Man, holidays are good, aren't they? The sun and the sea and the swimming and the ability to read books again and not having to pretend to care about the stupid clients and the stupid job and the stupid industry that you hate and disdain and want to get as fas away from as possible and yet which you exist in some sort of queasy state of symbiosis with...this is universal, right? Right?
You know what isn't good? YES YOU DO IT'S THE FCUKING TORIES! Why, can someone please explain to me, does this sorry process need to take two fcuking months from start to fcuking finish? Anyone? The only small bright spot on the horizon, the only light at the end of the tunnel (I am, of course, ignoring the oncoming train) is that there's a small possibility that that dreadful man (no, the other one) might win and then find himself turfed out of No.10 within months as his party eats itself alive and we return to the country; an entire career, lifetime, of ambition culminating in a premiership less long-lasting or significant than any other in living memory, a footnote to a footnote of the whole sorry debacle that has constituted the past three years in UK politics. It's not much to cling to, but, to be honest, it's all we've got.
Anyway, it's been something of a long week but I have MANFULLY put in the requisite 6 solid hours of typing (pace Truman Capote, this is definitely not 'writing') required to bring you a Friday lunchtime link-based pick-me-up. The least you ingrates could do is read it and tell your friends (or enemies, or indeed strangers - I am not fussy) how great it is. Anyway, once again, lift up the metaphorical manhole cover, don the rubber waders and breathing apparatus and ease yourselves gingerly into the (metaphorically) malodorous (hopefully metaphorical) sewer that is this week's Web Curios - I DO THIS ALL FOR YOU, YOU KNOW.
(Oh, and by the way, Imperica is going to be doing another print magazine and they want contributors and they will pay! So if you have an idea for an article or feature about the NOW and the HORROR and the FEAR and the WARP AND WEFT OF DIGITAL MADNESS then, er, get in touch with them - details here)
By Guim Tió Zarraluki
LET’S KICK OFF THIS WEEK’S MIXES WITH THE BRAND NEW EP FROM WALES’ PREMIER UNDERGROUND RAPPER, ELRO!
THE SECTION WHICH WOULD QUITE LIKE IT IF THIS WAS THE LAST YEAR IN WHICH PEOPLE IN THE ADVERMARKETINGPR INDUSTRY HAD THE FCUKING EFFRONTERY TO SPEND A WEEK QUAFFING ROSE IN CANNES TALKING ABOUT ‘BRAND PURPOSE’ AND ‘ADVERTISING FOR GOOD’ BECAUSE CAN WE ALL PLEASE AGREE THAT NONE OF THIS SH1T IS ‘GOOD’ FOR ANYONE AND THE ONLY PURPOSE IS TO MAKE MONEY?
- Facebook Libra: Is it a cryptocurrency? Is it going to see Facebook’s Big Blue Misery Tokens replacing national currencies and existing payment platforms to become the de facto standard for online transactions for evermore? NOONE KNOWS! Still, that hasn’t stopped an awful lot of hot air and speculation from all sorts of people about WHAT IT ALL MEANS. You, probably advermarketingprdrone, don’t need to worry about it too much at this stage - it’s very nascent, the link only takes you to the White Paper introducing the whole project which is somewhat light on actual detail, and frankly this is the sort of thing you can probably just get away with namedropping in your next conversation about THE DIGITAL FUTURE whilst nodding sagely and muttering something about ‘decentralised ledgers’. Still, if you want to know more, the TechCrunch writeup isn’t bad, and there’s a very good longread on it *down there* for later.
- Facebook Comments to Become More ‘Meaningful’: Ha! Of course not! However, there will be a slight tweak to how comment visibility is determined, with comments on posts from individuals and Pages being upranked if they are interacted with by the original poster or the Page in question. Which means, if you’re in the unfortunate position of having anything to do with the pointless, soul-destroying task of corporate page community management, you’ll like the fact that you can use this to promote positive comments (and, by extension, bury negative ones) on your paymasters’ content. That’s nice, isn’t it?
- Facebook Launches Avatars: It’s basically Bitmoji, and it’s only available in Australia at the moment. Not so excited now, are you? I would expect the opportunity for brands to create clothing and accessories for these (“accessorise your avatar with a refreshing coke!”) to arrive in the not-too-distant future, so that’s something to look forwa...oh, actually, no, it isn’t.
- Facebook Watch Creates Stronger Links With Groups: In the main this post is about how WELL Facebook watch is doing - 140million people worldwide spend at least a minute on the platform, which is small beer compared to Facebook overall, but LOADS compared to piddling, insignificant platforms like, er, Twitter. The main point of interest here is Facebook continuing to place Groups front and centre by promotion official Groups associated with Watch shows right next to the video; just a reminder that it’s worth considering Groups stuff for pretty much anything on FB right now if you want to squeeze the last few remaining drops of utility from it as a non-ad platform.
- Brands Can Now Boost Influencer Posts on Insta: Look, I can’t be bothered to write this up - it’s old news now anyway, and the whole business of influencerwank makes me sick inside: “Now, posts uploaded by creators using Instagram's 'paid partnership' tool(which signposts when content has been paid for) will also feature a toggle that says 'allow my business partner to boost'. The feature will give the brand in question a chance to appear in the feeds and Stories of a wider audience, even if they don't follow the social media star.” HAPPY NOW?
- Twitter to Remove Precise Location Tagging: To be honest, this is only really of significant importance to researchers; Twitter geolocation in search and in social monitoring platforms has always been shonky.
