pet (including the type of animal you have - weirdly they include ‘iguana’ as an option but not, say, ‘guinea pig’, which very much suggests that this was developed by a team in Brooklyn, but overall this is a pleasingly silly way of creating new playlists and discovering new artists (although weirdly the cat playlist I generated the other day didn’t include ANY of this, a particular favourite of my girlfriend’s (and her cat’s), suggesting its creators know NOTHING about feline tastes).
  • The Human Screenome Project: This is a really interesting idea - this is a Stanford University project which takes as its starting premise the idea that taking data about mobile usage in blocks (as in, “I spent 5 hours on my phone today, used these 7 apps and visited these 5 websites”) doesn’t actually tell you that much of use or interest, and that instead it’s more useful to take snapshots of how those 5 hours actually played out in realtime - how do you scroll, how do you switch between apps, how do you browse, and what can this data tell us about who you are and how your mobile use might affect you? Unscientifically this feels right; I don’t think its controversial to suggest that there are significant qualitative differences in the psychological effect of, say, spending 5 hours flipping between the Insta profiles of a series of mad-faced influencermongs vs spending those same 5 hours getting into increasingly ill-tempered arguments about local bin collection policies in the Crouch End Appreciation Society Facebook Group (they are both bad for you, to be clear). There’s one example of this sort of datacollection available on the site, and some information about the project, but it’s frustratingly light on practical examples - still, it’s a really interesting line of thought / research.
  • Teaching Machines to Lip Read: This is a very dry webpage for a hugely impressive piece of research by Imperial College, in conjunction with Samsung - basically they have taught a machine to generate reasonably-accurate speech using nothing more than its observations of the speaker’s moth movements as input. The most obvious use-case for this is in terms of hearing aid tech for the aurally-impaired, but there’s a huge range of potential applications - this is really, really impressive.
  • Lulupet: Did you think we’d seen every single variant on the ‘X, but connected to the web!’ IoT bandwagon it was possible to conceive of? HA! Never underestimate the ability of the tech community to add features and online elements where none ever need to exist. We may, though, have reached peak-IoT with this, though - Lulupet is, as far as I can see, the world’s FIRST EVER internet-enabled litter tray! That’s right, you can now get precise, scientific data as to your cat’s stool and urine production, as the device tracks volume, uses image recognition to identify the type of emission (apparently weight sensors often struggle, so a camera designed to work out whether it’s looking at sh1t or p1ss is vital) and to work out whether it’s ‘normal’ scat based on comparison with some sort of universal catscat database (and now I have just thought of Paula Abdul’s 1990 hit ‘Opposites Attract’ featuring MC Scat Kat and it’s taken on a whole unpleasant new meaning), and to recongnise individual cats within a multi-feline household and WHY??? I understand some people are mental about their cats (HELLO SAZ!), but even by their standards the idea of having every single one of your pet’s fecal deposites compared against some sort of kitty Bristol chart is...insane. Thanks, Taiwan! Thanks!
  • The Madness of CES: I don’t know Ed Zitron, and likely never will, but he seems...odd. Still, this is his thread of ‘mad stuff he saw at CES’ and, as it is each year, it’s a genuine delight. I am so, so glad I have never had to attend this - it looks awful, although some of the stuff he’s photographed is quite, quite marvellous. My personal favourite is the booth running a big ad saying “Don’t quit smoking today!”, which in the age of wellness strikes me as the very definition of zigging whilst others zag - well DONE those visionary creatives!
  • The Witcher: Another marketing thing, but, again, I imagine enough of you have watched the TV series or played the game that you’ll be interested in this regardless. Netflix’s latest ‘swords and tits’ epic is The Witcher, based on an old Polish fantasy series and the subject of three increasingly-brilliant videogames; this site gives you a lovely interactive timeline of the lore of the fictional land - hang on, what is it called? Oh, it doesn’t matter, let’s just call it Genericfantastica - letting you go back and forth in history to see how events and people all interrelate. There was something similar, and far more complicated, for Game of Thrones, but this is lovely in its own right - and if you’re only familiar with the games, as I am, it’s a nice way of remembering some of the high points from those stories and how they fit into the wider canon of Geralt’s world.
