Has the optimism persisted, I know you're all dying to know? Is Web Curios once again going to be suffused with the sunny glow of potentially-better-tomorrow?
Yeah, why not?! Come on, it's Friday and I've spent the vast majority of the week at a point of just-simmering rage at the seeming incompetence of almost everyone I'm forced to deal with professionally (in the unlikely even that anyone I know reads this, rest assured I don't mean you - I mean the other ones, honest) - let's cheer it up a bit! The weather's going to be...ok! We're down a threat level! It's all going to be ok!
And even if it's not, frankly, there's fcuk all we can do about it, so who cares? It's time once again to dislocate your metaphorical jaw and chug down this week's thick, mealy infosoylent - all of the content, none of the joy, but there's just so much!!!!
I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios - who, if you don't me asking, the fuck are you?
***PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT - IMPERICA MAGAZINE ISSUE FIVE (NO SMALL FEAT FOR A TINY PUBLISHER WHOSE BUDGET IS LITERALLY WHAT EDITOR PAUL MANAGES TO SCRAPE TOGETHER BUSKING ON THE COWLEY ROAD (HE CALLS IT BUSKING, YOU MIGHT HAVE ANOTHER NAME FOR IT)), IS OUT NOW!! IT'S ONLY £3, AND TO MY MIND IS THE BEST YET, WITH SOME REALLY INTERESTING ESSAYS ON TIKTOK, CUMMINGS, MUSICAL HUMOUR, BLM AND MORE BESIDES, FROM A GENUINELY FRESH AND DIVERSE RANGE OF YOUNG VOICES. IT IS A BARGAIN, YOU SHOULD BUY IT, IT IS LESS THAN A PACKET OF FAGS FFS AND WILL PROBABLY DO LESS DAMAGE IN THE LONG RUN!***
By Myra Yi
LET’S KICK OFF WITH A SELECTION OF QUEER COUNTRY TRACKS WHICH I ENJOYED FAR MORE THAN I WAS EXPECTING AS I USUALLY FCUKING HATE COUNTRY MUSIC!
THE SECTION WHICH THINKS THAT THE ABILITY TO OPT OUT OF POLITICAL ADVERTISING WOULD MAKE MORE SENSE IF THERE WAS A USEFUL, WORKING DEFINITION THAT DETERMINES EXACTLY WHAT IS ‘POLITICAL’, OR INDEED IF THE BEST WAY TO GET AROUND THIS OPT-OUT WASN’T TO MAKE POLITICAL CONTENT SO FROTH-MAKINGLY PUNCHY THAT IT GETS ORGANIC REACH FROM THE RAGE-SHARES:
- FB and Voting: Obviously the section heading above is a bit of an easy kick to give Facebook - I am broadly of the opinion that the steps announced this week in the US (to whit, the ability for voters to opt out of all ‘political’ advertising should they so desiree and a degree of improved transparency on ad funding and total campaign spend) are good-if-insufficient - but at the same time (and I know that I am boring about this, and I am sorry, and I will keep this short) it once again highlights the absolute impossibility of regulating the spread of political content on a platform of 2+billion people during an era in which it’s fair to say that seemingly everything in the world is, as it happens, a deeply political question. There’s also something a bit troubling to me about the combined drive to get as many people to vote as possible - again, A Good Thing - and the rollout of these measures; feels a bit like encouraging people to play a high-stakes game whilst simultaneously making it easier than ever for them to do so without actually knowing the rules, the stakes, or the punitively-high vig the House charges on its loaned-out chips (so to speak). Still, at least we now now where the bar is for Presidential ads getting removed on the platform - nazis!
- FB Adds New Features to its Portal Home Videochatboxthing: Apparently the Facebook Portal is a legitimately good piece of kit if you’re in the market for a little counter-based video-and-voice assistant thing; it’s also, obviously, creepy by nature by dint of the fact it’s made by Facebook. This latest slew of updates, though, do all sound quite useful, in particular the updates to videocalling; you can now launch Rooms direct from a Portal device, making it a decent potential option for small (
- FB Testing Ability To Share ‘Collections’ More Widely: I tend to try not to comment on stuff that hasn’t actually happened yet, but this caught my eye mainly as it’s not so much parking its tanks on Pinterest’s lawn as it is building a tank factory next door and starting to aggressively crank up production. Facebook’s ‘Collections’ feature was its AN Other scrapbooking functionality launched 18m ago; apparently you’ll soon be able to share these Collections more widely than just your Facebook network, making them public and collaborative with the wider world. File under ‘more evidence (if you still needed any, because, well, it’s not like this should be news now’) that Facebook really, really doesn’t think any other platforms need to exist’.
- How The Insta Algo Works: This is reasonably-interesting, if you happen to want a partial-explanation of the factors that go into content weighting within the Instagram algorithm. The post’s not on an official Insta page, but the content’s all culled from a Story that was posted by Instagram and so is seemingly legitimate; this won’t, to be clear, give you the secret keys to the even-more-secret VIRAL KINGDOM OF CONTENT, but it will give you something you can point to when your idiot clients and colleagues make spurious claims about ‘how Insta works’ (unless you are that idiot client or colleague, in which case I’m not really sure how to help you).
- Audiotweets: I think I put a longread in here about three or four years ago about the particular cultural phenomenon that is the Whatsapp voicenote in Brazil, and how people there had fallen into the (to my mind inexplicable, but wevs) habit of leaving each other what were basically call-and-response voicemails rather than typing; basically I don’t understand voice messages on social media, but Twitter’s decided that that’s the next feature update we need and so here it is (for some users, on iOS only). Leaving aside the question of ‘BUT WHY??’, there are some generally sensible measures in here; you can’t reply to a Tweet with a voicenote or quote-RT with a voicenote, which will limit some of the most obvious opportunities for trolling and abuse; that said, it remains to be seen how a platform that already struggles with moderation (1500 MODERATORS!!!) deals with keeping tabs on all this new audio content (this will have to be automated, no? And in which case, using whose software?). It’s also abundantly clear even at this early stage that 99% of all of these will never, ever be worth clicking on or listening to, and that anyone who chooses to communicate on Twitter by posting 140s of audio is a narcissistic sociopath who has no care for the value of your time.