- Snapchat Launches In-App Shop for Influencers: Or 5 influencers in the US - including, amazingly, Danielle Bregoli, aka the cashmeousside girl, aka Bhad Bhabie, who has somehow been able to parlay a viral appearance of Doctor Phil into the most baffling music career I have ever seen and a place in the same celebrity pantheon as the fcuking Kardashians, which honestly proves to me that I am too old to understand anything ever again - although obviously it’ll expand soon. This basically means that these people can now flog a range of tat direct from their Snapchat profiles, direct through the app, which, if you’re a tat-flogging famous, is probably great news.
- YouTube AR Lipstick: There are, fine, a few other updates in this post (about display ads - you can now use 3d assets in them, which users will be able to interact with if they desire), but the only really exciting bit is the new feature which will let users watching sponsored makeup tutorials from their favourite influencer use AR to see the makeup being flogged on their faces. It’s only in Alpha at the moment, but it’s potentially huge and quite remarkable in terms of how quickly this stuff is developing.
- Google Adds AR to Mobile Search: This is VERY FUN (and thanks to Kate Bevan for flagging this to me while I was on holiday); on newer Google phones, searching for certain animals will now offer up the option to see a 3d model of the critter in question and, if you like, throw it into real life via your phone’s camera. Which is a fun gimmick if you want to enliven a meeting by putting an ocelot on your colleague’s head, but also presages a future in which IKEA pays Google an obscene amount of money to make sure that its 3d models are the only ones that show up when someone searches for ‘bookcase’.
- Spotify Now Allows Ad Targeting by Podcast Topic: Advertisers will now be able to target users based on the genre of podcast they listen to on Spotify, rather than simply by music genre or playlist. This is REALLY interesting, imho, and I think you can probably do some quite fun / interesting / creative stuff with scripting around it if you were so inclined. It’s unclear whether you can specify listeners of specific sets of podcasts or how granular the targeting can get, but worth exploring as part of your next media buy, regardless.
- A Load of New LinkedIn Features: You can tag people in photos! You can send pictures in your LinkedIn messaging conversations! They’ve made filesharing live! YOU CAN NOW REACT TO PEOPLE’S POSTS IN MULTIPLE WAYS! Sadly there isn’t, it seems, a reaction which allows one to show exactly how one has been CRUSHED by a particular post or insight, but we live in hope. Have I mentioned how much I hate LinkedIn? I hate it so, so much.
- Fortnite Buys Houseparty: There’s not really anything you can do with this information, but I thought it worth noting as another proofpoint in the ongoing ‘no, Fortnite isn’t just a videogame’ conversation. Epic’s purchase of briefly-trendy group videochat app Houseparty suggests that they are well aware of their status as many teens’ favourite chatroom. I wouldn’t be hugely surprised were platform integrations with other messaging brands on the cards. Then again, I am a know-nothing bozo who understands the square root of fcuk all about BUSINESS, so my opinion’s probably not really worth much here.
- Meeker: You’ve all pretended to have read this by now, haven’t you? I bet you haven’t, though; I bet you scrubbed through the first 40-odd slides and then skipped randomly through the rest before going and reading someone else’s summary. I have, though, and you know what? Total waste of time. I think this is the year we should all give up on this; it’s not that interesting, it’s not particularly insightful (EVERYTHING! IS! GETTING! BIGGER!), it’s unnecessarily ugly and, at 333 slides, it’s TOO LONG (I know, I know, pottle). PLEASE DO BETTER NEXT TIME MARY.
By Wonmi Seo
DO YOU WANT A DUB REGGAE DAVID BOWIE COVERS ALBUM? I BET YOU DON’T THINK YOU DO BUT YOU ARE SO WRONG!
THE SECTION WHICH WOULD JUST LIKE TO REMIND EVERYONE THAT WHEN THE TORIES KNIFED THATCHER THEY APPOINTED JOHN MAJOR LESS THAN A WEEK LATER, SO IS THERE ANY CHANCE WE CAN HURRY THIS HORRIBLE FCUKING HORRORSHOW ON A BIT PLEASE BECAUSE, WELL, THERE APPEARS TO BE QUITE A LOT OF STUFF THAT IT WOULD BE NICE IF SOMEONE GOT ON WITH SORTING OUT, PT.1:
- Stonewall Forever: It’s nice to be able to mark the continuation of Pride month with this lovely piece of webwork rather than some sort of ghastly bit of corporate queerwashing. Stonewall Forver is a digital monument to the Pride movement, taking as its starting point the Stonewall riots but covering six separate and distinct strands of US queer history, from pre-Stonewall to the riots themselves, to the first Pride march and the state of modern activism. It’s presented as a documentary and a parallel interactive, which lets users explore archive materials, eye-witness accounts of past events, and also submit their own photographs and memories representing their queer experience. This is SO nicely made, and a generally great project.
- The Google Exoplanet Explainer: It’s not actually an exoplanet explainer - it’s a promo site for Google Cloud’s work with NASA, using brute force computation and ‘AI’ to help the space agency search for exoplanets at speed - but it does a good job of telling you what they are, and why finding them is usually such a tricky proposition, and it’s all presented in such lovely, gently cartoony style that it feels far more like something educational than promotional. Plus, once you get to the end there’s a little game that lets you try and find unique planets in space, which is a bit like a slightly shonky version of about 1% of No Man’s Sky! Aside from anything else, this isn’t a bad site to use to explain to people ‘look, this is the sort of thing you can ACTUALLY use rudimentary AI for; can we now all stop throwing the term around willy-nilly as it’s making us all look stupid.”
