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Web Curios 22/11/19

Web Curios 22/11/19

20 days left. 20 days. At least there's one less 'leader's' 'debate' to get through (both those words doing an AWFUL lot of heavy lifting this week), but otherwise this week's been largely free of positives. Although I did meet a friend who's standing as an MP (no, I don't understand either) and got to hear first-hand about the CRACK SUPPORT TEAM they've been granted by the party - sadly I can't talk about it, but know that however amateurish and two-bit you imagine local party politics to be, well, man, you have NO IDEA. 

Anyway, I am having friends over this afternoon and I need to make some sausage rolls (yes, that is exactly the sort of person I am, what of it?) and wash and not be in my pants and stuff, so I'm going to cut this bit short this week. Console yourselves with the fact that there are some genuinely CRACKING links this week (THEY ARE CRACKING EVERY WEEK FFS WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU YOU FCUKING INGRATES) and they will take you all the way through til hometime if you let them. Take a breath, sit back, flex your clicking finger and prepare to get Clockwork Orange-d by a whole week's worth of webspaff, firehosed into your face like some sort of lumpy, information-rich soup (let's call it soup; it's safer) - I'll be back to wipe you down later. 

I am Matt, this is Web Curios, and you may not want this but you certainly need it. 

By Eloy Morales



  • Twitter Fixes The Thorny Issue of Political Advertising Once and For All!: HA! FOOLED YOU! It’s in fact done nothing of the sort! The fact that there have been more column inches devoted to analysing the Tories’ ‘Factcheck’ stunt on Tuesday than to this suggests that either noone actually bothers reporting on detail anymore, instead choosing instead to focus on announcements (seriously - number of articles in the UK press lauding Dorsey’s decision to do this a couple of weeks ago? Dozens. Number of articles offering a nuanced appreciation of the eventual policy since it was published last week? Fcuk knows, but I’ve not seen any), or that everyone’s looked at this and gone ‘well, it’s just sh1t, isn’t it?’ The new rules - which apparently come into force today - offer a reasonably simple definition of ‘political’ ads which are no longer allowed: “content that references a candidate, political party, elected or appointed government official, election, referendum, ballot measure, legislation, regulation, directive, or judicial outcome.” The trickier bit comes with its changes to the terms around ‘issue’ ads, which will restrict targeting of ads which “educate, raise awareness, and/or call for people to take action in connection with civic engagement, economic growth, environmental stewardship, or social equity causes”, and which prevent for-profit organisations from running ads which have “the primary goal of driving political, judicial, legislative, or regulatory outcomes; however, cause-based advertising can facilitate public conversation around important topics.” Which, clearly, is an incredibly elastic definition. How does Twitter distinguish between an advert seeking to ‘facilitate public conversation’ on, say, immigration, with one designed to drive an electoral outcome designed to loosen or tighten controls? What’s the difference between an advert designed to stimulate healthy debate around a woman’s right to reproductive choice and one actively advocating for a specific regulatory framework on abortion? Who knows? Clearly not Twitter’s legal team, who can expect to spend countless hours debating the philosophical minutiae of questions such as these. Bad news for anyone hoping to get clarity on how social platforms’ influence on society can and should be regulated; GREAT news for lawyers who can expect to get fat off the profits from these sorts of arguments!
  • Facebook Launches ‘Whale’: Or at least in Canada they do. Whale is the latest toy to emerge from Facebook’s NPE team (the internal skunkworks set up earlier this year to drive innovation / shamelessly copy the featuresets of other, cooler platforms), and it’s basically a meme-creation tool; upload photos, play with templates, create photo stickers, draw freehand...basically it’s like all the creative tools from Insta and Stories all sort of chucked into one place with a vaguely ‘Hi, Fellow Kids!’ vibe to it; you’ll need a VPN to get it if you’re outside the snowy wilds of Poutineland (I could probably have just typed ‘Canada’ again there and saved myself the trouble, on reflection), but it doesn’t really seem worth it.
  • Facebook Adds New Brand Safety Controls for Advertisers: Basically this is a series of updates which makes it easier for brands to limit the type of content their ads will feature alongside when buying inventory on Instant Articles or the wider Facebook ad network; selected brands can now upload whitelists of approved sites (this will roll out to everyone in the near future), and advertisers can now apply white/blacklists at a campaign level rather than an ad set level, making it easier to ensure that you’re promo for baby food doesn’t end up on something from The Daily Stormer. Sensible, and the sort of thing you ought to be aware of if your clients are as tediously risk-averse as mine tend to be (WHY WON’T ANY OF YOU LET ME RUN A CAMPAIGN ON PR0NHUB FFS???).
  • TikTok Tests Social Commerce: We’ve spoken often enough about the way in which the web has meant everything now runs at 100x speed, and things that might have taken years to reach maturity now have the average lifespan of a Mayfly; so it is with TikTok, which started the year as THE HOT NEW THING SHINING A LIGHT ON THE MAGICAL DIVERSITY OF THE WORLD, morphed into a worldwide talent show to be stripmined by creative directors the world over (I SEE YOU, PERSON BEHIND THE M&S CHRISTMAS ADVERT), and is now hurtling towards the cynical monetisation phase; I predict the first raft of ‘why TikTok is played out’ thinkpieces to land in mid-February 2020. Anyway, that’s by way of a pointlessly-digressive way of introducing the news that the platforms soon going to let you sell rubbish to children directly through the app, with a ‘link in bio’-type feature. It’s hardly an e-commerce innovation, fine, but watch the TikTok meme merchandise economy go mental as soon as this gets rolled out fully.
  • Snapchat To Fact Check Political Ads: Just in case you were a political party and needed to know if you could lie on Snap or not. There was an interesting piece the other day about the cost-efficiency of video ads on Snapchat and how Labour had managed to get 1m+ views for a spend of about 3k or similar; the fact that everyone’s now moved on to gazing lustfully at TikTok means that you’re not competing with that many other advertisers for eyeballs, making it a potentially really cost-effective route to young hearts and minds. Interestingly (to me), you can also download the full inventory of political ads placed on the platform in 2018 and 2019 from the site; you get ALL the info, from the person who bought the ads, to the targeting options selected. See Facebook/Twitter - if Snap can do it, why the fcuk can’t you?
  • Google Maps To Integrate Local Guides’ Tips: This is interesting. Google is set to experiment with adding content from ‘Local Guides’ to map listings in a variety of locations, including London. The deal is that users in the selected cities “will soon see top Local Guides featured in the For You tab of the Google Maps app. When you follow one of these Local Guides, their recommendations will be surfaced to you in Google Maps, so you can get inspired with ideas of things to do and places to go.” Local Guides are, I think, just Google’s name for ‘people who leave loads of reviews and tips on Google Maps’, but, if this becomes a Thing, they’re also potentially very influential people indeed, particularly if you’re in the food/booze/bar/club business.
  • Google Clarifies Political Ad Policies: And another one! Basically this says ‘no lying, and no targeting aside from geography, age and gender’, but it’s worth reading the whole statement. This will be enforced in the UK starting next week, as far as I can tell, so, you know, BE AWARE.
  • Changes To Kid-Focused YouTube Content: This is quite big, I think, but hasn’t received that much attention. YouTube’s asking creators to start specifically flagging content they upload that is aimed at a child audience, basically to help secure kids’ safety on the platform; to quote the piece, “if creators mark a video as directed at kids, data collection will be blocked for all viewers, resulting in lower ad revenue, and those videos will lose some of the platform’s most popular features, including comments and end screens.” Exactly what constitutes ‘kids’ content’ isn’t clear (this seems to be something of a running theme at present; shall we just turn off the web for a while and spend some time just really nailing these definitions?), and YouTube is seemingly saying that it’s up to creators themselves to determine whether or not the stuff they make falls into this category. Oh, and you could be sued if you don’t declare something as being ‘for kids’ and then YouTube decides that in fact it is. This sounds like an INCREDIBLE mess, coming to a channel near you in 2020.
  • How To Recognise AI Snake Oil: Not strictly to do with advermarketingpr, fine, but I really would love every single one of you to give this at least a cursory skim; it’s a really useful, well-written guide to some of the most prevalent bullsh1t AI claims, which will be useful not only as it’ll help you determine when clients or prospects are lying through their teeth about their products, but also (hopefully) because reading it will make everyone in this bloody industry stop spaffing the term ‘AI’ all over the place without having the faintest inkling of what the everliving fcuk they are talking about.
  • Orchard Station, Singapore: Finally this week in the ‘vaguely professional’ bit, this is one of the nicest sites about an ongoing construction project I have ever seen. It’s to inform people about an ongoing development happening on the Singapore Metro, being undertaken by a company called (I love this name) Soletance Bachy, who apparently do foundation and excavation work. Regardless, LOOK how lovely this is; it sort of reminds me of Wip3out, if you know what I mean, and it’s proof that you can make even something quite mechanical and industrial look interesting and appealing with some smart design choices.