  • The Paris Museums Collection: Over 300,000 items from Paris’s museums have just been put online as a digital collection, all housed on this nicely-designed, easy-to--navigate site with some really good advanced search options (see, this is what I get enthused by; fcuk’s sake, Matt - honestly, though, the ‘search by colour’ option is SO nice), thematic collections to offer you a way into the archive without being daunted by its scope...The centralised nature of this is particularly nice, offering the ability to browse works regardless of their current ownership - a London version of something like this would be immense.
  • The List of Fictional Institutions: From Wikipedia. SUCH a wonderful rabbithole, and taught me that whilst ‘Jewbilee’ was a fictional Jewish youth camp invented by South Park, the name has since been adopted by a real Jewish group for their annual get-togethers, which is the best example of life imitating art that I can recall.
  • The Water Peace Security Map: It’s interesting (to me at least) that one of the big, scary things to be worried about in the future back in the early 2010s was always water - its scarcity, and the eventual inevitable conflict that would result between peoples as that scarcity bit harder. I remember reading estimates that suggested that we were only a few years away from the first major geopolitical conflict over access to water, which hasn’t quite turned out to be true...yet. Still, as this map covering the current state of water availability and conflict across the global South shows, that’s unlikely to maintain for the next decade. The site’s not the most user-friendly, but there’s a lot of interesting information in here and all the data’s available to download should you be interested.
  • The Apple Archive: There will be some of you reading this for whom this is basically like a digitised bible - I don’t really understand you, but, well, fine. The Apple Archive is an unofficial project which collects all the stuff that Apple put out, every year since the 70s; press releases, products, adverts...you name it, it’s archived and celebrated here. You want to take a nostalgia trip to the 90s and the weird, massive boiled-sweet-coloured iMacs? You want a reminder of quite how weird tech was at the turn of the millennium? You want to be able to practically smell Steve Jobs? Well, ENJOY!
  • The Texas Testicle Festival: This is happening in Texas tomorrow - I am 99% certain that nobody reading this is going to be in a position to attend, but, just in case you’re in or near Texas and are in the market for an all-day celebration of eating animal testes then ENJOY!
  • The Tokyo2020 Art Posters: I had completely forgotten that there was an Olympiad happening this year, but, well, there is! Hi, imminent Olympiad! As ever, one of the elements that makes up the anticipatory run-up to the event is the release of all the associated gubbins - mascots, commemorative coins, stadia and ART! This is the official poster selection for the Tokyo 2020 games, and there is some glorious stuff in here - in particular, the breadth of styles and themes on display is wonderful, with work ranging from manga-style illustration to this beautiful calligraphic image which I am going to spend this afternoon trying to buy a print of. So, so beautiful, these.
  • Custom 3d-Printed Miniatures: This is VERY GEEKY and will be of no interest at all to most of you - however, if there’s anyone reading this who plays D&D or roleplaying board games or anything like that then you might find this immoderately exciting. This is a Kickstarter for a company called Hero Forge for the next iteration of their service which custom-prints character models in 3d; now they’re offering COLOUR. Honestly, this is very cool indeed (and I say that as someone who doesn’t play D&D or boardgames, really) - you’ll be able to create your character, paint it in the site’s engine, and then have it either 3d printed in colour or, even more impressively, get it hand-painted by one of their artists. Frankly, I’m quite tempted to invent and design a fictional character just so I can get one of these.
  • Public Pianos: A website mapping all (maybe not all, fine, but lots) of the public pianos situated around the world. Depending on your tolerance for people playing Pachebel’s Canon with varying degrees of competence, you can either use this to visit them all or to avoid them.
  • Super Scale: This is SO impressive, in a slightly (ok, incredibly) geeky way - Super Scale is one bloke’s project to make the most realistic radio controlled car possible, in terms of its handling and the like. It’s AMAZING, seriously - click the link and watch some of the videos and watch how it corners and how the chassis moves and Christ what do I know I don’t even drive FFS. Still, it looks amazing and the guy’s apparently going to start selling them via the site (I don’t see that ending well, but still), so if you’re in the market for an insane engineering project for 2020 or if you just want to drop a few hundred quid on a strangely overengineered toy car then this could be for YOU.