- The TikTok Algo: Surprisingly transparent post by TikTok, detailing the factors that are taken into account when determining what content is shown to users on their personalised ‘For You’ section of the app. There’s nothing in here that’s particularly startling - although I am interested in the classification systems they apply when analysing the videos users create - but, per the Insta link a few back, this is the sort of thing it’s useful to read to stave off the morons.
- The 2020 Digital News Report: This is by Reuters and Oxford University and made headlines this week for finding that trust in UK media is at an all-time low, especially amongst left-wingers who still haven’t forgiven the largely-right-wing-owned press for unaccountably not backing Jezzus. There’s more interesting stuff in here, though, around online news sources used by consumers worldwide; play with the drop-downs and you can find quite a lot of helpful data. A few observations/questions: 1) this does rather highlight the problem in determining what ‘news’ content is; 2) more people than you’d think, in the UK at least, still consume local media; and 3) HOW ARE PEOPLE STILL LOOKING AT YAHOO! AND MSN?? (as it happens I asked people about this and my friend Scott suggested it might have something to do with where Yahoo! and MSN mail dump you when you logout of your inbox, which seems plausible so thanks Scott).
- A Guide To Social Media In China in 2020: I am not an expert in Chinese social media - to me, this was hugely interesting and useful, but that might be because I’m a know-nothing bozo. Still, if you’re after a seemingly-comprehensive overview as to what platforms do what stuff for whom, this is nothing if not girthy.
- Lions Live: Thanks to Alice for sharing this with me; whilst obviously none of you will be blowing the client’s budget at Cannes this year having instead blown it on endless, tedious, repetitious ‘webinars’ (can we kill that word now please?) in which you speculate in ever-decreasing-circles about WHAT IS TO COME IN THE NEW NORMAL AND HOW THAT AFFECTS OUR STRATEGY?, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still get to enjoy it. Here, then, is the website for this year’s virtual Cannes - all of the talks that noone gets any real value from, with none of the sunshine, pink wine and cocaine left over from MIPIM. As far as I can tell this is all free, and probably doesn’t really deserve my tedious snark - there might well be some genuinely interesting talks and discussions which you could find properly useful. That said, the first thing I saw on the page was a session entitled ‘Agile Storytelling: Creating Beyond The Jargon’ and, well, OH CANNES!!! You could, though, play a wonderful-if-suicidal game of Cannes Drinking Bingo around the words ‘ally’, ‘representation’,’diversity’, ‘change’, ‘purpose’, ‘new normal’ and the like.
- Creative Industry Freelance Dayrates: A spreadsheet collecting dayrates being charged by ‘creative’ freelancers (this is mainly an adland thing, so photographers, CDs, strategists, planners, etc), with details about their location, years’ experience and ethnicity, etc. Useful to see whether you’re pitching yourself broadly within the right range for your market position, but also to laugh at some of the sums being quoted in here - social strategist, whose cost varies, inexplicably, from £200-950 a day, may you always find the morons willing to pay that topline rate!
- Everyday Experiments: This is a really nice piece of branded content work. The site asks the open question ‘how will tomorrow’s technologies shape the way we live at home?’, and then presents various interesting digital design experiments which answer the question in different ways. It’s interesting, well-designed, contains lots of things I hadn’t seen or thought about before, and were it not for the fact that the design is so perfect I would have had no idea that it was promo for IKEA. There’s no brandname anywhere unless you click RIGHT through, but at the same time the way they have used colour and space and type throughout the site makes it abundantly clear who it’s by without needing to check. I am sure people who are actually good at branding and design could talk about why this works with far more clout and clarity than I, but personally I was hugely impressed by this.
- Light Is Time: Then, there is this - a VERY shiny website by Citizen watches about, er...physics? Watches? “A chronicle of Citizen’s pursuit of the essence of time”, apparently. Honestly, this is so pretty and so utterly, utterly nonsensical (although I concede that this may be an effect of translation and there is possibly a purity and clarity to this in the original Japanese that I am totally ignoring) - look, just read the ‘About’ section for a taste: “Time is light and light is time. The universe began with the Big Bang, creating both time and light in an instant. The sun rose up from beyond the horizon, flooding our planet with light and human beings created the concept of time by observing the cycles of the moon shining down in the dark of night.” Hang on, though, did the Big Bang create time or did humans? I AM ALREADY CONFUSED, CITIZEN WATCHES!! Beautiful.
By Coco Bergholm
NEXT, WHY NOT ENJOY THIS VERY WEEKEND-Y HOUSE MIX BY ROB TIREA!
THE SECTION WHICH HOPES NOONE IS PLANNING ‘WE’RE DOWN TO LEVEL 3’ STREET PARTIES PLEASE, PT.1:
- Their Names: Another powerful memorial to black lives lost to police across the US in the past 20 years, this site compiles the names of all those African Americans who have died as a result of interactions with the US police force - not just their names but details of their deaths taken from news and police reports.
- BIPOC-Owned Studios: A Google sheet compiling details on black, indigenous or people of colour-owned design studios. It’s international in scope, though currently skews US; there are currently 14 on here in London, for those of you reading this in the UK, so worth remembering next time you’re looking for external support and thinking about how you can support diversity in all aspects of your industry including procurement. There’s a submission form here as well to contribute other names and details of studios should you know of instances that should be included but aren’t - this is a great resource, bookmark and share it.