By Alexey Kondakov



  • Emoji Storm: Honestly, it’s all I can do to not just open this up and stare at it for the next 5 hours, Curios be damned - thankfully for all of you, I’ve got iron self-control. Emoji Storm is a neat little bit of coding by software engineer Robert Lesser which displays a constant falling stream of every single emoji being used on Twitter, in realtime. It’s MESMERISING, like some sort of realtime emotional barometer of (a very small percentage of) the planet, and I suggest you put it up on a telly in the office and just let it run all afternoon. I would love to see this during a major international news event; it would be a fascinating reflection of global mood. Still doesn’t explain the inexplicable popularity of the cry/laugh emoji (the most basic of ALL the emoji, please don’t @ me), though.
  • NASA’s Visual Universe: This is lovely - a wonderful combination of smart use of AI (it really is AI, promise) and excellent, fascinating photography. This is a Google Arts project, which has taken hundreds of thousands of photos from NASA’s archive and used machine learning to analyse and classify them; the interface then presents the images in associated ‘clusters’ based on what they depict. This is presented as a sort of zoomable constellation of thematic clusters, which you can navigate around to explore the images; this is SUCH a wonderful and fascinating collection, and the interface is beautiful, and it’s such an on-point illustration of what you can use this stuff for (to whit, brute force taxonomical classification at scale) - as well as being an absolute timesink if you’re into space and the history of its exploration.
  • AI vs AI: Another machine learning project, this time focused on language rather than imagery. I have no idea who this project is by - there doesn’t seem to be any ‘about’ info on the site, so no clue whether there’s some sort of political agenda behind it - but it’s an interesting idea; “The media landscape of Russia is monopolized by the government. Russia-1 channel – the key figure in this monopoly – uses propaganda techniques to influence the worldviews of Russians. TV Rain on the contrary is the only independent liberal media that gives its audience many different perspectives on life in Russia and abroad. To demonstrate a subtle difference between the news on both channels and how they affect people worldviews we created two pristine AIs. They were like twin kids who didn’t know anything about this world and had no life experience. Their minds were pure, so we brought them up on the news programs of Russia-1 and TV Rain channels respectively. In six month each AI had its own worldview formed through the lens of the media it was watching. The differences in their worldviews and vocabularies proved one thing.” As with all these projects, the output from the machines is a bit clunky; there’s no doubting the clear difference in the worldviews espoused, though, and it’s fascinating to see the world through two such distinct prisms. I’m not sure what this usefully tells us about anything - after all, noone consuming this sort of information is doing so in a vacuum, unlike the AIs - but as a piece of digital art I am very much a fan.
  • The Information is Beautiful Award Winners 2019: Another year, another tip-top selection of glorious dataviz selected by David McCandless and team (is there a team? If it’s just you, David, blimey you work hard); there’s some truly stellar work, as ever, some of which I’ve featured on here before but much of which is totally new to me. Pick your own favourites - I’m personally slightly in love with the ‘mountains of light’ work, visualisation light pollution as topography, but basically every single thing here is very, very good indeed.
  • Laniakea: An interesting way of displaying information from a document set (thrilling description, I know, but bear with me), Laniakea is (I think) a product being peddled by Fathom, a data-wrangling company; the idea is that it analyses a document set and maps what it finds according to the most ‘meaningful’ content, allowing for quick oversight of themes, topics and connections. They’ve got a few examples on the site, including one displaying the ‘map’ (they end up looking vaguely cartographical) of a section of Wikipedia; it’s really, really interesting, and a potentially really useful way of getting an overview of a complex wodge of information, though I’m slightly annoyed that I can’t zoom and pan around the visualisation (it’s disgusting how entitled I am, really).
  • Create Your Own Google Earth Tours: This is SO COOL. Google this week opened up the ‘Tour Creation’ feature of its Earth product to everyone - meaning that now anyone can make a swooping, soaring, magical 3d tour of the globe, based on whichever waypoints they choose. Want to map all the holidays you’ve ever taken and take a zooming tour of them? Go for your life! Want to create a poignant, sad journey around every single place you’ve ever broken up with someone? Ok, you miserable fcuk! The tours are obviously shareable, and I am genuinely excited to see what (more creative) people (than me) make with this; I think there will be at least one BEAUTIFUL music video. Please, give it a try and see what you come up with (and share the results with me).
  • FakeTextFinder: Not the technical name, but at least it’s descriptive. This is a browser extension (available for Chrome and Firefox) which will, it claims, identify GPT-2-generated text on a webpage at the touch of a button, thereby protecting you (in part) from the scourge of fakery and LIES. I tried it out on the algoCurios over at webcurios.co.uk and it flagged all of them; a relatively low bar, admittedly, but still. If you’re paranoid that everything you read on the web might be a machine-generated lie then, well, you’ve got problems, mate, but this might also provide some small crumb of comfort.
  • The Brexit Party: This week’s reminder, if you’ve not seen it, of the importance of buying your domain names.
  • No-Wash Trousers: At the time of writing this has 6 hours left to go on Kickstarter - it’s 10x-funded, which is testament to exactly how many people really, really hate doing laundry. Would you buy a pair of trousers that advertised themselves as ‘self-cleaning’, or would you think ‘hm, no, that sounds a bit disgusting and also I quite like clean clothes’? ‘The outside repels liquids and semi-liquids [what the fcuk are ‘semi-liquids’?] while the inside is anti-bacterial and odour repellent’ - lovely, eh? Whilst on the one hand the idea of trousers that you can’t stain is...good?, the implication that ‘you don’t need to wash them!’ is a touch less appealing. Also, now I come to think of it, the term ‘odour repellent’ is...odd. Does it bounce smells away? No, I don’t think I’m going to buy a pair. Also, FCUK ME THEY ARE 100 QUID THAT IS MENTAL.