By David Kramer

NOW GIVE THIS SPOTIFY MIX A GO, DESIGNED TO TAKE THE P1SS OUT OF THE GENERIC SOUNDTRACKS THAT ALL TRENDY RESTAURANTS HAVE WHILST AT THE SAME TIME BEING A GENUINELY GOOD MIX!

THE SECTION WHICH THINKS THAT THE ROYAL FAMILY IS MISSING A TRICK BY NOT ANNOUNCING A NATIONWIDE REALITY-TV-LED SEARCH FOR A NEW PAIR OF ROYALS TO REPLACE THE OUTGOING PAIR AND CALLING IT ‘THE SUSSEX FACTOR’, PT.2:

  • The Five Thirty Eight Data: If you do datawrangling, this is very mucj up your street. Nate Silver’s lost some of his lustre over the past couple of years and is not quite the infallible guru of predictions he once was, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a very, very smart person and that Five Thirty Eight doesn’t still do some of the most interesting work out there around at the edges of data and prognostication. This offers a series of datasets used in their stories and investigations from around 2014 - historical, fine, but useful as training sets or simply as ways of working out how they wrangled the numbers to get their results. If you play with numbers, for profit or fun, this is worth a look.
  • The London Sound Survey (Redux): I featured part of this in Curios in September 2015, but now it seems there’s a whole WEBSITE - the London Sound Survey, “a growing collection of sound recordings of people, places and events in the capital.” Covering the sounds of people, animals, transport, music, sound maps, interviews and LOADS more, if you’ve any interest in the urban or social geography of the UK’s capital then this is an absolutely required click for you. Honestly, this feels like it shoudl have its own permanent installation in the Museum of London or similar - it’s got so, so much wonderful stuff here, and is a treasure trove of inspiration and writing prompts and jumping-off points through which to explore the city; I am absolutely using this as an exploratory template as soon as the weather gets marginally less offensive.
  • Tilemaker: This is absolutely one of those links which I clicked on with a vague sort of ‘oh, yes, this looks sort-of interesting’ and then BANG it was 45 minutes later and I was concentrating with my tongue poking out of the corner of my mouth agonising over the final colour combination of my tile. Here’s the blurb: “Qatar Foundation International’s (QFI) Mosaic Tilemaker application introduces students to fundamental concepts of Islamic art and architecture through the exploration and creation of mosaic tile art. Here, users can learn more about the history and geometric principles behind this art and engage in an interactive learning process to explore these concepts by designing and sharing their own mosaics.” DESIGN YOUR OWN TILES FFS! Honestly, if your partner won’t stop banging on about renovating the house, point them at this and know that they will likely lose themselves in pursuit of tile perfection for at least a few weeks, thereby buying you some time.
  • Goofonts: Google fonts, but made properly useful and searchable. I mean, that’s literally it, but if you need help finding web fonts then it’s probably really useful. Or at least a bit useful, and that’s frankly good enough - there’s a low, low bar here at Web Curios.
  • Received Not Read: A simple Twitter bot which automatically crawls the spam/junk folder in its creator’s email and tweets out the subject lines from random junk emails they’ve received. There’s an odd sort of nonsensical poetry about lots of these, as well as a few slightly baffling ones - “I have a surprise for you”, sent from an otherwise-anonymous ‘Natalie’, sounds to me far more sinister than enticing, for example.
  • Anxiety Empire: Thanks Editor Paul for pointing me at this - Anxiety Empire is the title of a new publication which looks to explore mental health through the prism of various macro issues of society, such as ‘work’, ‘language’, ‘money’, etc. On the one hand, this is an interesting project and I can imagine it will throw up some good writing; on the other, I’m increasingly of the opinion that ‘mental health’, like ‘sustainability’, has been rendered largely meaningless as a term through over-/misuse.
  • FFT Battleground: I can’t imagine any of you will find this particularly compelling - though I might of course be wrong, perhaps you want nothing more than to bet imaginary money on bot battles in an old videogame - but it’s interesting to me as a sign of where Twitch might end up going. Do you remember SaltyBet from a few years back, which streamed endless randomly-generated fights between bot-controlled characters with a sidebar chat in which people bet on the outcomes? No? Christ’s sake. Anyway, this is like that, but on Twitch and using Final Fantasy Tactics as the game rather than SaltyBet’s weird, own-brand fighting mod - the point is less what’s going on here (which is mostly incomprehensible, at least to me who has no idea at all about FFT mechanics), and more about the creative use of Twitch as a platform for community and shared experience and, of course, betting. I can TOTALLY imagine a situation in which, say, Capcom creates a neverending stream of random matchups between SF characters with a real-world betting angle for actual cashmoney (bets capped at 5p a time to mitigate against eventual criticisms of the negative effects on young minds of promoting gambling via gaming) - seriously, this is if not the future then certainly a future.