- The Adversary: A new bot, made by Friend of Curios Shardcore for Privacy International - the gimmick here is that The Adversary will, when you follow it, track your Twitter behaviour and occasionally send you custom videos with its interpretation of your feelings and state of mind, based on what it’s ‘read’. A comment on the illusory nature of online privacy, and typically nicely-designed, this could, you feel, have been a LOT more sinister were it not for pesky considerations of ‘ethics’. You can read Shardcore’s own explanation of the bot and the project here, should you be so inclined.
- Use Less: A great website - a good project, and beautiful design. Use Less is a side-project by creative design agency Nice & Serious, to help Londoners find shops near to them which don’t use single-use plastics, instead offering people the opportunity to refill old bottles and containers with produce rather than bringing home yet another fcuking bag for life. It also contains a bunch of links to various places where you can buy more environmentally-sound domestic staples, such as toothpaste and washing up liquid and shampoo, all wrapped up in a lovely 60s(?)-ish aesthetic. It doesn’t change the fact that everything is fcuked and there is no saving us, but it’s nice to try.
- Pattern Radio: Whale Songs: Another Google project, this time taking several years’ worth of undersea recordings and making them accessible online, using ‘AI’ to isolate and pinpoint whalesong within the wider soundfiles and allowing users to navigate straight to the singing cetaceans. There are various ‘tours’ of the audio available, in which experts guide you through the sounds and ask you to think about what you’re hearing, and how the visualisation of the audiofile maps onto the actual sound, and if you’ve got kids who are interested in nature or audio this is actually a pretty cool general resource. The main draw, though, is the whale chorus - obviously you wouldn’t necessarily want to listen to it ALL the time, but I’ve quite enjoyed them lowing at me as I typed this.
- Break Kickstarter: This is, on the one hand, interesting, and on the other hand invcredibly annoying. Next month, Kickstarter is inviting people who want to run crowdfunding campaigns on the platform to BREAK KICKSTARTER. Except they don’t want you to BREAK anything - instead what they want is for fundraisers to mess with the standard fundraising model, introducing CREATIVE ELEMENTS like ‘choose your own adventure’ mechanics, or a regular webseries, to the process of begging for cash. This feels very much like someone said “WE NEED TO INCREASE ON-SITE ENGAGEMENT AND RETURN VISITS” and this was the first idea they came up with, and I really hope we don’t get to a point where creators are forced to not only design and promote their campaign but also become performing content monkeys just to get visibility on the platform. I will be fascinated to see what comes of this, but I don’t personally see it as A Good Thing. Still, if you’re planning on launching a Kickstarter in July, why not consider also making it an episodic novel of something. FFS.
- Fake Gestural Video From Audio Files: There’s quite a lot of decent audiovisual ‘AI’ gubbins this week, but my very favourite is this one - researchers at the University of Berkeley took audio of John Oliver, fed it to a machine trained on video of him, and asked it to recreate what it thought it would look like if he were saying the words in the audio. The results are astonishing - fuzzy, fine, and they wouldn’t fool anyone at present, but the accuracy with which it models the general gestures is incredible; there’s a point at the end where they compare what the machine came up with with Oliver’s actual movements when speaking the words in question, and it’s close to the point of being a bit disturbing. I know I say this all the sodding time, but, really, BELIEVE NOTHING (or at least, believe nothing in 2021).
- Sub Simulator GPT2: This is ACE. A SubReddit in which every thread is a conversation between GPT2 text bots, each of which has been trained on a different ACTUAL subReddit - it’s totally nonsensical, but it’s also wonderful to see the entire ‘personality’ of these communities boiled down into one slightly stupid but utterly compelling bot.
- Write With Transformer: And if you want to play around with the GPT2 thing, this is another site that lets you try it out in your browser. It’s not as good as Talk To Transformer from a few weeks back, imho, but it’s still fun to type in inputs and let it finish your sentences. Hang on, let’s see what it does with this copy - what follows is what it’s spat out: “"What are you doing in this house with you, 〉 " I say, but it’s right up there with that.” That was TERRIBLE - BAD AI!
- Styleswapper: Or, to give it its official title, the AI Atelier Demo. This lets you input two different images and apply a style transfer from one to the other, which means with a little bit of imagination and no time at all, you can create something genuinely horrible. Why not spend the rest of the day taking the photos of your employer’s senior management and seeing what they look like when crossed with, say, photos of open heart surgery? MEATY MANAGEMENT. Bonus points to anyone who does this and uses the meaty ones to replace the official versions on the website.
- FakePhoto: It’s not called that - it’s by Nvidia, but doesn’t have a proper name, seemingly - but all you need to know is that this website lets you draw a bunch of abstract shapes and then tries to turn them into a photograph, based on what you’ve told it the abstract shapes are meant to be. Which is, I appreciate, a piss-poor description, even by my low-standards, but hopefully it will be pretty self-explanatory when you click. You can make some genuinely surreal stuff using this - it will all look a bit sub-Dali, fine, but the outputs are sort-of compelling nonetheless, and they can be downloaded should you want to start a side-Insta sharing gorgeous photos of the imaginary landscapes of the AI mind (actually that’s not a terrible idea).
- Nvidia Inpainting: Another Nvidia thingy (they don’t pay me - though they could if they wanted to - it’s just that they really are good at this stuff) which lets you play in-browser with its AI-assisted image-editing toys. Upload anything you like and seamlessly airbrush them, whether to remove the deep trenches on either side of your mouth in which you could reasonably grow potatoes were you so inclined (hate my appearance? Me? NEVER) or to delete an ex from history. A toy, but an impressive one.