  • The Open Diaries: Oh blimey, there is a LOT in here. The Open Diaries is an app for diary-writing; no particularly interesting frills or features, other than that you can choose whether you want your diary to be private or public; if public, anyone can read it on the accompanying Open Diaries website. There’s a surprising number of people using this, and agreeing to make their personal musings publicly visible to the world, and, honestly, I could spend all day on here. The quality of the writing is...variable, and as ever with stuff like this you wonder to what extent the writing would differ were there no audience, but this is basically an emotional voyeur’s dream. I promise you, if you’re in any way curious about people and their inner lives, you will find a lot to love in here. Also, as a place to experiment with an epistolary novel this isn’t bad (because I know that that’s what you’re all desperately searching for, right?).
  • Rosebud AI: This is an interesting idea, but one which really doesn’t work at all at the moment. Rosebud’s a service which is hoping to create an entirely AI-driven stock photography market, with images manipulated by machine to enable people to change the faces of the models at will; the idea being that you only need a relatively small library of images, because you can swap the ethnicity and facial features of the models at will. At present, the platform has a bunch of stock photos on it that you can switch the ethnicity of; there’s an ‘upload your own photo’ feature coming soon, which will in theory allow you to graft anyone’s image into any photo you like. Except, well, it really doesn’t work at all; the current setup makes every single person look a bit like an eerie space alien, whichever face you apply, and it’s hard to see how the specific software models its running on will ever be quite good enough to make this work in a way that anyone might actually use. Don’t get me wrong, this will absolutely become A Thing; I just don’t think it’ll be this particular version of the tech.
  • All of the Decade Reviews: Rex Sorgatz is doing God’s work by compiling all of the lists raking back over the past 10 years in one place. Here you’ll find all the ‘best films of the 2010s’, ‘best albums of the 2010s’, ‘best games of the 2010s’ and, bafflingly, ‘the 19 most iconic Keanu Reeves moments of the 2010s’ (thanks, Buzzfeed!), just in case you really want to wallow in nostalgia as this sh1tty, sh1tty decade draws to a wheezing conclusion.
  • Trump Only Listens To Trump: A cute idea, taking clips of Donald Trump’s voice, cutting them up, Cassetteboy-style to make it sound like he’s acknowledging the reality of climate change, and giving you the opportunity to tweet these clips at him in the almost certainly entirely futile hope that he’ll listen and have some sort of Damascene moment. Interestingly, this is made by a LARGE AGENCY GROUP which is too craven to actually talk about it publicly because their big bosses are worried about alienating Republicans - the bravery of adland is always a genuine joy to witness.
  • Ht The High Notes: Matt Round’s had a very good year creatively, churning out excellent webtoys and silly gubbins at a rate of knots. His latest is this brilliant, very silly browser game, which I advise you to make everyone you work with play this afternoon. It’s a simple challenge - the site asks you to hit the same note as a bunch of different famous singers singing famous songs as a fun way of testing your vocal range; it’s literally impossible not to smile whilst doing this, and I promise you will hate your colleagues marginally less when you’ve seen them tunelessly-straining for a high C in front of a bemused office.
  • Laser Discontent: I said to someone earlier this week, whilst acknowledging the banality of the observation, that 2019 really has been the year in which we drop the ‘sci-fi’ from the phrase ‘sci-fi dystopia’; the footage from Hong Kong this week was quite astonishing, from the anime-stylings of the protestors to the very, very scary futurefashy look of the police (I know that fashion is not the point here, but aesthetics are culturally interesting to me) - this collection of photos showcases the other massively sci-fi thing that’s become a real thing this week, the use of laser pointers as a surveillance disruption technique. These are some incredible images, which I would love to be able to send back in time about 30 years to scare 90s me out of his lazy, stoned complacency.
  • The Comedy Wildlife Photo Winners 2019: Comedy critters! So many comedy critters! You might have seen a few of these already - the one of the buffalo having its swingers threatened by a peckish lion is a bona fide classic - but I promise you that the whole selection would cheer you immeasurably. Whoever titled the images wants shooting, mind.
  • Speaking: A site collecting all sorts of potentially useful tips and advice on public speaking, for those of you who don’t enjoy showing off in front of an audience. Amazingly, ‘imagine the audience naked’ isn’t one of the pieces of advice.
  • Recursive Design: This is...oh, look, here: “Built to maximize versatility, control, and performance, Recursive is a five-axis variable font. This enables you to choose from a wide range of predefined styles, or dial in exactly what you want for each of its axes: *Proportion, Monospace, Weight, Slant, and Italic*. Taking full advantage of variable font technology, Recursive offers an unprecedented level of flexibility, all from a single font file.” This may not sound interesting, but click the link and have a play and prepare to have your tiny mind BLOWN. This really does slightly baffle me, in the best possible way.
  • Border Tuner: In my opinion a far better and more interesting US border artwork than the swings from earlier this year, this is a project currently being undertaken by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer at the US/Mexican border; “Three interactive stations on each side of the border will control powerful searchlight beams using a small dial wheel. When lights from any two stations are directed at each other, microphones and speakers automatically switch-on to allow participants to talk with one another, creating cross-border conversations.” It’s worth reading the ‘concept’ page in full; it’s a really thoughtful piece, subtle and effective.
  • Red Panda Finder: Red Pandas are obviously PREPOSTEROUSLY cute - this site lets you search the world’s zoos to see which ones currently have one in their collections, and helps you find the nearest one to your location. At a loss as to what to do this weekend? Why not go and see a red panda? It’ll be fun!