  • Brutu: This feels very much like an art project rather than a real thing, and yet, here we are. Do you feel like your phone’s a constant distraction and even all the screentime notifications and app usage limiters simply aren’t keeping your addiction in check? Well add a financial incentive to it! The app “is an iOS timer that helps you stay focused. Select any amount of money that motivates you and start a timer. Put your phone down and stay on task. If you leave the app Brutu will charge you.” Beautifully, there’s no indication that anything good or worthy happens to the money - I presume it just ends up in the pockets of the developers, to which I say WELL DONE YOU. That said, there’s DEFINITELY a charity app here which one could create, doing exactly the same thing but donating the forfeited sums to a cause of your choice. Hang on, that very much feels like it should exist already, it’s a GREAT idea? Does it? If not, it’s YOURS.
  • Algorat Sweater: Would you like to design a virtual sweater which will then be displayed on a smol 3d CG rodent? You might not think you would, but you are WRONG. I have no idea at all why this exists (although googling ‘sweater rat’ just now has gifted me a selection of VERY CUTE examples of rattus rattus looking all toasty warm) but I am glad that it does.
  • Mute VC: A plugin which mutes Tweets from VCs from your timeline. Which is fine as far as the joke goes, but until this exists for specific professional categories on LinkedIn (marketers, I am looking at YOU) then it’s meaningless.
  • The Great Migration: “During the Great Migration, from about 1915 to 1970, millions of African Americans moved from southern, primarily rural areas of the United States to urban areas to the north and west. They sought better opportunities away from racial discrimination and violence in the South.” This collection in the US Library of Congress presents a selection of these images, and offer an ever-timely reminder of exactly how close we still are to an era in which segregation and discrimination were law in the States.
  • The Montreal Age Map: For the approximately two Canadians who read this, and anyone who’s interested in the history of cities, this is a map showing the various ages of Montreal’s buildings on the occasion of the city’s 375th birthday and offering a parallel curated guide to some of the older and more interesting structures. Fine, it’s probably not of huge interest if you’re not a Montreal resident, but it’s a pleasing way of exploring the city and its heritage online, and a good example of how to present projects such as this in appealing, accessible fashion.
  • Famous Paintings With Added Search and Rescue Vehicles: Charming Twitter thread of the week, this. Andy Doe posted it with the following explanation: “This week, my firstborn asked me to teach him photoshop, which means we now have a lot of famous paintings with search and rescue vehicles added to them.” These are just GREAT, and there’s an angle here that you can definitely rip off if you’re a particular sort of brand with an awful lot of free time and photoshop skills.
  • The Pirate’s Lair: Have you ever wanted to own a GENUINE (may not in fact be genuine) pirate treasure chest? Have you ever wanted to look at LOTS of photos of said chests, restored to their former glory? Almost certainly not, fine, but you might find yourself becoming surprisingly enthused by this excellent, shonky site whose design evidently hasn’t changed since approximately 1998.
  • Significant Otter: Absolutely an app which started out as a vaguely-punny brainfart and which somehow became real, Significant Otter is basically ‘Yo’ for lovers; “With Significant Otter, you can take your relationship to the next level with biosignal sensors, a cutting-edge technology that’s built into your Apple Watch. There’s no texting, calling, or messaging involved. All you need to do is tap and you’ll instantly be in touch, literally”. Effectively it creates a peer-to-peer connection between two watches, automatically sharing status updates and enabling hideously-cutesy ‘I’m thinking of you!’ one-touch connectivity, all accompanied by animated little cartoon otters. On the one hand, this is so saccharine it makes me want to kill; on the other...no, there are no upsides. Oh, ok, FINE, the cartoon mustelids are nicely-designed.
  • Bushfire Dildo: Do you want to donate money to the disaster relief effort in Australia, but don’t want to just give them your cash? Would you like to get something in exchange for your caring help? How about a MASSIVE RUBBER COCK? Well great - in that case, order the Down Under Domination D1ldo and enjoy the feeling of doing the right thing AND the feeling of six inches of hand-moulded rubber with a cute little koala-shaped raised bit on the base of the shaft! Between this and the woman who claimed to have raised a million selling nudes, we appear to have reached a point in human history whereby the criteria for charity seems to be ‘can I get an orgasm out of it?’ which, I don’t know, feels...odd. Still, d1ldos! Australia!
  • Upwards: Finally this week, I think I stole this from B3ta (HI ROB!) - it’s simple, and a few years old, but it’s SUCH a great piece of game design. You have one ability - jumping. You can’t move, except to jump. How high can you get?