- Apollo 11 In Realtime: Oh this is ACE, and such a smart use of archive materials. The site lets you experience the Apollo 11 mission as it happened, beginning 20 hours from the launch and taking you through until Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins stepped aboard the USS Hornet recovery ship. It ONLY uses archive materials, meaning it’s authentic as you like, and you can dip in and out of the memories at will, exploring as you go. Right now in realtime it’s July 21 1969 and the lads are on the moon, chatting with mission control - this is honestly quite remarkable as far as digital time machines go, and an exemplary piece of historical webwork.
- Flextime: This is...very sad indeed. Flextime lets you pick from a long list of celebrities (US ones, so your Kardashians and Jenners and basketballers and stuff) and, using your phone’s camera, lets you fake a screentime conversation with said famous; you, or the view from your phone’s camera, appear in a bubble in the top-left of the famouses’ screens as though you were ACTUALLY CHATTING; I presume that one would then use the resulting video as part of an HILARIOUS Story or similar. Potentially worth a look if you have a small child and want to convince them that you are friends with Kim K (your child is an IDIOT).
- Friendzone: We are all lonely. We are all isolated. We live in the post-Thatcherite atomised society and no amount of tapping and clicking will do anything to lessen the growing emotional distance between us as we move slowly and inexorably to the ultimate solitude of the grave. HAPPY FRIDAY EVERYONE! If the above bit of appallingly-teenage prose gave you the fantods, if you feel you would like to move on from the friends you had at University with whom you no longer have anything in common, if you’re sick of spending ANOTHER night with work because, then maybe Friendzone is for you - like a dating app, but for FRIENDS! It looks about as standard as these things get - profile, algorithmic matching, interest-based ‘AI’ pairing, yadda yadda yadda - and it will inevitably be ruined by men whose definition of ‘friendship’ is ‘aggressively sexually pursuing women on an app not designed for that purpose AT ALL’, but, regardless, check it out!
- Olivia AI: IT’S NOT FCUKING AI. Instead, Olivia is an open-source chatbot which you can use for whatever purposes you like; having played around with it, the current iteration doesn’t seem that good - but that’s the beauty of open source. Take it and make it better and STOP COMPLAINING (I can’t make it better, I am a useless non-coder and the future is not mine).
- Navigator: Another chatbot-type thing here, Navigator is designed specifically to make meetings less painful, helping compile an agenda, circulate relevant documents, take notes and multiple other features. I’m not 100% convinced that any of these things are that onerous, or indeed that this sort of hyperspecific bot-as-a-service thing can ever be useful or relevant unless it’s built bespoke for one’s own specific use-case, but if you’d like a virtual assistant to hassle everyone coming to your three’o’clock with increasingly intense “HAVE YOU READ THE STRATEGY DOCUMENT YET??” questions then this may well be some sort of digital nirvana for you.
- Botvolution: A Twitter account which, amongst other things, keeps an eye on the seemingly artificial boosting of political hashtags on UK Twitter. Interesting, and worth a follow - came to my attention this week after a fascinating thread on the campaign to oust Tom Watson crossed my eyeline.
- Arthacking Google Maps: I LOVE THIS IMMODERATELY. Artist Jason Isolini has exploited a Google Maps feature whereby business can upload 360 photos of the interior of their restaurants to specific locations by adding his own, odd, slightly vapourwave-y graphics to a bunch of locations all over the world. The link takes you to the overview of all his hacks; click on one to be taken to the streetview page for it, and marvel at the inventiveness. This is 100% stealable for a campaign (for the right sort of EXTREMELY ONLINE brand), and it annoys me that one of you will do this and win some sort of minor internet kudos for it when it was in fact my idea.
- 80s Hackney: A wonderful archive of pictures taken around Dalston and the surrounding areas in the 80s. I want a photo of that “I Don’t Hate Sharon” graffiti.
- Youper: Youper is an app that ‘helps you monitor and improve your emotional health’. You know what else might help you with that? NOT ATTEMPTING TO OUTSOURCE THE IMPORTANT EMOTIONAL PARTS OF LIFE TO A FCUKING APP. I have featured stuff like this before, and I think made the same point (I’m nothing if not tediously repetitious - although, come on, I’ve been doing this for nearly a decade now so you can probably let me off the occasional retread of old thoughts) - if you are feeling miserable or isolated or depressed, do you really think ‘talking’ to an uncaring, unfeeling machine is going to make you feel better? Also, this claims to be ‘powered by AI’ - OH REALLY? TELL ME HOW IT FCUKING WORKS, THEN? YOU CAN’T, CAN YOU? This stuff really boils my p1ss, honestly.
- Do Not Draw A Penis: Very silly, but also quite funny - the site uses all of the cock data accumulated by Google’s drawing project from a few years back to train an image recognition system which will automatically recognise and admonish you should you attempt to scrawl anything penile. Go on, you know you want to.
By Yves Tessier
CHECK OUT THIS SITE, COURTESY OF CURIOS’ (AND EVERYONE ELSE’S) MAN IN CHINA ALEX WILSON, FEATURING LOADS OF GREAT MIXES OF CONTEMPORARY CHINESE MUSIC!