By Xiao Zexie



  • Looom: This isn’t technically out yet, but you can sign up for the waiting list; if you have any interest at all in animation, this looks like an amazing app. The blurb says it’s been inspired by music composition tools, which I am personally slightly baffled by, but the videos of it in action show a tool that is beautiful (really, really lovely interface) and seemingly pretty simple to use. Definitely worth checking out, whether you’re already an animator or if it’s just something you’d be interested in playing around with.
  • Football In Qatar: I’ve featured Goal Click on here before a couple of times, and it’s made my a couple of friends of mine; no shame in featuring it again, though, as they’ve just launched a whole load of really fascinating content about football culture in Qatar ahead of the World Cup in 2022. It’s nice to see stories of real Qataris talking about what the sport and the tournament means to them, and the photos - taken by local residents using disposable film cameras, as is always the Goal Click way - are great.
  • The Soup Map: Thanks to Joe Muggs for featuring this in his (excellent) newsletter and thereby bringing it to my attention. It’s a map! Of European soups! If you ever wanted to go on an entirely soup-led pilgrimage around the continent, sampling watery delights from everywhere from Hungary to Finland then this is almost certainly the planning tool you’ve been dreaming of. Even if not, who doesn’t love an exhaustive deep dive into the joys of soup? NO FCUKER, THAT’S WHO!
  • Onomatopoeias: A selection of those onomatopoeic ‘POW’, ‘BIFF’, ‘CRASH’ signs from old-school Batman. Tell you what, I would really like it if the next decade saw a reversal of the 2010s trend for ‘gritty’ reboots and instead went the other way, reimagining entertainments as boldly-coloured, ridiculous 1950s pastiches. I want to see Breaking Bad but redone in the style of I Love Lucy, basically.
  • The Lockpicking Lawyer: Would you like to watch a series of videos in which a faceless, anonymous lawyer picks hundreds of locks with quietly dispassionate skill, all the while narrating his progress with a series of incredibly arcane and (to me at least) borderline-nonsensical terms. There is no reason why this should be as compelling as it is, but, honestly, I just fell into a small, unexpected ASMR trance while one of these played in the background. No idea if it’ll teach you how to become a master criminal, though.
  • The Food Place: The Good Place is the only famous TV show of recent years I’ve watched (I was suckered in by the philosophy) (he says, like the appalling, pretentious snob he is); this is a lovely little fan site by Lynn Fisher, presenting a menu for a Good Place eatery and featuring a bunch of gags and callbacks referencing the show’s characters and situations. You’ll need to know the programme for this to make any sense, mind.
  • Buy A Missile Silo: Do you have a spare $400,000? If the answer to that is ‘yes’, then please stop reading this immediately and drop me a line as I have an exciting and foolproof business proposition for you! Or, alternatively, why not invest in this well-appointed (if a little rusty) Arizona missile silo? Seemingly in the middle of nowhere, 20 minutes from Tucson, and very much the sort of thing that an aspirant supervillain might consider as a starter lair. To be honest I’m less interested in the Silo itself than I am in who the eventual buyer might be; to does feel a little bit like it might end up as the final resting place of a doomsday cult, but here’s hoping I’m wrong about that.
  • The Cash Railway Website: Cash railways, for those of you not already familiar with the concept, are those systems used in shops back in the day to move money or small inventory items around a large space with minimal effort - like the vacuum tubes that you occasionally see in opticians, for example. This website is an exhaustive celebration of the cash railway in all its many forms, and it’s the sort of pleasingly-shonky hobbyism that Curios basically exists to celebrate. The man behind the site is called Andrew - Andrew, I applaud your dedication to, and love for, the cash railway. HAIL ANDREW!
  • Open Memory Box: Oh wow, this is a historical goldmine. Open Memory Box is an online collection of old home movies from the former GDR, capturing East German life between the 50s and 1990 in all its glorious beauty. There’s SO MUCH to enjoy in here, and there’s always something particularly beautiful/poignant about watching strangers’ home footage, I find; there’s a sort of sad ephemerality about it , a sense that noone you’re watching exists any more and you’re peering through the net curtains of their past (or there is if you’re me, at any rate). The videos cover a huge range of events, from weddings to street parties, birthdays to scenes of domestic ennui - honestly, this is a quite incredible website and quite incredible resource, and I could watch clips like this one all day.