By Daisy Collingridge

LAST UP IN THE MIXES THIS WEEK, THIS LOVELY BALEARIC CHILLOUT SELECTION BY MIDNATTSSOULA!

THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!:

  • Una Vida Moderna: Want a selection of images of mid-century modernist architecture in Mexico and Detroit? No? TOUGH.
  • Celebreedy: The latest Shardcore joint, already featured in a FAR more popular newsletter than my own, but re-upped here because a) it’s great; b) I NAMED IT!! You can read the blurb about the how and why here, but basically it’s a series of machine-imagined celebrity mashups, which are SO wonderfully uncanny-valley. The project’s on Twitter and Insta too, should you wish to follow it in MULTI-PLATFORM fashion.

THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!:

  • Yuuuteando: Thanks to Ed for this - Yuuuatendo is a Brooklyn musician whose insta is full of odd little 90s-style CG animations and his slightly-bleepy compositions. It’s ace.
  • Derrick O Boateng: Boateng is a Ghanaian photographer who shoots solely on his phone; these are SUPERB, and the use of colour here is hallucinatory and brilliant. Such a wonderful aesthetic on display here.
  • Aleia: Snails, in smol human habitats, doing snail things. Clicking on the link will take you to the artist’s website, where I fell in love with the earrings shaped like mini Hitachi Magic Wands.

LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:

  • The State of the World in 2020: I think, though I can’t quite be bothered to check, that this is the fifth year now in which I’ve featured The Well’s ‘State of the World’ conversation between Bruce Sterling, Jon Lebkowsky and guests (who this year include digital musical genius Holly Herndon) - as it is every year, it’s an absolute must-read; if you’re interested in reading some very, very smart people discussing and debating where we are now as a species. Taking in everything from tech to politics to art to sociology and everything inbetween, it’s a particular pleasure to read Sterling this year who’s got a sort of wonderfully flat ‘everything is a mess and everything is wonderful and nothing matters and everything matters and I am going to die and I don’t care and I care so much’-type-vibe going on throughout. The conversation’s upto five pages right now, which is a LOT, but try reading just the first page and see how you get on - I promise, this will make you smarter.
  • The 2030 Future Timeline: YOU WANT PREDICTIONS? WE GOT PREDICTIONS!! Quantumrun, the site from which this is taken, is a frankly MENTAL collection of futurepredictions, annualised for each yer between now and 2050 - this links you to their selection for 2030, but you can go to the homepage to browse the other years. If this is right, in a decade we’ll be enjoying the first flying cars and a mini ice-age; we’ll also live in a world in which the largest demographic cohort in the continent of Africa is 0-4 years old, which is INSANE.
  • Buzzfeed in 2020: I’ve featured Jonah Peretti’s annual address to the troops a few times over the years; the 2020 effort is definitely worth a read, as Peretti looks back on the successes and failures of Buzzfeed’s past, opens up a bit as to its planned future monetisation model (cutting out the middlemen is the basic takeaway here), and drops some interesting hints about what he sees as the potential for the creation of parallel small interest-based communities as adjuncts to the Buzzfeed brand. This last is particularly interesting to me in terms of general digital trends; five years ago, anyone making any ‘hey, let’s build our own community’ noises would rightly have been decried as a lunatic; now, though, it’s not inconceivable that forums could make a significant comeback as we all scrabble to keep our lives private and separate and out of the hands of BIG TECH (NB - if you think giving all your data to Buzzfeed is better than Facebook then, well, not quite sure what to tell you here kids).
  • Corporations of Loving Grace: This has done the rounds this week, and rightly so - Martin Weigel has penned a truly excellent essay, discursively tracking from advermarketingpr chat to a wider debate about the extent of our societal belief in the idea of ‘corporate entity as our only saviour’, and the commercial/commoditisation of, well, everything, including the aptly-named ‘marketplace of ideas’. This is very, very smart - even if you don’t agree with all of Weigel’s points, you will find yourself nodding along at his reasoning. “Instead of politics we are to have the marketplace. Instead of elected representatives we now we must surrender ourselves the personal visions of billionaire business leaders. And instead of the citizen, of homo politicus, we are only and everywhere homo economicus - self-interested individuals seeking seek to enhance our own wealth and power with little regard for the impact on others. Instead of citizens then, we are to remade as consumers.” Well, yes, quite.
  • From Context Collapse to Content Collapse: Another great personal essay, this time by Nicholas Carr (and, like Weigel’s, published on a personal website - WE’RE CLAWING BACK THE WEB, KIDS, ONE LINK AT A TIME!!), looking at how the projected idea of context collapse - that is, the idea that the internet would usher in a degree of radical transparency which would see people abandoning the multifaceted personal identities of the past for a single, honest, unified personal which existed consistently regardless of context - has instead given way to content collapse, where instead we’re all different for different people but instead it’s the content we’re presented with which is unidimensional and devoid of context. Really good, this.
  • The Rise of the Personal Brand: This is actually from the tail end of 2019, but I missed it when it was published what with already being on my holidays - it’s also written by K=Hole co-founder Sean Monahan, which makes it very much worth a read. So, so good, and an excellent companion piece to the above, on the past decade’s rise of the personal as professional and the ceaseless pursuit of the hustle, and the weird reemergence or recontextualisation of the idea of the (or indeed ‘a’) scene. Excellent, and if you work in advermarketingpr, sort-of essential (as in fact are all of the past three links).
  • The Death of iTunes: A series of observations (11, to be precise) on what the emergence and eventual death of iTunes tells us about the shift in the way in which we envisage digital storage and taxonomy, and how it’s emblematic of the shift from personal curation and organisation and limited storage, to the acceptance of software and the infinity of digital, and the algo being in charge, and what this means in terms of cognitive and emotional burden when dealing with our digital lives.
  • How To Build An AI Text Bot On Twitter: Specifically, one which uses the GPT-2 model to create creepily near-human copy on whatever subject you train it on. This is long and techy and NO FUN to read, but if you’re after a smol coding project for the year and have an idea for a Twitter bot based on a meaty corpus of extant text, this is potentially very useful indeed.
  • The Smart Beauty Devices of CES: This is a Mashable link (sorry), so don’t click expecting sparkling prose or high-quality journalism; it’s worth a look, though, mainly as a slightly jaw-dropping rundown of all the crazy beauty tech that was on show at this year’s CES in Vegas; reading this made me think that, amongst all the chuntering about wellness and acceptance and body positivity and the rest, we are simultaneously cosigning some pretty unhealthy-sounding behaviours when it comes to the obsessive tracking of our facial imperfections and the pursuit of the flawless Instaface.
  • 7 Reasons Why Gaming Will Take Over: One might reasonably argue that in terms of the global entertainment industry gaming has already taken over - nonetheless, this is a smart and coherent rundown of all the reasons why the gaming industry is set to be the dominant entertainment juggernaut for the foreseeable future, and why everyone who’s able should start seeking to jump on it asap. This is very much a piece of business / market analysis rather than a ‘games are sooo cool!’ hagiography, and is all the better for it - its author, Matthew Ball, is always worth reading on the gaming market in general, and he makes some excellent points about the unique nature of game worlds and content which make them specific value multipliers in way that few other industries can match.