- No Paint: This is, I promise, the lovely, soothing, patient art toy you need at the end of a loooong week. No Paint is a bit hard to describe (and, much as I love it, its creators don’t do a significantly better job of it than I’m about to), but effectively it’s a small, in-browser art toy which creates random patterns on canvas in a variety of different styles. You, the controller, have only two options - click ‘no paint’ to cancel the current effect and try a new one, or click ‘paint’ to accept the current effect’s visual and apply a new one. Through this simple, binary interface you can, with patience, create some really quite lovely, surreal, 8-bit-ish pieces of random…’art’? It’s worth popping over to Reddit and checking out the associated thread for some examples of the types of things people have been able to wring out of this - honestly, I love the web but equally it’s awful for making you realise quite how bad you are at something compared to a lot of preternaturally-talented strangers, but it really is worth playing with and making your own.
- Algonuts: A new Shardcore joint, at least unless the famously-litigious estate of Mr Shulz come in with the cease-and-desists: “Charles Shulz, the creator and artist of the Peanuts comic strip, produced thousands of comics over 50 years. As a result, he is one of the few artists who have enough ‘content’ to train a styleGAN2 model. By extracting each frame from nearly 18,000 comic strips I was able to harvest 63,800 distinct images featuring Charlie, Snoopy, Peppermint Patty and the rest of the gang – plenty of food for the network to chew on. Several hundred hours of computational time later, a network containing the ‘visual DNA’ of Peanuts emerged.” The results are wonderful - surreal, Dali-esque (sorry, but it’s a bit true) half-dreamed imaginings of Snoopy and the rest, spitting out words that, if you squint, might halfway resemble actual letters...as an exploration of the nature of artistic intent and creation its excellent, and even if you don’t care about the high-concept it’s quite mesmerising watching the vaguely-Pepperminty Patty-esque shapes coalesce and evanesce before your eyes.
- Makespaces: Another week, ANOTHER experimental foray into spatial digital environments which let you have ROOMS and COWORKING and are JUST LIKE AN OFFICE except with none of the tedious viral load or anyone cooking fish in the microwave. The website for Makespaces, unfortunately, contains a videofile so fcuking heavy that it’s making my laptop wheeze like a tubercular urchin from times past, hence this is going to be a relatively quick writeup - basically it’s a combined shared browsing videochat experience, with the ability to have easily-grouped conversations and with the now-so-trendy addition of spatial audio so that you can hear people more or less clearly based on their proximity to you in what seems to be basically an infinite browser canvas. Look, I am making a dog’s dinner of explaining this so I suggest you have a look yourselves; I’m not joking about the video up top, though.
- Job Title Heroes: My friend Ed apparently inadvertently led to the creation of this subReddit this week, and now it exists and it is glorious. Its purpose is solely to collect examples of excellent job titles seen in the wild - many of them come as screencaps of astons from TV documentaries, and many of them have a whiff of the peerless ‘Daytime Snaps’ about them (see a recent BBC Breakfast guest, introduced solely as ‘Rick and Morty Expert’). The cynic in me suspects photoshop in a few of them, but suspend your disbelief and enjoy speculating as to which of these professions is the BEST (personal shout out here for the ‘Coffee Cake Expert’, a role I now absolutely aspire to).
- Basher: This is a great site which is sadly not as good as it could be because, well, there are people involved. Basher’s premise is simple - you sign up and you get to play a simple game where you’re presented with stories collaboratively written by other users. Anyone can suggest the next word in a sequence, the idea being that you can collaboratively-create nonsensical collaborative stories in the classic Exquisite Corpse fashion - these submissions then get voted on, so that there’s an element of peer review, and you only get the chance to start adding your own new word suggestions once you’ve earned some baseline moderation chops. Which is a really fun idea that I was quite excited to try, and then I did, and every third word was ‘anime’ or ‘tiddies’ (I am sorry, but it was - I know that this is the worst word in the English language and I promise not to use it in here ever again) or ‘butt’ or ‘poop’ or, and I will never understand the popularity of this meme, ‘Shrek’. It might be more fun when the children have gotten bored, but sadly in its present state it’s more of an interesting idea than anything actually fun (unless of course you want to collaborate on scatalogical short stories about Shrek and what is his seemingly chronic IBS, in which case you will love this).
- Will Hulsey: A rare instance of a WONDERFUL Twitter thread. Many, many years ago I reckon circa 2011) I included an image of a pulp magazine cover which featured a man being attacked by what seemed to be a pack of ravening mustelids with the accompanying copy ‘WEASELS RIPPED MY FLESH!’; now, 9 years(ish) later, this thread appears, by the excellent Pulp Librarian Twitter account, which details the work of the artist behind that and many more such covers of a very similar nature, one Will Hulsey, a man who knew what he could and couldn’t draw (could: animals, men, blood, barely-constrained breasts, TERROR; couldn’t: seemingly, legs). This is JOYOUS, and surprisingly educational when it comes to the art of magazine cover illustration.
- Bird Library: Absolutely the purest and gentlest link in Curios this week, this is the BIRD LIBRARY - a birdhouse built in the shape of, er, a small library! With a webcam! Basically if you like the idea of watching the birds of North America occasionally popping into a VERY SMOL library and sitting at (well, on) a desk whilst eating seed and generally just doing their avian thing, you will adore this. There’s also a gallery of photos with gentle grandparent-humour captions, and generally this is so, so lovely I might cry (please can noone out the seemingly-nice individuals behind this as nazis, at least not for a little while?).
- Hey: I like email as a rule - I am a fan of asynchronous communication, I like the fact that it accommodates longform or shortform, and it beats the fcuk out of having to actually talk to people. That said, it’s fair to say that much if not all webmail is a mess; Gmail’s conversation threading is a mess, as is Outlook’s (don’t get me started on the way they do fcuking attachments), and there’s a whole load of stuff that you feel should be there but, well, isn’t. Hey is a new email product launched this week which is designed to eliminate at least some of those frustrations with a host of seemingly really rather good features, such as a bulk ‘reply later’ feature, three-teir email triage, automatic gating of first-time correspondence and a whole host of thoer stuff besides. It’s a paid-for service, which might be a barrier for some, but it’s also $99 a year which seems fair should this work as promised. There’s some tedious argument with Apple going on at the moment which means that it might not be as easy to get on iOS as you’d hope, but for desktop and Android it could be a solution worth looking at.