  • Placement: This is an interesting model. Placement is a jobsearch service - the gimmick being that they promise to find you a healthy salary increase in exchange for you paying them a percentage of your new salary for 18-36m (depending on the terms you select). It’s a US service, and it sort-of makes sense there, where it’s far more normal for people to up and move halfway across the country to a totally new city for the sake of an extra $20k a year; Placement will take care of moving, help you find an apartment, and a bunch of other stuff; the cost seems HIGH, frankly, with the examples they give on the website seemingly suggesting that you’ll effectively be netting out at a couple of hundred bucks a month additional income while you’re paying the fees on your salary; which, frankly, doesn’t sound like a good enough reason to up sticks and move to Incest, Idaho for A N Other marketing gig.
  • Good Sign Offs: A list of creative alternatives for you to sign off your emails with. There are some beauties in here; I particularly like “Nobody is above the law’ as a sober sign-off, although “See you in hell” is also a strong contender.
  • Make Your Own XKCD-style Charts: You’ll need a bit of light codewrangling ability to do this, but should you wish to make all your graphs look like Randall Munroe’s signature hand-drawn style then this will teach you how.
  • Legit: I can’t imagine this ever taking off, but I do rather like the concept. Legit is an app that lets users publish lists of stuff they’re watching, reading, eating, etc, alongside their reviews and ratings; anyone can follow anyone else’s feed of ratings, turning the whole thing into a neat-sounding reviews and recommendations site. The appeal here is the light-touch sound; I quite like the idea that I could just quietly post one-line reviews of the books I read and that anyone could equally-quietly follow said reviews if they for some unaccountable reason gave a fcuk about my opinions. I know that there have been variants on this idea before, and none of them have really caught on, but I do think there’s something in the idea if not this specific execution.
  • Qello: I can’t believe I’ve never heard of this; Qello gives the impression of something that’s been going for ages, but oddly has never crossed my path before. It’s a really impressive resource - subscription-based, fine, but if you’re into live music and music documentaries, etc, it’s got a staggering libary of official gig footage available to stream on demand - although sadly no Jandek. Particularly good if you like CLASSIC ROCK, but there’s a reasonable amount of recent-ish stuff too.
  • FYTA: A PODCAST! This is a reader submission, sent in by Foivos Dousos (THANKYOU FOR READING, FOISOS DOUSOS), and it sounds really rather interesting: “FYTA present a series of 26 thematic shows, one for every letter of the english alphabet. Each show introduces concepts, philosophers, poets and music projects whose name starts from each specific letter. In alphabetical order, FYTA re-examine and re-define the world of proper names. The ABC of FYTA heralds the coming of a new language; it is essentially a dictionary of pulses and pauses, a study in nominalism, a post-punk pilgrim, an educational radio program for the masses who struggle to understand the new reality of our times. From Theodor Adorno to Alekna Zupancic and from Aunt Sally to die Zwei the ABC of FYTA will categorise an impossibly chaotic world of influences and contradictions.” I mean, that sounds basically perfect, doesn’t it? Give it a listen.
  • Guess My Word: This is brilliant. Simple, but brilliant. Each day, a new word is there to be guessed. You type in a guess, hit submit, and the site will tell you whether the word you’re looking for is ahead or behind the one you submitted in the alphabet. Rinse and repeat til you’ve guessed the word of the day or you give you (DON’T GIVE UP). This shouldn’t be as much fun as it is - and maybe, if you’re not me, it’s not fun at all - but I’ve played it every day this week and am genuinely looking forward to doing so again later (my life is so empty).
  • The 2019 IF Competition Winners: I know I featured this earlier in the year, but I make no apologies about doing so again now that they’ve picked the best of this year’s entries. If you’ve never played an IF ‘game’ before, PLEASE give one a go now - it’s such an interesting medium, and people are making some truly great stories across styles and genres; if nothing else, I think this is a hugely underexploited medium for BRANDED CONTENT (no, really), so maybe that will be enough to tempt you in (but, if it really took a mention of ‘branded content’ then perhaps it’s time you maybe reevaluated your priorities). Try Turandot if you want a flavour; fun, ribald, pacey and nicely-written.
  • The Bastard Game: I mean, it’s not technically called that, but it’s pretty much the best description I can think of for it (thanks Sherlock for sending it to me); try playing Tetris and Snake, simultaneously, using the same controls. Lose in one, lose in both. Death is inevitable (in game as in life), but how long can you stave off the inevitable for? This is basically like rubbing your belly and patting your head simultaneously while riding a unicycle or something.
  • Tweetjam: Finally in this week’s selection of miscellania, the entrants to Tweetjam, in which participants were challenged to come up with tiny games, the code for which would fit into two Tweets. The ingenuity on display here is AMAZING, and a couple of the games are actually quite fun which is far more than I was expecting. There are 60-odd games, so there’s bound to be something in here which will prove more appealing than work for the rest of the day. I mean, look, it’s TINY GOLF ffs!