  • Twitch For Non-Gamers: This is really interesting - for the first time, the amount of non-gaming content on Twitch is outstripping that about games (or at least, ‘chat’ content is outperforming all content on specific titles, which is still remarkable). I am hugely interested in seeing exactly how TV ends up; I don’t think Twitch is going to be it, necessarily, but this model - microbroadcasts, interactivity, rewards, responsiveness, community and intimacy - is absolutely the future.
  • How To Be Anonymous: Specifically, on the rise of fashion and accessories designed to distract or thwart surveillance technology such as CCTV; this is a fairly functional article, but it’s fascinating from the point of view of the sheer range of stuff that’s now out there, from glasses to scarves to tops to hats to makeup to anything else you can think of. It’s totally possible that TopShop will have its very own ‘Hackers’-type line of anti-surveillance clothing in shops by the end of the year, mashing up this sort of thing with the strong dystopian cyberpunk aesthetic of last year’s HK protests - in fact, £10 says some of this stuff is SOMEWHERE on the high street by Q3 this year.
  • The Man Who’s Buying Music: Merck Mercuriadis has an excellent name and the sort of demeanour, at least in these photos, that very much suggest that one ought not fcuk with him. He’s also, though his company Hipgnosis, on a quest to buy the rights to all the songs in the world, whatever the cost - this is his bet on how the future monetisation of artists’ catalogues is going to work, and he’s bullish enough to be spending a $billion-odd on so doing. If you’re a romantic or a purist then this might not make you feel particularly warm and fuzzy - it’s also a bit galling to see Nile Rogers cosying up to a man who basically reads quite a lot like the Gordon Gekko of music - but the ambition and the vision is coldly impressive.
  • Derek Parfit: OK, you probably need to be a bit into philosophy to enjoy this, but I ADORED this essay all about Derek Parfit, one of the most brilliant philosophers of the 20th century, a wonderful ethicist and moral philosopher and a proper eccentric. This is wonderful, on both his thinking and the wider theory that surrounded it (specifically, on the practical applications of utilitarian theory), and also on the very peculiar eccentricity of academics of a certain stripe - “Gradually a legend built up around him. ‘Derek only eats meals he can consume with one hand so he can read and eat at the same time'. ‘’Derek drinks instant coffee made with hot water from the tap, so he doesn't have to wait for the kettle to boil'. ‘Derek always wears the same clothes, even in the St Petersburg winter, to spare him from having to think about what to put on in the morning'. Unusually for such legends, this was all completely true.” Lovely, affectionate, fascinating stuff.
  • A Eulogy for Yo: You remember Yo, right? The briefly-viral app whose sole function was to enable users to swap messages which simply read ‘Yo’? You may even have written a brand strategy for it on a quiet afternoon back in 2014. This is a really interesting essay, sort-of in defence of Yo but more accurately all about the benefits of low-friction communication, and the function that such systems can end up fulfilling; there are a number of anecdotes contained within about how people used Yo, and it does sort-of start to make sense (but only ‘almost); there is something to be said about super light-touch checkins with people, and the vague sense of safety and security it can give. Maybe we should bring back Yo, is what I’m basically saying here. Except if it was created in 2020 it would be called ‘ennui’ and would just let you send a message saying “i think i want to go to sleep forever! actually death is good, maybe?”.
  • The Many Lives of Roberto: A lovely essay, from the New Yorker’s Helen Rosner, about the peculiar wonder of creating a recipe and watching others take it and run with it and make it their own, and, in parallel, the community that can build up around these recipes on social media (the ‘Roberto’ in question is a soup, for reasons that are sort-of explained in the piece). Gorgeous and comforting and warming - the essay, not the soup, though the recipe’s at the end if you want to try that too.
  • Comedy Screenwriters’ Favourite Names: How did Bob Loblaw’s Law Blog on Arrested Development come into being? Why was Gob’s boat called ‘Seaward’? And why was Niles Crane called Niles? This is a charming piece, interviewing various comedy writers from hit shows on how they came to name their creations - the Niles one in particular is SO TRUE.
  • Gonzo Goes Gonzo: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, written as though it featured the Muppets rather than Hunter S Thompson. This is far, far funnier than it needs to be, as is often the case with McSweeney’s.
  • Trying to Live Forever: Or, what doing all that biohacking crap feels like in real life. The author of the piece, Joel Stein, has previous in this field, having a few years back done a piece in which he tried to get an action movie star’s body; this time, he goes down the rabbithole of the weird pseudoscience of cryotherapy and sleep analysis in pursuit of fitness, health and (near) eternal life. Stein’s an engaging writer, and is just sincere enough in his interest in the ‘science’ to make this a fun read rather than a slightly humourless takedown; it strikes me that there is no amount of longevity that can be worth having this little fun.
  • Operation Backfire: I fell in love with this essay from the London Review of Books within the first few lines, when it mentioned the British Interplanetary Society - its headquarters are near my house, and I was long-fascinated by what went on behind its unassuming facade (til I remembered to Google it and found that it was significantly less involved in communicating with alien species than I’d hoped) - but the whole thing is just MARVELLOUS. It’s the story of the British experiments with rocketry which took place in the 50s and 60s - there’s a lot of science here, and a lot of engineering, but in the main it’s just such a wonderful portrait of a very specific type of Britishness; staid, sensible, a bit cheap, practical, eccentric, and fundamentally doomed to irrelevance. Honestly, it’s hard not to read this and imagine it being voice overed in clipped RP tones - what makes it all the better, for me at least, is that this is an account of exactly the sort of imagined postwar Albion that so much of the Leave campaign harked back to, subconsciously or otherwise, and it shows that we DIDN’T WIN. Those halcyon post-war days? We were losing ground, we were an irrelevance, a joke. THEY ARE NOT TIMES TO HARK BACK TO FFS. This is possibly the most ‘dad’ piece of writing I have ever included in Curios (it’s about rockets and engineering and THE WAR, ffs), but I promise you that it’s so, so good.
  • The God Phone: Finally in this week’s longreads, Leora Smith writes about manning the God Phone at Burning Man. Long term readers will know that Burning Man fascinates and repels me in equal measure; the art and the costumes and the drugs I would love to see, the people perhaps not so much - this, though, is wonderful, charming, thoughtful and kind, and Smith writes beautifully. It will make you want to do at least one slightly-whimsical art thing this year, or at least it will if you’re anything like me, and that can’t be bad.