- 68 to 05: Cracking personal music project (which I discovered via Lauren’s increasingly-essential newsletter; ask to be added to the subs list by emailing her at superlau77 AT Gmail DOT com) - “In January of 2020, I found myself continuing a nearly two-year run of being on the road nonstop, touring in support of my books. This left me with endless time in hotel rooms, or on airplanes. I began to think about my lifetime of loving music, and wanted to make a family tree, of sorts. A tree of influence, attempting to pinpoint the arc of years that made me the music listener and lover I became today. Drawing on music that my parents and their parents listened to, the music my older siblings brought into the house, and the music my crew and I united over when I finally had the money to buy my own albums. I went from some of the first songs I remembered hearing, and traced influence, and lineage, both forward and backwards. What I landed on was a long stretch of years: 1968 to 2005.” Comprising playlists (they’re not complete for every year, so worth checking back periodically), photos, albums, magazine covers, each year is a look back through someone else’s eyes at musical culture from the past. I LOVE this idea - the concept of being taken on a personal journey through someone else’s version of 1999, say - and I would love to see it explored further; in my head now there’s a really interesting branching narrative series bringing together personal stories about people’s pasts, year by year, with points of commonality and intersection and divergence marked on some sort of massive, interactive visual timeline...it’s a real shame I can’t actually make anything and I’m too old and lazy to learn, really.
- The Horny Census: Also from Lauren (see, you really should sign up) comes The Horny Census, a project by someone named Allison (probably not the LFC goalkeeper but you never know) which is exploring female sexuality and desire for a forthcoming book. In their words: “horny explores the personal/political/cultural moments and events that have reshaped women's attitudes towards sex/dating/their own horniness. i’ll be telling a lot of my own stories of horn and i want to hear all of yours, too. i’ve created this fun thing called The Horny Census, to collect stories/opinions/thoughts from as many women as possible.” It’s all anonymous, so if you fancy venting a bit about sex, desire and your conception of both then go right ahead.
- Auto-uprezzing Photos: This is an academic papre rather than an actual product, but it’s basically going to make the CSI-style ‘zoom in! Upgrade resolution!’ computer bits reality. The research describes how academics at Duke University in the US have been working on an AI-based visual enhancement system which will allow for the, er, enhancement of pixellated faces in photographs so as to enable identification of individuals even in circumstances where they’ve been photographed at distance or low res. Is this a good thing? Will it solely be used for GOOD THINGS? What do you think?
- Neon Signs: Via the world’s best stationery and design supplies shop in the world (or at least the one with the best Twitter feed) Present & Correct comes this lovely site, an online exhibition of the history of neon signs in Hong Kong with a wonderfully-comprehensive selection of photographs of the city’s illuminated signage through history alongside explanations of the role of the medium in the city’s iconic visual style, tours of the city showing off some of the best examples, alongside content around their design and construction. Neon is ace, you’ll love this.
- You Can Now Book Zoom Calls With Famouses: You might not want to, though, given they’re all Americans you’ve probably never heard of, but still - Cameo is now giving you the option to book someone of the calibre of, say, Lance Bass of NSync fame to appear on your Zoom call for 10 minutes! It’s only for calls of upto 4 people, so no trying to get around the standard booking fees and trying to get him to appear at your virtual conference for $200; still, if you’ve ever wanted to spend 10 minutes grilling Perez Hilton as to whether he feels guilty for being instrumental in birthing some of the worst elements of today’s popular culture sump pit then GET INVOLVED (disappointingly I am almost certain that the famous reserve the right to terminate the call at any time, meaning Mr Hilton is unlikely to get the carpeting he so richly deserves via this platform). The absence of UK celebrities here is galling - DAVE BENSON PHILIPS, THIS IS YOUR TIME TO SHINE!
- The Quarantine Cat Film Festival: OH YES! This goes live in a few short hours and I imagine the excitement globally is already at fever pitch - if you though that NOTHING good has come out of lockdown and pandemic and associated horrors, think again - a whole FILM has been compiled of clips of cats in quarantine! OH MAOW! It’s seemingly a proper film, with plans for a theatrical release(!) at least across the US, but it’s screening virtually as of mid-afternoon UK time. There’s a pay-what-you-want mechanic attached to it, but I figure if you’re a cat fan then chucking a few quid to the people behind this won’t cause you too much misery.
By Fabio Viale
NEXT, ENJOY THIS TRULY SPECTACULAR D’N’B SELECTION BY DLR!
THE SECTION WHICH HOPES NOONE IS PLANNING ‘WE’RE DOWN TO LEVEL 3’ STREET PARTIES PLEASE, PT.2:
- Buy Spot: The moment is finally here! After many years of gawping in terrified awe at the quadripedal murderdogs of the future, the clever-if-potentially-insane people at Boston Dynamics have decided to make Spot The Terrifying Robot Dog (not its official name) available for purchase on application, to any corporation that wants one (some of you may recall some past chat about ‘not making this available to any buyer willy nilly’ - turns out Boston Dynamics changed CEO recently and this one seems a little more immediately-concerned with the immediate monetisation of their most-famous roboson and are suddenly a lot more relaxed about what AN Other private corporation might choose to do with its all-terrain indestructible camerabot)! Sadly (or not, depending on how relaxed or otherwise you might be about corporate armies of these things skipping gaily across London Fields policing one’s can consumption of a Friday night) they are only selling to businesses in the US at the moment, but I reckon it can’t be long before someone figures out a loophole. The price? $75k. I have no idea what the Imperica coffers are looking like (though tbh I can hazard a guess), but rest assured my campaign to get Editor Paul to buy one and call it ‘Matt’ starts here.