By Drew Simpson



  • Fcuk Yeah Book Arts: Books! Art! Art made from books! All of that! In a Tumblr!
  • Eating Streatham: There are, apparently, 60 eateries on Streatham High Road. The person behind this is going to review all of them. They’re only one down at the moment, but I wish them all the luck and perseverence in the world; I imagine there will be some absolute horrorshows as part of the series.
  • Beeple: Excellent, weird, pop-culture scifi art. One of the pictures is called ‘Buzz Lightyear Nuclear Holocaust’, which probably tells you all you need to know about the style here.
  • The Best Crap Estate Agent Photos Ever: Fine, this is a single post rather than a whole Tumblr, but I promise you that these are worth it. Even if you think you know bad property photos on the internet, even if you’re jaded by the seemingly-neverending parade of ‘cursed X’ memery, I promise you that there will be stuff in here that will make your eyes widen in confused disbelief.


  • Bernhard Lang: Bernhard takes aerial photos. This is his Instagram, full of, er, his aerial photos. These are SUPERB.
  • Fashion For Bank Robbers: ‘Contemporary Masks and Headpieces’, runs the description, but trust me - this is Cremaster-era Matthew Barney-levels of odd.
  • The Greater Bombay: I had no idea at all that cabbies in Mumbai often paint the ceilings of their cabs in vibrant designs; this feed collects photos of said taxi ceilings in all their glory.
  • Coin Op London: Launderettes, in all their slightly dowdy, 70s-scented non-glory.