THE SECTION WHICH WOULD JUST LIKE TO REMIND EVERYONE THAT WHEN THE TORIES KNIFED THATCHER THEY APPOINTED JOHN MAJOR LESS THAN A WEEK LATER, SO IS THERE ANY CHANCE WE CAN HURRY THIS HORRIBLE FCUKING HORRORSHOW ON A BIT PLEASE BECAUSE, WELL, THERE APPEARS TO BE QUITE A LOT OF STUFF THAT IT WOULD BE NICE IF SOMEONE GOT ON WITH SORTING OUT, PT.2:
- The National Geographic Travel Photo Awards: A chance to look at a whole host of places you would almost certainly much rather be right now. In a nice touch, all the winning photos are available to download as wallpapers for desktop or phone, which is cute.
- Wiki TMNT: Or, to give it it’s full name, “Wiki Titles Singable to TMNT Themesong”. This will make PERFECT sense as soon as you click - I very much recommend following this one, mainly for the fact that means that, if you’re a heavy Twitter user, there will be several times each day when you’ll get the Turtles earworm, which is never a bad thing.
- UIBot: Autogenerate examples of UIs for inspiration. An interesting exploration of the effect of automation on design - “Uibot is an experiment on how far one could automate the generation of visual designs, what kinds of advantages it would lead to and what issues one would face.”
- Storyline: I tweeted this yesterday and then wished I hadn’t, as it’s SUCH a brilliant idea to rip off for almost any client with data they want to make fun and I really ought to have kept the very minor glory of stealing someone else’s idea and passing it off as your own for myself. Anyway. Storyline is very simple - it presents you with the title of a dataset - “sales of fidget spinners, 2015-19”, for example - and asks you to take your best shot at accurately graphing the dataset. Yes, I know it sounds boring, but I promise it’s more fun than you’d think, and can be applied to almost any data you think of.
- The Close Approaches Database: It’s good to know that NASA keeps track of all the foreign space objects that are set to be hurtling worryingly close to Earth- if you’d like to experience a very faint sense of planetary unease, this is a GREAT resource (though you might have to Google what some of the distances actually mean, which I promise will be quite reassuring - honestly, they’re not THAT close).
- Suspicious Site Reporter: Help Google get better at finding and de-ranking dodgy sites by installing their Site Reporter Chrome Extension; any sites that look weird, click the button and Google will check them out. In an age of FAKE NEWS and scams and the like, it seems like the sort of thing we should all do. Or does that make you a cop? Oh God, it’s so hard to keep up with who the ‘good’ people are.
- Doodle Place: This is brilliant and pointless and oddly nightmarish. Doodle Place is a small virtual space, accessible via your browser and navigated with WASD. Populating Doodle World are...doodles - anyone can draw anything they like and drop it into the space, where it will be animated and exist on the site for anyone else visiting to see. It functions like a weird, lo-fi, very shonky virtual sculpture park, but it’s quite nice to wander through and see what everyone else has made. At the time of writing there are NO SWASTIKAS, which is always a present surprise.
- Bullet: This is potentially useful for the podcasters amongst you - Bullet’s an iOS app which lets you quickly and easily create short snippet-vids from your podcast audio, complete with captions, meaning you could, for example, use it to clip out the two STANDOUT LOLS from your otherwise criminally self-indulgent 40 minute chat about nothing with your HILARIOUS mate and use those as a promo on social.
- Leetfree: Very much one for the programmers, this - Leetfree collects actual, real examples of those whiteboard tests that tech companies make programmers do to show that they can actually do real code on the fly rather than just nicking everything off Github like some sort of script kiddie. I obviously have no idea what ANY of this means, but it’s quite interesting even for a non-coder in terms of getting a feel for exactly how (in theory if not in practise) computation can be applied to real-world problem solving.
- Brick: GO BRICK NOW screams the URL. What is Brick? “Brick is a grassroots movement for young people who are dissatisfied with their relationship to screens and social media, and are looking to spend more time engaged in the real world. We challenge our community to turn their phone into a brick for at least an hour a day. That means to set it down, put it in Brick Mode or put it in a box, and go do something engaging in the real world.” A touch smugly “Why Don’t You?”, but you may find something to empathise with here if you’re a tedious mindfulnesstwat.
- Memos: This is smart and, if you’re a big phototaker, potentially really useful - I think that there are several other programs that do the same or similar, but they’re all things like Evernote and therefore horrible and bloated. Memos is basically a search engine for your photos - on iOS only - which does text-in-image analysis meaning you can take pictures of printed text and then search for the photo from the app using text recognition. Very smart indeed.
- A Neural Net Forgets: If you haven’t seen this already - it’s a few weeks old now (SORRY BUT I WAS ON HOLIDAY FFS) - then do watch it. Simply put, it’s what happens when a neural net imagines a face, and then has its neurons turned off one-by-one. This feels far darker and sadder than it ought - it’s an honestly beautiful project and Alzheimer’s UK could do worse than contact the artist and ask to collaborate on something similar on a larger scale as an awareness-raiser (can someone please get them to do that? I think it’s quite a nice idea on reflection). Part of the wider AI Told Me project of AI-based artworks, all of which are similarly well-conceived and executed.
- Photos of the Hong Kong Protests: A typically great selection in The Atlantic.
- Dialup Tarot: Do you do Tarot, either for fun or for...er...darkly occult reasons? GREAT! This app promises to match you up with another random user so that you can do each others cards - it’s an extension of the Dialup ‘random chats with strangers’ app that I featured in April, but it’s a cute, silly idea, and I love the concept of Dialup, so I hope you’ll forgive me the slight repost (please forgive me).