- Divebomber Dave: Dave is a bird. Dave doesn’t like it when people encroach upon his (we don’t know the gender of the bird but someone’s called it Dave and, honestly, I’m fine with that) patch, and Dave expresses this via the medium of aggressively flying at their heads, beak-first. Which, on reflection, makes it sound more like Dave’s a female protecting her nest - DAVINA! Anyway, this is a TikTok account and it’s quite funny.
- The NYC Traffic Archive: Not interesting interesting, fine, but the sort of civic digital project which I always think is indicative of the very best of open, public data - this is an initiative by New York Mesh (itself an excellent project designed to extend low-cost, high-quality broadband access to all residents of NYC, regardless of income) which works to archive and make searchable footage from the city’s traffic cameras, meaning they can be accessed by anyone for any purpose - most likely, America being what it is, for those seeking support from a legal perspective. Not flashy or exciting, but a reminder of why public information sets are important and why open access civic data is a boon.
- Quament: Or, more accurately, Redditalerts - the site seems to promise that it will eventually open itself up to a wider range of sources, but at present its functionality is limited to Reddit. Still, though, it’s potentially really useful for anyone looking to keep track of themes and topics across the site and who don’t have the money to pay for a proper digital monitoring product a la Brandwatch. You simply type in your keywords, either for the whole of Reddit or for individual subs, and Robert is your father’s brother - notifications get sent to your platform of choice. It’s simple, but equally seemingly effective and crucially free.
- The International Grizzly Bear Committee: Sadly not a committee composed of the world’s grizzly bears, but instead instead one comprised of humans which “formed in 1983 to help ensure recovery of viable grizzly bear populations and their habitat in the Lower 48 states through interagency coordination of policy, planning, management, and research.” To be honest it was the name more than anythingt that tickled me about this, and then I got into the section about bear resistant products and now I want to only dress in anti-grizzly kevlar til the day I die (not by bear).
- Ampled: This is a really interesting idea; Ampled is basically ‘Patreon, but specifically for musicians’, with the idea that it’s a community and artist-owned endeavour rather than one spawned from the horror of VC. I am torn with things like this - on the one hand I think it’s a good initiative and that artists should absolutely be paid for their work; on the other, I am not totally convinced that the world’s relationship with cultural content hasn’t shifted somewhat irrevocably over the past three decades, to the extent to which we simply do not ascribe the same material value to cultural output as we used to and as such there simply isn’t the same potential market for artists to monetise themselves as they used to. I hope I’m wrong, though - regardless, if you make music and think you have a fanbase that might want to support you on a regular basis, this could be worth a look.
- That Thread About Bees: You probably saw this already this week - it has done NUMBERS - but in case not then I highly recommend this thread (again, not something I say that often) which takes as its starting point a photograph of a beehive which has been something of an internet staple for a while now but which inexplicably got a new lease of life in recent weeks; the author, Steve Byrne, takes you on his journey as he tries to get to the bottom of where the original image came from, and when, and who made it, and why, and in so doing tells a very modern story about information and provenance and truth and collective mythology and how it’s getting harder and harder and harder to determine provenance online, and how fewer and fewer people care. As an aside, when I saw this picture doing the rounds again I tried to research when I’d first seen it, but was entirely incapable of doing so because of the accreted layer of clickbait history that accumulates each time it resurfaces on Facebook again - this is a frivolous example but something which I think is going to become an interesting and increasingly-knotty problem over the next decade or so (I feel this is the point at which an infinity of bearded men shout ‘BLOCKCHAIN!’ at me until I kill myself).
- Toy Faces: Diverse, 3d CG renders of cartoony people, free to download and use however you see fit, created by Amrit Pal. Not only is this a useful thing, but these are far better pieces of design than they needed to be.
- EZbiolink: On the one hand, this is yet another one of those ‘hey, let us make you an easy one-stop homepage for all your various social links that you can use as a universal profile’ and as such of no interest at all; on the other hand, this lets you do all sorts of clever retargeting stuff with FB and other pixels, etc, which I’ve not seen before in this sort of shovelware and which therefore makes it potentially worth a look.
- Flipo Flip: I feel that someone somewhere must already have done the job of scraping all Kickstarter listings to work out which combination of keywords guarantees you the biggest multiplier on your initial goal - I would imagine ‘stress relieving’ and ‘toy’ would both feature quite large in the eventual wordcloud. So it is with Flipo Flip, a simple executive toy which uses clever weighting and potential energy to basically become an infinitely-flipping metal dominothing (here I am laying bare before you my lack of understanding of either physics or object design!) and which has had £250,000 punted at it with nearly a fortnight to go. What I love about this - other than the fact that these people have raised more money than many people will earn in a lifetime for what is effectively a nicely-milled piece of weighted steel - is the lengths that they go to in the description to position it as a FUN TOY that is worth your investment. Look! You can spin it! You can race them! I feel they missed a trick here by not repurposing the Ren & Stimpy classic ‘Log!’ as part of their campaign.
- Fcuk Trump: On the one hand, one might argue that the past four years have shown up the artworld’s inability to land a glove on the truly powerful, and the paucity of the artistic response to political horror here in Q121C. On the other, fcuk Trump. This website is collecting works by artists from across the world who want to express their inevitable distaste for the sitting President and who are posting their work here to be shared, promoted, distributed and used as protest work in election year. Is it depressively defeatist to ask whether the culture wars have rendered all this moot, and to wonder whether the capacity for culture to change minds rather than simply stoke division and argument has diminished beyond saving? Yes, it probably is; fcuk Trump. Oh, and Johnson and Bolsonaro and Orban and Salvini and the rest.