  • Hong Kong in Photos: Not just in photos - this is a really interesting take on the protests by California Sunday Magazine, which in this photo essay presents a series of accounts of the lived experience of the protests by a variety of native Hong Kong citizens, some involved, some not. There’s been relatively little reporting that I’ve seen of the wider public attitudes to the movement amongst the ‘average’ residents of the territory, and it’s fascinating to hear the gently contrasting opinions here canvassed.
  • Chinese Millennials: A very non-LRB article in the LRB this week (which itself is I suppose quite an LRB thing), painting a picture of the ‘millennial’ class in China (though, as here, ‘millennial’ is a silly and unhelpful classifier; Chinese youth tribes tend to be stratified by decade of birth rather than as a single lumped-together coterie. Taking you through attitudes to fashion and commerce, to politics, love and relationship, this is a neat, if necessarily superficial, portrait of a generation.
  • Suppressed Reality: This is actually a recent edition of Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten’s newsletter - Boris is CEO of The Next Web, and writes weekly about tech and...stuff. This essay intrigued me; his observations about Apple’s latest Airpods feed into a lot of things I’ve read this year (some of which I’ve included here) about the strange way in which Airpods change our relation to each other and the space we’re in, and the slight...well...rudeness inherent in not signalling to others whether you’re listening to them or not. This piece specifically looks at the various noise-reduction/cancelling options available to users of the new kit - and made me think, a lot, about a future in which some of us can basically tune out stuff we don’t like and others, well, can’t.
  • The ‘Magic’ of AR Glasses: A companion piece to the previous one, this looks at the parallel tech developments in visual AR which will mean that, at some point in the not-too-distant future, we might be able to wander around with fancy tech-specs which magically filter out all the ugly or unpleasant things we don’t want to see, or make the world generally look shinier, more exciting and more appealing than it in fact is. On the one hand, GREAT! Let’s BLOCK OUT THE UGLY! On the other, does anyone else feel that people wearing digital blinkers to hide some of the unpleasant realities of life (like, I don’t know, the homeless) from their vision feels a bit, well, appalling? Anyone? Oh.
  • Livestream Shopping: As we prepare to embark upon the annual Western orgy of needless consumption that is Black Friday (and absolutely fcuk you MechaBezos for making this a think the world over), it’s worth looking at China’s just-passed Singles Day for a glimpse as to how this might all evolve. Aside from the numbers being terrifying (Alibaba alone did nearly $40bn of business on Monday - that is a MENTAL sum, and only a fraction of the total spend), there’s quite a lot of interesting stuff happening from an advermarketingpr point of view - this piece looks at the phenomenon of Livestream selling, where influencers stream their shopping experience and earn revenue from affiliate marketing when viewers purchase something linked from their feed; I reckon there’s DEFINITELY some PR mileage in being the FIRST (well, ish) UK retailer to do something like this; liveshop the Boxing Day sales, anyone? I mean, it would be a hellish and slightly evil thing to do, but it would probably do you good business, so, well, here we are.
  • Pixar’s Sand: In the main, I try and avoid linking to stuff that I really don’t understand, mainly because I worry that I’ll misexplain it horribly and will end up looking like a moron. Still, I am linking to this one despite only understanding about one word in seven (this is only a slight exaggeration) because I understand just enough to grasp what an incredible thing it is that it’s describing. Basically, if you want the precis, this is all about exactly how Pixar animates sand - honestly, it’s MIND-BLOWING.
  • The UX and UI of Bongo: A serious exploration of the design of bongo sites, specifically the various Tubes, and how that aesthetic and UI works on us on a psychological level - and how certain tricks and techniques are bleeding into more mainstream digital design practice. Really interesting, even if you’re not a designer - there’s a throwaway line at the end of the piece, about the extent to which refinements and developments in bongositedesign have to a degree impacted real-world sexual behaviour, which really feels like it’s worth a separate essay and deeper investigation.
  • Even Nobodies Have Fans Now: Long-term readers, or indeed anyone who’s ever had the misfortune of working with me, will have heard me quote Momus’ observation that ‘in the future, everyone will be famous for 15 people’; this essay is about that very thing, specifically the slightly odd intimate connection that develops between podcasters and their listeners. There’s undoubtedly something quite particular about the experience of having someone’s voice inside your ears for prolonged periods of time that forges a certain connection, but I might make the case that the same applies to writing as well. Except obviously it doesn’t, because I don’t have any fans (this is the moment where should any of you feel compelled to do so you might want to write in and say “No Matt, I am a fan!”, at which point I will doubtless succumb to some sort of unpleasant swelling of the ego and will start referring to myself the third person or something).
  • Sofar, So Bad: I had vaguelyu heard of Sofar before this piece, but didn’t really quite know what it was about - which obviously means I’m too old and uncool to be part of the target market for their ‘music events for people who don’t like music very much but quite want to have something inoffensive on in the background’. I’m not, it’s fair to say, hugely miserable about it. The piece is very good on the general trend toward the commoditisation of culture as lifestyle accessory, whether for brands or individuals; it feels very much like this sort of thing is the next iteration of the ‘Museum of Icecream’-type Instapalace; events that combine a narrow range of generic-youth-interest-elements in aesthetically-pleasing fashion but with no depth whatsoever, designed to present the idea of something rather than the thing itself. Do you know what I mean? I can’t imagine you do, that was spectacularly ham-fisted writing. Sorry. Anyway, read the piece and then maybe you’ll see what I mean. Maybe.
  • Audiobook Stars: From the Guardian, so apologies to any of you who’ve already seen this one - it’s great, though. Tim Dowling’s a gently brilliant writer, and this look at the audiobook industry (specifically the people who record them) is fascinating. I don’t know if you’ve ever spent any extended periods of time reading aloud (obviously if you’re a parent this probably isn’t news to you), but it tends to make me INCREDIBLY sleepy; I have no idea how Stephen Fry managed the Harry Potter books, I’d have been narcoleptic by the first mention of Hogwarts (maybe the money helped) (and speaking of money, it’s interesting that at no point here is there any mention of how much you trouser for this sort of thing…).
  • Babies & Vegetables: A really interesting look at the baby food business, and whether or not kids have an innate dislike for vegetables or not. Not just about that, fine, but there’s a lot in here about how you can maybe trick your kids into eating more kale when they’re small.
  • Stopping Being A Nazi: Truly fascinating and weirdly uplifting Reddit thread in which former members of White Supremacist groups share the stories of the moment they decided to stop being Nazis. There are some crazy tales in here, but it’s interesting that there’s a commonality of experience amongst many of the authors; lots of them simple realised that the people they were hanging out with were, well, cnuts, and so stopped. Which also, now I think about it, does rather make me wonder whether they sorted out the ‘racism’ thing or simply just decided to stop being friends with other racists. Hm. Anyway, this is interesting and the sort of thing that I at least had never really read before.
  • 75 Things You Didn’t Know You Could Do With Peanut Butter: If you’ve ever worked in the industrial content production business then this piecein McSweeney’s will be so, so close to the bone that it might well make you weep.
  • How To Begin A Novel: I tend not to really enjoy ‘funny’ AI stuff that much, in the main because the vast majority of it is so doctored by human hands that it’s not actually anything to do with AI at all (I’m looking at YOU, all you ‘we fed an AI all the scripts of Friends and this is what it came up with’ articles - I KNOW YOU ARE LIES); this, though, is by the ever-excellent Lewis & Quark and so I know it’s legit. This article looks at the first lines of novels produced by the updated GPT-2 software which I featured the other week - these are GREAT, and I would totally read a book of short stories where each one starts with one of these lines (actually that’s not a bad idea; someone commission that).
  • Squish Me Tender: On ASMR and eroticism, and the slightly uncomfortable place where the lines between the two things intersect and blur a bit. “ASMR has built a sensuality that is not, in every case, intended to be sexual but may be indicative of a populace that craves to be held. One of the most enduring stories in Christianity is the idea that Mary gave birth without having sex – the divine infant written into being like code. I wonder if it’s the kind of imaginative leap that would help to think through ASMR. In some ways it’s a similar act: its inexplicability is part of its power. Would ASMR be half as fun or healing if we knew exactly how it worked? ASMR does something to us that is not altogether sexual but might be verging on intimate in an immaculate kind of way.” IT’S NOT A SEX THING FFS.
  • I Bought An Elephant: An amazing story in which the author starts out investigating the elephant trafficking business in Laos and ends up getting more involved in the process of large mammal liberation than he might originally have envisaged. This is a great piece of journalism and a wonderful story, but it’s also very depressing from the point of view of the elephants. I don’t imagine that the treatment in Chinese zoos is...great (although part of me - a bad part, I concede - does rather fancy the idea of driving through the lion enclosure in a Chinese safari park in a car with steak stapled all over it, which apparently is A Thing (sort-of)).
  • My Life as a Child Chef: The author writes about his passion for French cookery as a child, and how he dreamed of being a professional chef, and then how he slowly lost that dream as he grew older. This is lovely, not just in terms of the writing about food (which is knowledgeable and passionate) but also because of the slightly elegiac tone of the whole piece, particularly on the abandonment of childhood dreams.
  • What Is A Website?: I love this SO MUCH. Laurel Schwultz writes here about what a website is in a philosophical sense, and, honestly, if you have any interest in the idea of the web as a space then this is a must-read. Even if you don’t, please do give it a go - it’s clever like little else I’ve read this week, and it made me think genuinely differently, which is no small praise from someone as tediously-predictable as me.
  • Gimme Shelter: Finally this week, an essay about living in a shed in San Francisco. Beautifully-written - look, have the opening paragraph and then make yourself a cup of tea and read the whole thing, it’s superb: “That year, the year of the Ghost Ship fire, I lived in a shack. I’d found the place just as September’s Indian summer was giving way to a wet October. There was no plumbing or running water to wash my hands or brush my teeth before sleep. Electricity came from an extension cord that snaked through a yard of coyote mint and monkey flower and up into a hole I’d drilled in my floorboards. The structure was smaller than a cell at San Quentin—a tiny house or a huge coffin, depending on how you looked at it—four by eight and ten feet tall, so cramped it fit little but a mattress, my suit jackets and ties, a space heater, some novels, and the mason jar I peed in.”

By Lindsay Pickett


  1. Let’s be clear, a whole decade’s worth of pop songs condensed into one 3m mashup is an unholy, godless mess - but, well, it’s also an amazing aural picture of the past 10 years. I wonder if it would be easier to do this between 2010-20 than it would have been between 2000-2010 due to the homogenisation of production styles that we’ve seen over the past decade? Or am I just being an old person complaining that IT’S NOT EVEN MUSIC ANYMORE FFS? Hm. Anyway, this is DJ Earworm, and this is appalling:

  1. This, though, is SUPERB and such a clever idea; a timelapse of NYC made entirely from other people’s Insta shots of the city’s landmarks. Brilliantly made - if a bit dizzying - and proof that everyone really is basic when it comes to tourist photos:

  1. This is by Vegyn, and there’s no way I can explain this but this track made me marginally more optimistic about life and the world than I was before I heard it. No idea why, but it might do the same for you. It’s an excellent, oddly beautiful instrumental called Debold:

  1. This is called ‘Melatonin’, it’s by Vogue Dots, and I cannot understand how it only has :


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