- The Most Brutalist Website Ever: Also, INCREDIBLY geeky.
- MS Paint In-Browser: I don’t quite know why you’d want this, but I suppose if you fancy adding the MS Paint aesthetic to all your camera roll photos to better stand out on the gram, then, well, WHY NOT? Hang on, do all PCs still come with Paint or has it died? *checks* THANK GOD. This is a pleasingly old-school version, though, so perhaps it’s just for the retro lols. Why am I still typing this entry?
- Slutbot: Sadly this is only available to users with a US or Canadian phone number, which is SO UNFAIR; there are, though, ways around this. Slutbot is a chatbot designed to help you get BETTER AT SEXY TYPING! This is pure filth, and SO funny (or at least to me, though I appear to have the sense of humour of a teenage boy when it comes to a machine telling me that it wants to feel me up). Exactly how it’s going to make you better at smutwriting, or what encouragement it gives you if it turns out you’re really bad at it, I have no idea - let’s find out!
- Vapegasm: You can now preorder a vape pen which connects to a vibrator via bluetooth so that each time you take a drag, the toy activates. Just imagine the sort of person who thinks this is a good idea.
- Tiles: A gentle, simple, rather lovely new puzzle game from the New York Times. Honestly, this is excellent and one you could well keep coming back to.
- The Complete BBC Micro Games Archive: Oh my God - if you are of the era in which you would occasionally be allowed to play ‘games’ on the single school computer, so basically about 35-40, then this is a proper time machine. IT HAS GRANNY’S GARDEN ON IT FFS! Honestly, these are all totally sh1t but SUCH a nostalgia trip; if you’re a child, click this link and see what passed for entertainment in THE OLDEN TIMES.
- Mario Royale: This shouldn’t work, but it really does. The first level of Super Mario, playable in-browser, with you racing against 99 other players to complete the level the fastest. This is great, but you will struggle to stop playing it.
- Magirune: Last up in this week’s selection of timesucking sack-baiters is this mini-RPG; explore the dungeon, kill the monsters, find the treasure. Small, simple, but rather a lot of fun - and there’s a proper challenge in there if you want to finish it ‘properly’.
By Thomas Prior
LAST UP IN THIS WEEK’S MIXES, THIS IS CALLED “TROUBLE IN PARADISE: SONGS OF LOVE & LOSS FROM LATIN AMERICA” AND IT IS BY NICK STROPKO AND IT IS GREAT!
THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!:
- Gif-fiti: Graffiti, gif-ed!
- Mathieu Bordel: An artist whose work I’ve featured on here before, but whose Tumblr collects a wonderful selection of their surreal, slightly 60s collage-type images which are also for sale as prints. I do love this stuff.
- 8--bit Fiction: I’m not 100% sure what this is - the page presents a series of 8-bit-style artworks, each illustrating a single quote, but the provenance of the quotes is unclear. Regardless, I love the style and the overall effect is pleasingly melancholic.
THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!:
- Paul Chaddeison: The work of French concept artist Chaddeison is ace, and a pleasing mix of subjects within his very recognisable BIG SCIFI style.
- Nick Cave and the Bad Memes: The account name lies - these are EXCELLENT memes. I do hope Nick Cave knows this exists.
- Seb Lester: Seb is a very talented calligrapher, and this is a very soothing Insta feed indeed.
- Alchemink: The best tattoo work I’ve seen in a while, this is a wonderful line style; ‘pollock’esque’ is a horribly lazy descriptor but, well, too late!
- Worship Leaders Without Teeth: Thanks to Dan for this - apparently these are all Christian rock band lead singers, without their teeth. This is probably funnier if you know who these people are, but, frankly, gurning rockstars are always worth a few seconds of your time if you ask me.
LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:
- Facebook Will Make All The Money: This Bloomberg piece on the Facebook Libra announcement is the best thing I read on it this week (with the caveat that I got bored of reading takes reasonably quickly) - what I enjoyed was the way it couches the announcement in terms of Facebook’s increasingly clear desire to cement its status as a fundamental part of the web’s infrastructure rather than just a platform on it. It’s not too hard to see small countries in the developing world leaning into this stuff quite hard, not least given the de facto status of Facebook=the web across large swathes of the globe.
- Facebook Moderator PTSD: The latest Facebook PR horrorshow came in the form of this Verg article, in which people who’ve worked at FB’s moderation shops in the US break their NDAs to discuss the working conditions in the content-control farms. It won’t massively surprise you to learn that they are sub-optimal, nor indeed that Facebook (or the company it subcontracts the work to) doesn’t seem hugely bothered with the whole basic human dignity / ends-vs-means distinction. Two things, though, stood out - firstly, again, the fact that people are AWFUL and maybe all that stuff about Red Rooms on the Darkweb was true after all; and secondly, this line, which may be the most poignant thing I will read all year: “Other times, when he was having a particularly bleak day in the queue, a manager would hand him a bucket of Legos and encourage him to play with them to relieve the stress as he worked. Speagle built a house and a spaceship, but it didn’t make him feel better.” I might cry.
- Can Power Be Anything Other Than Zero-Sum: An interesting meditation on whether or not power must, definitionally, be a zero-sum concept (in most cases absolutely yes, is the answer - power is a finite resource; by definition, granting it to one person removes it from another, or blocks them from attaining it); what’s unusual is that it’s written by Jeff Raikes, ex-CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and a VERY rich man. One doesn’t usually read stuff like this from people at the top of the pyramid; Raikes was apparently inspired down this road of thinking by a conversation with Anand Giridharadas, someone whose thinking and writing I really enjoy and who is very much worth a follow if you’re not aware of them.