By Eliana Marini

AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:

  1. Let’s kick off with a cover version. Momus is one of my favourite ever artists, and this is one of my favourite ever songs of his; when I first discovered it, age 15 or so, it’s fair to say I identified a bit - 25 years later and it’s still lyrically fantastic, and whilst this version by Kirin J Callinan isn’t quite up to the original it’s still fcuking GREAT. This is called ‘The Homosexual’:

  1. Next up, the latest from Poppy, who, having been following her for about 6 years now, I am convinced is going to properly break out this year (I know she’s already internet famous, but in a mainstream sense) - this continues the weird narrative ‘Poppy is now FREE’ arc of her personal story and the shift away from the ultra-Kawaii aesthetic of her early stuff towards more of the Babymetal-aping sound of recent singles; I have to say, I really do like this quite a lot. It’s called ‘Anything Like Me’:

  1. Deathgrips are always a ‘challenging’ listen. When accompanied by a GAN-imagined video, that’s...moreso. Honestly, this is aesthetically fcuking WONDERFUL - the work’s by Robert Luxemborg, and you try not seeing these faces in your nightmares afterwards:

  1. This is by Igorr, or at least the song is - the animation’s by some people called Meat Department. It’s called ‘Very Noise’. It’s so...wet. And so meaty. The track reminds me quite a lot of Autechre and the sort of jazz x Aphex Twin-type stuff that Clifford Gilberto was doing back in the day - it’s ACE:

  1. Finally this week, UK HIPHOP CORNER! This is Pa Saliou, with Frontline, which, as all the comments say, has a touch of the J-Hus about it; they’re both of Gambian origin, which might explain some of the musical similarities, but this is a different sort of flow - feels like this kid could be big (although obviously I would have no idea if he’s already really famous and on the radio and stuff), see what you think. Oh, and THAT’S THE END I’M OFF HAVE LOVELY WEEKENDS AND DON’T FORGET TO WRAP UP WARM AS IT’S VERY COLD OUT THERE AND I DON’T WANT YOU TO CATCH A CHILL BECAUSE I CARE ABOUT EACH AND EVERY ONE OF YOU ESPECIALLY THOSE OF YOU BOTHERING TO READ THIS BIT BUT EVEN THOSE OF YOU WHO AREN’T TAKE CARE I LOVE YOU TAKE CARE HAVE FUN TAKE CARE BYE BYE BYE!!

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