- Travel Local: SO CLEVER by the people at The Pudding, this time using data from review sites to compile lists of the best visitor attractions across the US as judged by the people who know best, those who live in the local area. Not only is this (as always with their work) an excellent piece of datavisualisation and webwork, it’s also an object-lesson in smart use of datasets borne of a GENUINE INSIGHT (you don’t get many of those these days, do you? STOP USING IT AS A WORD THAT JUST MEANS ’INFORMATION’ YOU FCUKING CRETINS THIS IS THE REASON I AM SO UNBEARABLY ANGRY WITH YOU ALL THE TIME ahem sorry) to create useful content with an original slant. Another one of those links that will make you want to circulate it to a specific list of people you work with a note that simply reads ‘learn ffs’.
- The Ross Spiral Curriculum: This is either a legitimately interesting and conceptually novel way of displaying hierarchies and taxonomies of concepts within an educational framework, or it’s Timecube but for learning. I will leave it up to you to decide, but I really hope it’s the former mainly as I like the idea of parents having to navigate the learning spiral to work out what their kids ought to be doing for homework that week.
- The TRK Wage Calculator: I’ve had a couple of conversations with people over recent weeks around the possibility of more professions moving to a piecemeal working model; I personally think it’s quite likely as we normalise online working and the building blocks of jobs get more granular. If we’re not together in an office, why shouldn’t I go online to find someone cheap-but-well-reviewed to, say, write my press release, or chase the journalists, or do the scamps, or whatever? There’s literally no reason at all this couldn’t equally be applied to traditionally more ‘valuable’ work like ‘strategy’ or ‘planning’ either, to my mind, but maybe that shows how little I know about anything. Anyway, that’s all by way of a longwinded preamble to this site, which lets you calculate exactly how fast you’d need to work and how much you’d have to charge to be able to earn anything even approaching a living wage through Amazon’s piecemeal work marketplace Mechanical Turk - the answers will, unsurprisingly, not fill you with joy at the prospect of a future in which many more jobs have been reduced to this sort of system.
- Folding in CSS: This may not mean much to lots of you, but as I think I’ve mentioned before I have long had a soft spot for MAD magazine - its (I think) longest-serving artist Al Jaffee retired recently, he who was responsible among other things for the mag’s infamous and infinitely-inventive folding-gag covers (click the link, you’ll see what I mean). In tribute, Thomas Park has created some code in CSS that mimics the particular folding action of the page that was required to make the gags work - honestly, there’s something so lovely about this (and it’s a nice piece of code too).
- Free Textbooks From Springer: There is a LOT of stuff here, across a wide range of disciplines; no idea how much of this is relevant to UK curricula, but, hey, even if it’s not it might still be worth looking at. LEARNING FOR ITS OWN SAKE!!
- Lee Carballos Putting Challenge: My girlfriend is the world’s biggest Simpson’s fan (even recent series, she’s that undiscerning) - even if you’re not, though, you’ll quite possibly enjoy this small game, based on a throwaway gag from an old episode and which lets you play LEE CARBALLOS PUTTING CHALLENGE in all its retro glory (it’s not very glorious, if you don’t mind a tiny spoiler).
- September 2020: Obviously what I am about to say is coloured by the fact that I live in the UK and that I am being governed by people whose unique (but OH SO BRITISH!) combination of hubris, ignorance, venality and entitlement has contributed to us staring down the barrel of some pretty iffy outcomes from Phase 1 of the COVIDhorror, but it does feel very much like we’re done with lockdown now, and that the distancing thing’s not really hanging around for much longer either (the fact that I can go to a themepark with 300 strangers but not to a party with 8 friends and other legal idiosyncrasies of that ilk may be contributing a touch). This little interactive fiction game is a useful reminder of why it’s important to remember it’s not actually about most of us at all - its from the perspective of a student in the US who’s back at college in September; they are, your told at the outset, in a high-risk category as a result of a congenital medical condition which is currently flaring up. You play through the student’s day, and very quickly realise the extent to which you are dependent on the consideration of others for your personal safety, and the extent to which the absence of that consideration is a frightening and dangerous thing. One of the best empathy simulators I’ve played in an age, and that’s a compliment I promise.
- A New Life: You’ll need to download this, but it’s worth it. A beautiful love story game, with gorgeous illustrations and multiple endings - it may not have escaped your attention, but I’m not exactly overburdened with emotion and I’m hardly what might be described as ‘sentimental’; still, this captivated me like few other things this week, and I’d urge you to give it a try even if you don’t normally fcuk with games at all.
By Al Mefer
LAST IN THIS WEEK’S SELECTION OF MUSICAL PICK-ME-UPS, ENJOY THIS BALEARIC SUNSRISE MIX BY COLE MEDINA!
THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS IS ONCE AGAIN SADLY EMPTY!
THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!:
- Pull Up For Change: An Insta feed documenting the progress or lack thereof of business in increasing and improving black representation within their organisation. Given we’ve spent much of the past three weeks talking about practical things one can do to start to make systemic change around racism and diversity representation, thinking more carefully about the companies we buy things from seems like a fairly low-level bar to start at.
- The International Eraser Museum: Rubbers, but not the ‘sexy’ kind.
- Trash Metal Fabrications: The Insta account of a business that makes all sorts of metal garden furniture, primarily for the purpose of burning things inside. If you ever wanted a fire chimney in the shape of Darth Vader’s head then a) FFS grow up man; and b) here!
- Fcuk Mushrooms: Thanks Rina, for pointing me at this Insta feed of a person who really dislikes mushrooms and seems to have made it their mission to communicate that dislike via the medium of a middle finger to as many mycological examples as possible.
LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:
- White Fragility: The piece’s title is specifically about Portland’s white fragility - the author anchors the piece in her experience of living in the bastion of white, West Coast US liberalism - but the geography is unimportant, and the essay’s themes are relevant and important whether you’re in Portland, Portsmouth or Palermo. Please do read it - it’s really great writing, aside from anything else, but also is a remarkably clear articulation of how this stuff works: “White people, understand that this country was built for no one but you. Everything that you know and enjoy today is a byproduct of white supremacist patriarchal capitalism. Everything.” It’s sort of fundamental really.
- The Case for Reparations: This essay by Jason Hickel is a couple of years old now, but it’s worth reading now in the wake of the statements made by Lloyd’s of London, Greene King and others, acknowledging their roots in the slave trade and offering to make financial reparations to seek to make some (small, distant) amends. The question of how reparations ought to be organised is inevitably hugely-complex, but it feels like the argument that regardless, they very much ought has now seemingly been won; Hickel here makes a cogent case as to why; as the essay is taken from the text of a debate in the Durham Union, it contains a nice back-and-forth dismantling the arguments from the other side as to why reparations are not in fact appropriate; SO many good lines in here, of which “colonization is not a necessary vector for the transfer of knowledge and infrastructure” is a particular favourite. Really recommend this one; if nothing else it’s a good example of how to arrange, structure and, well, argue an argument.
- Race is an Ad Campaign: On black representation in ad(vermarketingpr)land, or more accurately the lack thereof. So much good stuff in here about what people in agencies can and should practically do to make a positive difference, including this: “For two weeks, I’ve seen dozens of industry leaders wax poetic about justice, equality, listening—and above all, love. Some responses were truly energizing. Many were the liberal equivalent of Thoughts & Prayers. Love is not the answer. The answer is bodies, talent, money, research, media strategies, earned-media ideas, KPIs to measure real wins and losses, deadlines to hold ourselves accountable, and everything else we use to get people to change behaviors. Instead of using all the creativity and data that those same industry leaders brag about to sell consumers yet another brand of soap, what if it was harnessed to get the knee off your neighbor’s neck?”
- Racism and Bongo: It seems odd to me that bongo as an industry hasn’t gotten more flak for some of the more, er, problematic tropes which it perpetuates, but it seems there’s perhaps something of a reckoning coming. This Rolling Stone article looks at how black workers in the industry have responded to the recent upsurge in focus on racial equality, and how the industry itself is, slowly, seeking to address some of its more egregious missteps. It’s tricky though when so many of the elements and themes that are considered ‘standard’ in bongo here in 2020 are rooted in some staggeringly old-fashioned and outright racist conceptions including the base-level objectification of black bodies, the ‘mandingo’ myth, etc etc.
- Coronavirus and Kids: This is really, really interesting, but also the sort of thing which I can read objectively as a childless man and think, vaguely, ‘there but for the grace of God’; those of you with children might find this a little more harrowing to read. Still, it’s a great piece of reporting in Buzzfeed US, interviewing over 40 kids of varying ages across the country to find how they have been coping with pandemic life. The headline screams that a generation of kids is being ‘shattered’ by the virus; what’s perhaps a more accurate assessment is that a generation of poor kids is going to be screwed whilst the rich kids will probably be fine. It was ever thus, but if you can read this and not feel for the children in the bottom tercile in this country and elsewhere whose prospects are being fcuked by this, even harder than they were by fate, then, well, you’re harder-hearted than even I.
- Reeducation in North-West China: A chilling and comprehensive account of the development of the Chinese state’s surveillance and internment infrastructure which over the past 5 years has systematically instituted racially-based controls over the Muslim population in the area. There’s so much of this that is genuinely a bit scary, and quite a few others that are just a bit jaw-dropping - the detail that the Chinese got the idea for a lot of the anti-Uighur stuff from the Snowden transcripts and then basically built their own kit off the back of that in a couple of years is mind-fcukingly impressive-and-horrible (ah, that early-21C doublethink!).
- I’m a Political Adviser, Ask Me Anything: HUGELY interesting thread on Reddit in which an evidently mid-tier UK govt adviser does an AMA; there are no official secrets spilled here, and you won’t get in the inside scoop on what the backroom staff really think is going on, but if you want a reasonable explanation of the role of advisers in government, the relationship between SPADS, MPs and civil servants, and a slightly-better comprehension of how the machinery of government works then this is very useful indeed. Also contains the truest statement I have ever read about politics in this or any other country, based on my interactions with a reasonable number of politicians from all parties of varying degrees of seniority: “The overwhelming majority of politicians genuinely want to do good things and would pour their heart and soul into fighting for their constituents and the causes they believe in. I think the uncomfortable truth is that a fair chunk of that number, through no failing or fault of their own, just don't have the ability to do that job well.”
- The Boogaloo Boys: You know about this lot by now - the latest ‘is it a memey joke or is it a gateway to fash?’ shi1tposters club, with the Hawai’an shirts and the overtly pro-gun attitude, currently blowing up all over TikTok and coming soon to Facebook and Instagram near YOU (if you live in the US at least). This is a reasonable primer as to what it’s all about, insofar as it’s ever possible to tell with this stuff, though my main feeling on reading this was the extent to which you could have written the same article 4 years ago substituting references to Boogaloo Boys with ‘Pepe’. Plus ca fcuking change, eh kids?
- The Bumblebee Effect: Almost a companion piece of content to the thread up there about the beehives - this one, though, is all about how a photo of a happily dancing middle-aged man at Pride in Brazil has over the course of about 10 years become indelibly associated across Central and Eastern Europe with a particular type of pro-Russian propaganda. It’s an object lesson in communication and semiotics and memetics and all those good things which I imagine all those of you who’ve actually studied critical theory will understand far better than I do.
- That Mental eBay Stalking Story: The story of how a bunch of guys at eBay started taking a website’s criticism of them a little too personally, to the point of then running a targeted and increasingly-unpleasant campaign of harassment against its owners. If you work in PR and you are honest with yourself you will know of clients you’ve had who would ABSOLUTELY have done this stuff, no questions asked; when I worked with Rockstar Games, they used to have an actual proper list of journalist that had ‘wronged’ them in some way (that could range from perhaps indicating in an oblique way that the Houser brothers were maybe a bit fond of the chang, to something as innocuous as ‘not giving Midnight Club: LA five stars’) who they would refuse review access to and who, I know for a fact, they would totally have menaced had they thought they could get away with it. WE’RE ALL JUST A STEP AWAY FROM THIS, is all I’m saying.
- Reclaiming Keynes: I studied Economics as part of my IB, and did pretty well in it as it happens; sadly my teacher was 100% accurate in his assessment of me when he wrote in my final report “It is entirely possible that Matt will go on to do exceptionally well at University; it is also entirely possible that he will do this without in fact learning anything at all” - pretty much my whole life there, thanks Alan (RIP)! Anyway, this is a brilliant and fascinating revisiting of everyone’s favourite Bloomsbury set shagger John Maynard Keynes, and why now might be a good time to reconsider his supplyside ideas as we seek ways out of the loooong economic valley (I’m being optimistic, still; OLD Matt would have called it a morass or something similarly bleak. SO MUCH PROGRESS!). Even if you’re not familiar with Keynes or particularly au fait with economic theory, this is accessible enough to be worth a read; I don’t, personally, understand how you can look at this and not go ‘yep, lefty economics simply make more sense’ but I guess that’s my pinko bias talking again.
- Hello Again Rebecca Black: I can’t imagine that many of you were clamouring for an update on Rebecca Black, former ‘most hated kid on the internet’ from about 2010 (dammit, 2011) - this isn’t a great article or THAT interesting, but I am including it because it was genuinely nice to see that Ms Black appears to have come out the other side of internetfamehorror and ended up quite happy and seemingly well-adjusted, and occasionally it’s nice just to celebrate that sort of thing. Also, in retrospect, Friday sort-of bangs.
- An Evening of Carnal Delights (As Imagine By My 10yo Self): McSweeney’s on magisterial form. I have never been a 10 year old girl, but for those of you have this might prove the prosey flashback you’ve been waiting for.
- Wuhan After Lockdown: Beautiful reportung in the San Francisico Chromicle, reporting stories from a variety of residents of Wuhan about their experiences of the pandemic and since. Reads far more like an acclaimed multivoice novel than the sort of thing you’d expect to read in a supplement, and honestly I could have read double the number of these anecdotes. What’s remarkable about it - possibly to do with a certain lack of affect that can sometimes characterise Chinese in translation - is how much it reads like modern Chinese near-future short fiction in passages.
- Pursuit as Happiness: A confession - I have never really enjoyed Hemingway. Possibly (and excuse the insane hubris of the comparison I’m about to make here, and know that it is not really intended to be a comparison at all) because my writing ‘style’ (ha) is pretty much antithetically opposed to his famously minimal, pared-back prose (what’s wrong with words, Ernie? Come on, play a little!). Still, I enjoyed this newly-published short story - apparently never-before seen - in the New Yorker, which features all the classic Hemingway tropes of the time. Rum, fishing, machismo, THE POWER OF THE OCEAN AND THE MAJESTY OF THE FISH, and some women for ballast. The writing is obviously excellent and if you can deal with the sent of cigar smoke and Bay Rum aftershave and ego then it’s a good read.
- How We Drink Now: Eight writers discuss their relationship with booze during lockdown, in Guernica. Honest and unashamed, these are lovely, varied vignettes which will hopefully make you feel a bit better about the empties mountain which rattles the neighbourhood every bin-day.
- The Season of Children: Finally this week, also in Guernica, Emilio Carrero writes a short story about childhood and masculinity and race. This is so, so, so good, proper catch-your-breath writing, and deserves your attention and maybe a drink too. Superb - and it’s a really good week for the longreads, so that’s no little recommendation.
By Jang Koal
AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:
- Let’s be clear - it is NOT POSSIBLE to listen to this mix of all the best bits from 1989’s musical releases and stiill be in a bad mood. The Hood Internet does it again:
- This is the second of Donato Sansone’s insane editing masterclasses I’ve featured in here now; why the fcuk all you ad agency types haven’t bought his skills yet is beyond me, this is again an incredible piece of work:
- What happens if you get GAN-imagined faces to read William Blake? This! I think the potential for this stuff is huge - we’re just on the cusp of being able to make things at home with this kit that look really, really impressive:
- ‘Icebergs’ is ‘an existential, dark comedy consisting of 14 short vignettes, ranging from the mundane to the absurd.’ It’s based on a book of shorts by everyone’s favourite surrealist-du-jour Efthymis Filippou, and really is very good indeed, from the animation to the direction to the material:
- Hiphop corner! This is 5-6 weeks old now, but I only found it this week and it made me very happy indeed; I think you will enjoy it. Tevin Studdard is a rapper whose local bakery shut because of COVID; when it reopened, he was so happy he made a song about how ace it is. Honestly, this is far, far better than it has any right to be:
- MORE HIPHOP CORNER (thanks Shardcore for the tip)! I think this is from Ghana - it’s by Ay Poyoo and it’s called ‘GOAT’ and whilst it is about him being in typical rapping braggadocio fashion ‘the greatest of all time’, it’s also very much about actual goats:
- Finally this week, you may not think you want to watch a video about Advanced Studio Recording Techniques, specifically "Building an Echo Chamber", but I promise you will not be able to look away and OH LOOK IS THAT THE TIME I REALLY MUST BE OFF AS I HAVE A NOT INSIGNIFICANT AMOUNT OF CLEANING AND GENERAL LIFE ADMIN TO DO BEFORE I ALLOW MYSELF TO GET UNCONSCIONABLY STONED AND PLAY MY NEW VIDEOGAME BUT YOU DON’T NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THAT ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW IS THAT I LOVE YOU AND THAT I CARE ABOUT YOU AND THAT I WANT YOU TO HAVE FUN AND STAY SAFE UNTIL NEXT WE MEET AGAIN AND THAT I THANK EACH AND EVERY ONE OF YOU FOR READING AND I LOVE YOU TAKE CARE I LOVE YOU TAKE CARE I LOVE YOU BYE