- The New Wilderness: Another in the seemingly-infinite line of pieces about THE DEATH OF PRIVACY or THE NEW PRIVACY or suchlike (by the way, did you know that there’s no native word for ‘privacy’ in Italian? MAKES YOU THINK, EH?), but which distinguishes itself by coining a new (to me at least) way of thinking about the concept - to whit, “ ‘ambient privacy’—the understanding that there is value in having our everyday interactions with one another remain outside the reach of monitoring, and that the small details of our daily lives should pass by unremembered. What we do at home, work, church, school, or in our leisure time does not belong in a permanent record. Not every conversation needs to be a deposition.” A really interesting read, which whilst not groundbreaking offers a few useful new ways of framing the questions it addresses.
- Detecting Facial Manipulation in Photoshop: This is a very boring paper by Adobe and I don’t suggest you read it properly unless you’re a coder or a masochist; I just want you to know that SOON there will be tools that will enable us all to (in theory) easily see whether or not an image has been ‘shopped or not, praise God. Obviously this will only work for things done in ACTUAL photoshop (and no I won’t capitalise it or ™ it, screw you Adobe you preposterous fools) which means it won’t actually do all that much to curb fakery, but it’s a step in the right direction.
- Creators vs Influencers: A rumination on the difference between the concept of ‘creator’ and ‘influencer’ as they apply across social platforms. It’s a bit silly, but interesting from the point of view of the intersection of culture, the evolution of language, and the web. Let me put it on the record that I despise both terms, fwiw.
- Writing on a 30 Year-Old Mac: One of those occasional “I tried some old tech and WOW it was so good!” nostalgia pieces; on this occasion, the author exhumes an old Macintosh (one of those beige cubes, if you recall) in order to see whether he can write his copy on it. Unsurprisingly, his main takeaway is that the experience of working on a machine with so few features makes it easier to concentrate and offers fewer distractions; that said, he’s only saying that because the piece is entirely personal experience and self-reflecting; I’d like to see him write Curios on that bastard thing.
- The YouTube Rebrand: Primarily one for the designers amongst you, this is an exhaustive walkthrough by the design agency responsible for the YouTube rebrand (WHAT DO YOU MEAN ‘WHAT REBRAND?’) - a really thorough breakdown of what they changed and why they did it. These things are often supremely wanky, but this is very clearly-written.
- Recommendations: Another in the THERE IS SO MUCH TAT ON SALE HOW DO WE CHOOSE series of articles, this looks at the retail-adjacent recommendation industry, encompassing review sites, newsletters and the rest. It’s interesting to see an analysis of a parallel / parasitic business area; I reckon you could probably still do reasonably well with something like this on Insta, using Stories, were you so inclined.
- The Ruthless Reality of Amazon’s One-Day Shipping: You know what I said up there about Facebook’s Libra being part of its long-term goal to become part of the fabric of the web? Well this is like that, but for Facebook read Amazon and for ‘part of the fabric of the web’ read ‘everything’. Explaining the lengths Amazon is going to to establish central control over as much of its logistics operation as it can, the piece paints a picture of a company that’s not going to be happy until it’s basically running anything that involves selling people stuff, start to finish. I read a BBC piece the other day which was looking at Amazon’s future plans; it was a bit puff-ish, and they’d been given access to a lot of senior Amazon people. One man they described as one of the company’s ‘visionary leaders’, and he was waxing lyrical about all the ways Amazon would change the world (for the better, obvs); a few paragraphs later, the piece briefly mentioned that he’d made his name at the company for coding something significant that helped save the company hundreds of millions at scale. Now, look, I’m not sniffing (I have never made my name at any company other than for a questionable attitude and a pyromaniac’s attitude to professional bridges), but surely that makes him a fcuking good coder rather than some sort of Jesus-like savant whose guidance we should blindly be following into the future. STAY IN YOUR FCUKING LANE, CODEMONGS!
- What Happened to SpeedX?: SpeedX was a Kickstarter project to fund an internet-connected bike - a very, very successful one. Til it went wrong and everything fell apart and loads of people lost their money. This is fascinating, not least on the quite mad world of doing business in China.
- CDs Are Coming Back: Are they? Are they really? I’m not sure about this one. Still, there’s an article about it online, which means that you can present it as an ACTUAL FACT next time you’re doing ‘strategy’ and need some rubbish to make you look like you’re on the cultural pulse. Apparently GenZ kids are buying CDs not to listen to but as an artefact of fandom or appreciation - which sort of works, I suppose, if you squint.
- The Queen of Mukbang: Mukbang, for those not already aware, is the term for people eating on camera for the pleasure (non-sexual) of the viewer; this is either from watching people eat improbably large amounts, or the ASMR-kick some people get from wet mouth sounds like chewing or swallowing (wow, ‘wet mouth sounds’ is a really unpleasant sentence to both read and type, turns out). Bethany Gaskin is a YouTuber who makes this sort of video, and it has made her RICH. Has any food brand done mukbang yet? It’s a pretty obvious win imho. Fcuk it, let’s go the whole hog and get Bird’s Eye to do a sploshing vid on Pr0nhub.
- Gunfluencers: Ah, influencers! This time, with guns (and, inevitably, breasts!)! This piece looks at the particular influencer economy that exists around firearms in the US, where gun companies are banned from promoting social posts that feature actual weapons; a ban which they gaily circumvent by paying people with huge followings lots of money to hold guns in their photos instead! This...this regulation of social advertising’s not really working, is it?
- Soberfluencers: Ah, influencers! This time, with the 12 steps (and, inevitably, breasts!)! Yep, even not being a raging alcoholic is now something you can be smugly positive about on Instagram; this, to me, is the very worst sort of performative claptrap the platform has to offer, this plastic commoditisation of a very real issue and a very real problem and something that people struggle with on a daily basis, coopted by people for no other reason than to sell an idea of ‘wellness’ to idiots. I need a drink (mum, it’s 11:13 am and I promise I very much do NOT need a drink, ok?).
- The Garfield Restaurant: The first ever officially-franchised Garfield restaurant has opened in Toronto. This is a profile of the restaurant and its owner, and it’s, honestly, one of the strangest things I have read all week. It has the slight feel of Tommy Wiseau about it - you know, someone utterly delusional but basically well-meaning, with a slight whiff of the mad/criminal about them. If any Curios readers happen to be in Toronto could you go along and tell me what it’s like please? Thanks.
- Liu Cixin’s War of the Worlds: A New Yorker profile of the Hugo Award-winning author of (most famously) the Three Body Problem trilogy; this is fascinating, partly due to the very un-writerly nature of Cixin himself (a man who happily accepts he is far more interested in the science than the fiction), partly due to the few details that are sort of left hanging (his drinking, for one), but in the main for the very uncomfortable feeling you get towards the end when he effectively sanctions violent suppression of popular protest by the state and you get the very real feeling that there are certain differences in culture between East and West that are almost insurmountable.
- 100 Fascinating Word Facts: A podcast transcript, so occasionally a bit annoying stylistically, but these are all WONDERFUL. Look: “‘Smart’ has meant clever for some 700 years, but its etymology is from the Old English for pain. Because smarts are a cutting wit. And yes, it is painful, yes.” SO GOOD.
- Jeremy Vine’s Story About Boris Johnson: I don’t really want to talk about that man - this lovely anecdote by Jeremy Vine about meeting Johnson twice at speaking events is beautifully told, and as revealing as anything else about him. What do we think the protocol is when it comes to moving one’s mistress into Number 10?
- An Oral History of Bennington College: If, like me, you spent much of your teens worshipping at the altar of Tartt, McInerny and Easton Ellis, you will be aware of Bennington College as the alma mater of two of those three, and various other gorgeous, doomed members of the 80s literati and music world. This is an oral history of the college when all those people were attending - it reads, wonderfully, like a slightly detached combination of the Secret History and The Rules of Attraction and made me wish I’d been beautiful and damned and sickeningly talented and very rich and there in 1983.
- Mike Tyson Smokes the Toad: A truly excellent profile of Mike Tyson, now in his third act and reinventing himself as a legal weed brand. This is great writing, with some cracking lines - it also does a good job of asking why Tyson’s getting such a relatively easy ride from people despite his history of violence against women and sexual assault. It also contains the assertion that Mike Tyson is a “spiritually awakened shaman/cannabis-entrepreneur warrior of the light”, which is probably a best phrase in Curios this week.
- Boxing: Superb essay by Fatima Farheen Mirza, on boxing and womanhood and strength and family and race. Beautifully written.
- The Lesbian Cruise: Finally this week, the happiest thing you will read all week. Funny and romantic and heartwarming, I cannot recommend it enough. Read it, and then send it to everyone you know who’s even a little bit soppy about LOVE and stuff, it’s genuinely great.
By Naudline Pierre
AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!
1) This is by Sleater Kinney, the video is by Miranda July, and it is just fcuking GREAT. Even if you don’t adore the music, the video really is worth a watch:
2) This is by Mexico City Blondes, and as soon as I heard the beat I was transported back to Manchester in 1997 and Fat City Records and OH GOD this is good (if you’re a 90s fetishist):
3) This track is called ‘Dancers’, it’s by Plaid, and it’s a gorgeous slow-build piece of melodic electronica with a truly beautiful CGI video:
4) This is called ‘Runaway’ by Half Alive, and it’s the sort of slightly skippy/glitchy pop song that reminds me a lot of about 2008ish, in a good way. Not un-Hot Chip-esque, if you need a better comparator:
5) This is by Aidan Moffat and RM HUbbart, and I think it might be their last ever song together. It’s called ‘Cut to Black’ and it’s beautiful and VERY Arab Strap-ish, as you might expect:
6) Hiphop Corner! This is called ‘Gang Sh1t’, it’s by Marlon Craft, and I would encourage you to watch, listen and pay attention - this is excellent:
7) Finally this week, this is the second song this year by Mattiel I’ve featured on here - I think she might be my favourite artist of 2019 so far. This is called ‘Food For Thought’ - she is SUCH a good performer, and it’s a cracking song, and I hope you like it and oh that’s it for this week BYE BYE I HAVE MISSED YOU SO MUCH IT IS SO GOOD TO BE BACK DOING CURIOS EVEN IF THE OTHER BITS OF BEING BACK ARE A BIT LESS GOOD I HOPE YOU ALL HAVE LOVELY WEEKENDS AND THAT THE SUN SHINES AND YOU GET TO SPEND TIME DOING THE THINGS YOU LOVE BEST AND I WILL SEE YOU NEXT WEEK SO DON’T WORRY IT WILL ALL BE OK AND IF IT ISN’T IT PROBABLY DOESN’T MATTER BYE I LOVE YOU HAVE FUN BYE I LOVE YOU BYE!: