41 minutes reading time (8209 words)

Web Curios 28/06/19

Web Curios 28/06/19

HELLO EVERYONE! I say ‘everyone’ - I imagine the vast majority of you are on Worthy Farm right now, washing last night’s MDMA out of your gums and wondering whether you might actually a bit too old for this now. I was slightly sad about not getting tickets this year - the weather’s going to be cracking, the lineup’s great, and this feels like a very good moment in history to spend 4 days getting bent out of shape in a field - and then I got a message from my friend Fat Bob at 830 this morning informing me that he has managed to lose his wallet, cash and cards within 24h of arriving and now, frankly, I feel quite a lot better about everything. Thanks, Fat Bob!

Anyway, this edition of Curios is a touch on the light side this week, as I have a train to catch; apologies and all that, but, well, I HAVE A LIFE TOO YOU KNOW. You, though, the poor left-behinds, gather round and huddle together and take a long, deep huff on the communal pipe of webspaff - hold it in nice and deep and wait for the doors of perception to open. Failing that, wait for the familiar feelings of slight anxiety wash over you as you realise how much stuff is out there and how little you will ever know or understand - welcome, once again, to Web Curios, a weekly blognewsletterthing designed explicitly to throw your insignificance in the wider scheme of things into sharp, jagged relief. HAPPY FRIDAY!

By Caroline Walker



  • Facebook Expands Political Transparency Policies To More Countries: Now Facebook users from even more countries around the world will be able to see exactly how much money shadowy political forces beyond their ken are paying to attempt to influence them!
  • Ads Coming to Instagram Explore: Sometimes new features are announced on s*c**l m*d** and I will make some slightly lame, tired comment about ‘bet this will be an ad unit soon!’ and then I feel all dirty and cynical and, frankly, tired; I’m normally right, though, seeing as, lest we forget, the sole point of all these platforms is to sell us things. Instagram’s ‘Explore’ section will now also get the ad infestation affecting the rest of the platform. “Advertisers can easily extend their campaigns using automatic placements with a simple opt-in to reach audiences in Explore. We’re introducing ads in Explore slowly and thoughtfully in the coming months. After tapping on a photo or video in Explore, people may begin to see ads as part of their browsing experience just like in the main feed.” Happy? Thought not.
  • Twitter And Public Interest: Have you ever got the feeling that, well, there’s one set of rules for the rich and another for the rest of us? Thanks, Twitter, for confirming that that’s exactly how it operates this week, with this announcement clarifying its position on Tweets from public figures which remain on the platform without censure, despite quite obviously breaking the site’s Ts&Cs. “There are certain cases where it may be in the public’s interest to have access to certain Tweets, even if they would otherwise be in violation of our rules. On the rare occasions when this happens, we'll place a notice – a screen you have to click or tap through before you see the Tweet – to provide additional context and clarity. We’ll also take steps to make sure the Tweet is not algorithmically elevated on our service, to strike the right balance between enabling free expression, fostering accountability, and reducing the potential harm caused by these Tweets.”I wonder whether the ‘notice’ they refer to will be honest enough to read “The Tweet you are about to read breaks our terms of service and by rights should either be deleted or result in its owner being temporarily suspended from the platform; sadly, though, shareholder demands mean we can’t look past the publicity his behaviour on here gets us, so, er, we can’t do anything about it”. Probably not.
  • Pinterest Expands Partner Programme: This is all quite technical but is basically about Pinterest getting a bunch of better ecommerce integration options, along with improved analytics and pixel tracking and stuff. Another seemingly smart step by them, as is this expansion to their visual analysis and recommendation software with a new feature called ‘complete the look’, which “leverages rich scene context to recommend visually compatible results in Fashion and Home Decor Pins. Complete the Look takes context like an outfit, body type, season, indoors vs. outdoors, various pieces of furniture, and the overall aesthetics of a room, to power taste-based recommendations across visual search technology.” Not 100% certain what that means, but it sounds impressive.
  • YouTube Lets Users Block Recommendations: Nothing to see here from an advermarketingpr point of view, but if you’re a parent, or if your flatmate’s recently started muttering about the ‘intellectual dark web’ and how actually there’s some really interesting stuff on YouTube if you just keep watching and did you know what the melting point of steel is, then this is worth knowing. “We’ve now made it simple for you to tell us to stop suggesting videos from a particular channel. Just tap the three-dot menu next to a video on the homepage or Up Next, then “Don’t recommend channel.” After that, you should no longer see videos from that channel suggested to you on YouTube.” Useful.
  • Google Offers New Local Business Tools: Google’s business profiles are getting an series of updates, which will give business owners the opportunity to add photos, short urls and offers to new followers; they’ve also launched the Google Business Marketing Kit, which features a load of features to help small businesses make marketing materials, set up promotions and the like. One for the entrepreneurs rather than the agencies, but worth knowing what can be done for bricks-and-mortar retailers on the platform.
  • The Frontier Within: Digital stuff for pharma companies tends to fall into one of two camps; minimal, boring and frankly a bit soul-destroying, or preposterously maximalist (because, well, they have to spend all that money somehow, right?). This is very much the latter - Thorne, who as far as I can tell make ‘bespoke supplement programmes’ based on some sort of analysis of your bile ducts or something (I may not have read the ‘about’ section in full), have created this site that lets you take your INNER SELFIE, but not before it’s made you sit through about 5 minutes of painfully-didactic pseudo-poetic guff about THE BEAUTIFUL AND MAGICAL WORLD OF YOUR INSIDES. It’s a shame - the site looks lovely, the aesthetic is gorgeous, and I totally get what they are trying to do, but, lads, look, please don’t force me to listen to an adolescent American telling me how miraculous it all is, and, whatever you do, don’t make said adolescent American unskippable. I would LOVE to know the dwell-times on this and how many users make it past 30s.
  • Powered by Tweets: Finally in this week’s advermarketingpr horrorshow, here’s Twitter once again running its ‘Powered by Tweets’ contest, which asks us to come up with ideas for campaigns for good, in a variety of categories from ‘equality’ to ‘internet safety’ which use Twitter to achieve positive outcomes, whether through communications or use of data or both. The idea of using Twitter to improve internet safety did tickle me rather, but the basic premise is a nice one - oh, and there’s a PRIZE! The winning entry gets £100k, runners up get £50k; there is, though, one small-but-significant catch...the money has to be spent on Twitter ads! It’s almost as if this is just a promotional gimmick! Still, if you have an idea about how to solve world hunger that can be effected through harnessing the power of thousands of disaffected 30something media drones ironically crylaughing through their working day then you have til mid-September to submit it. GO!

By Dean Stewart



  • Learning Synths: A couple of years ago I featured an EXCELLENT site called ‘Learning Music with Ableton’, which gave a rudimentary grounding in digital composition and was very fun to play with; this is a new version, which focuses on synths and which I could happily spend hours noodling around with. After about 10 minutes with this I was convinced I could write the great hi-nrg banger the 90s never knew they missed out on - be warned, this will absolutely give you delusions of musical competence beyond your actual abilities.
  • Algonory: Shardcore has been feeding his machines again - this time, he’s been feeding them classic children’s authors and seeing what happens. The result is this brilliant series of short videos, Algonory, where Shardcore reads his machine-generated flights of whimsy in the style of Jackanory, creating this strange, surreal and oddly-comforting material which is oddly familiar and yet utterly alien. I think the idea of ‘centaur creativity’ - that is, human and machine, with machine acting as assistant - is one of the most fascinating areas in modern artistic practice, and this is a lovely example of it.
  • Bye Bye: On the one hand, Bye Bye is a simple photo-editing app which offers a single, simple feature - it will automatically remove all the people from your photos, using rudimentary ML to recognise and erase them, filling in the background with some artful CG to make it look as though they were never there in the first place; on the other, this feels like some sort of perfectly arch 2019 commentary on...er...something or other. I rather like the idea of using this to attempt to fool someone into temporarily believing that they’re a vampire or something.
  • Stonehenge: This is EXCELLENT - thanks to this new site put together by English Heritage, people from around the world can get a digital representation of Stonehenge, visible in glorious 360 CG-o-vision but rendered accurately from photos, with a dynamic sky and lighting model (accurate to within 5 minutes of realtime, apparently) which will allow anyone, anywhere, to experience things like sunrise and sunset from the comfort of, well, wherever they may be. This is such a nicely-made project, although as someone who grew up reasonably near the henge it’s quite odd to see it without 150 slightly underwhelmed tourists and a drunk man in a slightly soiled robe brandishing a sickle (there is always one).
  • World Flags: Wonderfully silly project, which as far as I can tell is just a bit of a fun sideline by a bunch of manga artists in advance of the Tokyo 2020 games next year - over the course of the next 12 months, they are drawing manga character-style representations of each of the competing nations. I would absolutely LOVE to see this as a proper anime, or a Street Fighter-style fighting game - even as static images, though, these are just wonderful. All in Japanese, and sadly a lot of the text is embedded in images and so immune to Google Translate, but just look - why is the Dutch character so emo? Why does the American one look like some sort of weird manga Fotherington-Thomas? Great Britain, by the way, is a weak-chinned-but-handsome toff with a sneer and a monocle, which seems about right.
  • Pixel Pirate Club: Older Curios readers may remember the Million Dollar Homepage, a relic from the web of the past which made Alex Tew a rich, and briefly quite famous, man - in case you don’t recall, the site let anyone buy a set number of pixels on it, which they could use however they wished, effectively turning it into £1m worth of advertising real estate. The Pixel Pirate Club is an...optimistic service which is offering people the opportunity to buy back that real estate in those cases where the advertisers’ old links have expired or died. So, for example, you could pay $12 to jump on the space previously owned by linktastic.co.uk - christ knows why you’d want to, given the likelihood of anyone in 2019 actually ending up on MDH and clicking something is pretty infinitesimal, but I sort of admire the grift here.
  • Google Art Zoom: This is lovely and soothing and not a little ASMR-ish; “Art Zoom is a new video series that invites you on a guided tour of some of the world’s best-known masterpieces. Taking cues from ASMR, each video is narrated by a famous creative voice full of personal insight. To kick off the series, the dulcet tones of American pop artist Maggie Rogers describe the psychedelic nature of Van Gogh’s Starry Night, which celebrates its 130th anniversary; British musician and Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker delves into the hustle and bustle of Monet’s La Gare Saint Lazare; and Canadian singer-songwriter Feist slowly unpicks the story behind Bruegel’s The Tower of Babel. Each painting explored has been captured with Art Camera, which captures paintings in ultra-high resolution, “gigapixel” images, allowing you to discover paintings inch by inch.” Gorgeous, wonderfully-relaxing and rather beautiful.
  • Believe It Yourself: I have to basically just C&P their description here because, honestly, there’s no way in hell I could do this without mangling it horribly (sorry, but I’m slightly up against it this week, timewise, so there are a few corners being cut - I know that you’re use to FINELY CRAFTED ARTISANAL WEBMONGERY, so apologies): “what if we would train machines to measure even more unmeasurable, personal and culturally driven things? If we gather enough samples could we detect signs that prove and detect our superstitions? and can we use that to build tools and devices that reflect our own beliefs? BIY™- Believe it Yourself is a series of real-fictional belief-based computing kits to make and tinker with vernacular logics and superstitions.” This is wonderful - a strange combination of craft-art, majick, superstition and satire, weirdly Drummond-y in vibe, taking old folkloric beliefs and mixing them with 21C tech, machine learning, image recognition and the like, to deliver odd chimerical scrying machines. The artefacts are apparently going to be made available for sale; if someone would like to buy me one, that would be ace, thanks.
  • Trash: I’m pretty sure that as part of one of my semi-regular ‘everything is terrible and the future is worse’ diatribes I have wanged on about how ‘video editor’ is very much the sort of job that would have me looking over my shoulder at the machines right about now; this is proof that I was right (not something I get to say very often, so forgive the gaucheness). Trash is an app which will automatically edit your video, based on a few simple instructions from you (the pace you’d like applied, the ‘vibe’ you want to achieve, etc) and then spit out a cut in no time at all. It’s very much in alpha at the moment, and when I tried it on a friend’s phone earlier this week it was a bit shonky, but the potential is clear. The downside to this, of course, is even more fcuking video. We need a word for the infopollution that we’re creating.
  • Face! Plant!: You get the impression that the idea for this app came about when its creators weren’t entirely sober. Face! Plant! lets you put a PLANT on your FACE with AR! The flora creates, a whole bunch of odd/funny/distressing effects, which have the benefit of not as yet having been entirely played-out through overuse and overexposure. iPhoneX and above only, obvs, but if you’re a fancy phone owner then you might enjoy fiddling with this.
  • The 2019 Lensculture Street Photography Awards: Another week, another photography competition - this time Lensculture’s annual celebration of the best street photos from around the world. Typically excellent - my personal favourite is ‘Hidden in Siberia’ by Sergey Medvedchikov, which contains about three novels’-worth of stories in a single image, but the whole selection is brilliant.
  • We Make Reality: If you work in or around AR or VR, this is worth signing up to - We Make Reality is a nascent community for professionals in the field, where they can share projects, discuss their work, get help, etc.
  • Tens Sunglasses: Do you feel that reality lacks the stylish veneer which you’ve come to expect from the heavily-filtered Instalife you aspire to? Are you miserable that your existence isn’t as aesthetically composed as the heavily-graded films of Wes Anderson? Are you an irredeemably twee hipster whose entire vibe can be summed up as ‘the third hipstamatic filter down’? GREAT! You’ll be ALL OVER this Indiegogo campaign, already 360% funded, to produce a pair of sunglasses whose lenses are specially treated to replicate exactly the visual effect Wes Anderson applies to his films. I only hope it doesn’t also replicate the cold, affectless misery of his entire fcuking oeuvre.
  • Creating Deepfakes Live: For some reason, some bloke is livestreaming the incredibly tedious process of making a deepfake on a mid-level piece of kit - the stream is literally just a largely static feed of his computer screen as it veeeeery slowly does the not insignificant numbercrunching required to produce a 15s film. Utterly tedious and utterly pointless and so, as a result, almost perfect. There are, at the time of typing, 736 people watching the livestream. WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE AND WHAT ARE THEY DOING WITH THEIR LIVES? I am agog.
  • Tiny Spreadsheet: An incredibly smol but seemingly full-featured browser-based spreadsheet designed to work on mobile and to be as minimalist as possible whilst still letting you do formulas, etc. I can’t for a second imagine why you would ever need this, but I am glad that it exists.
  • Atomic Pr0n: Absolutely not actual bongo, this is instead a subReddit showcasing some of the best photos of atomic explosions from history. Grimly fascinating - and not a little beautiful, if you force yourself not to think of the long-term consequences of all that careless atom-smashing.
  • Underpants.js: Would you like a small piece of Javascript which, when you input your desired measurements in inches, will automatically design you a pair of underpants to fit your form, which you can then export in various code types to continue designing up in Illustrator or whatever else. If you’ve ever dreamed of having your own bespoke pants, or indeed of owning a bespoke pant designing business, but have been put off by, well, not having the faintest idea of how to draw the patterns, then this is a GODSEND.
  • Did We Remember The Fire: A line-by-line analysis of Billy Joel’s ‘We Didn’t Start The Fire’, looking at which of the pop cultural icons named in the song is the most culturally relevant now, based on Wikipedia page views for each. The Queen is WAY out in front, which may be of comfort to those of you who worry that Britain’s position on the international stage is now sadly diminished.
  • Track This: A GREAT idea from Firefox: Track This is designed to fool ad trackers about who you are, to present a false persona to trick the advertisers into believing you’re someone you’re not, and to feed false data into the advermarketingprswamp to discombobulate and confuse the machines. You pick one of 4 personas - hypebeast, rich kid, etc - and the tool will open up 100-odd tabs in your browser designed to create the impression of that specific persona in the ‘eyes’ of the tracking software. More art project that actual ‘don’t track me, please’ tool, this is nicely executed and is, at heart, a decent plug for Firefox as a browser.

By Cara Guri



  • Welcome: My note for this in the GDoc into which I dump all the links I find each week read, simply, ‘AItineraries’, which I am SO PROUD OF (why is noone else proud of me? Mum?) - anyway, Welcome is a travel app which uses AI (so it claims) to help fill in suggested activities at your chosen destination. The interface looks nice - there’s a card/Tinder-style swipe to either add suggested activities or discard them - and the general premise, whereby the app is ‘smart’ enough to create itineraries that make sense in terms of route, timings, etc, and to learn your tastes, is a rather clever one.
  • Page Layers: Thanks to Kev Marmol for pointing this out to me - if you’re a designer this might be HUGELY useful. Page Layers lets you...oh, look, here: “Page Layers is a website screenshot app for macOS. It converts web pages to Photoshop files with separate layers for all page elements. It enables you to open web pages in Photoshop and saves you lots of time when re-designing or improving existing web page designs.” Or, obviously, when looking to absolutely rip off someone else’s page design, not that any of you would EVER do that.
  • The Queen’s Escape Room: This is not an internet thing, it’s a REAL LIFE thing, but it’s quite unusual so I hope you don’t mind the departure. There is an ESCAPE ROOM at Buckingham Palace! It’s themed around Da Vinci and some of his works that are housed in the Royal Collection - other details are scarce, and as a former employee of the Royal Household (I’ve mentioned this before, I’m sure - it was a Summer job, I worked in the gift shop and ticket office, my boss was called Nigel Dickman, he accused me of stealing, there was a slightly shouty incident at the end-of-Summer party that involved me repeatedly asking him point-blank why he called me a thief as he stared past me into the middle-distance with a rictus grin on his face, I was not asked to return the following year; it was a time!) I’m not 100% certain this won’t just be a bit shonky, but, come on, AN ESCAPE ROOM IN THE PALACE!
  • Show Your Stripes: You will have seen, I’m sure, scientists around the world in recent weeks posting photos of themselves holding or somehow displaying those striated images in blue and red which show the rate of climate change over time in their country, as part of a wider campaign to continue to raise awareness of the ever so slightly catastrophic mess we find ourselves in. This site lets you create your own - select your country from the drop-down and it produces the stripey jpeg which you can then export to use as wallpaper or whatever. I think the graphics are rather beautiful, apocalyptic message aside, and could work as posters, or as flags. Worth displaying, regardless.
  • Rescue and Restore: A peculiarly soothing YouTube channel dedicated to videos of vintage toys being meticulously cleaned, repaired and restored to mint condition. Does the fact that I find this genuinely lovely provide the final proof that I am nearer death than birth, that middle-age is firmly here and that all I have to look forward to from hereon in is joint pain, obsolescence, senescence and death? Almost certainly. Still, LOOK AT THE LOVELY SHINY TOY DIGGER!
  • Pomological: A beautiful, soothing Twitter account which only tweets images from the pomological (meaning pertaining to the science of fruit growing - I had to look that up, by the way, I’m not showing off here) library of the US Department of Agriculture - basically this is a whole feed of really nice paintings of fruit, which is pretty much Twitter at its best as there are no horrible people ruining everything.
  • Get Video Bot: A hugely useful Twitter bot which lets you download any video clip from Twitter in usable format (it works for gifs too) - just reply to the Tweet whose video you want to rip with @getvideobot and the bot will ping you a download link in minutes. Perfect if you’re the boss of a mid-ranking PR agency who wants to boost his Twitter numbers by stealing other people’s content without attribution.
  • Gameclub: Gameclub is a Beta project designed to give iPhone users access to a massive, free library of old mobile games. The idea is to resurrect or preserve some of the standout titles from the early days of mobile gaming which might no longer be easy to find in the app stores - the whole thing’s very new, and I can’t vouch for all the titles, but if you fancy some pseudo-retro (is stuff that’s Spotify New Music: A website dedicated to tracking new music added to Spotify, filterable by recency, popularity, review scores and the like. Given the slightly oblique nature of the algo’s recommendations at times, this is a useful way of being able to simply and clearly see what new stuff they’ve added recently. Note to platforms - sometimes it’s nice to just be able to see what’s available without being spoonfed by the machine all the time.
  • The Grill Gun: Three days left on this already-funded Kickstarter, which is the most preposterously-macho barbecue accessory I think I have ever seen. Are YOU tired of having to wait tedious minutes for your charcoal to burn down? Do YOU feel that you’re not a REAL MAN unless you have some sort of long-barreled fire-spewing gun replica in your hand? Well WOW are you going to enjoy this. This honestly looks like the sort of thing that unhinged, porky men on YouTube scream down the camera about whilst an oddly-pneumatic blonde woman in a stars & stripes bikini cavorts behind them with a large weapon and a dead-eyed smile. This is the Trump supporter’s barbecue lighting tool.
  • Perspective Logos: Brand logos, seen from above. Some of these are easy to guess, others less so, but it’s a nice piece of internet catnip by design agency Why Do Birds.
  • Leaving The Red Dead Map: Twitter user @Kalonica has been posting an occasional thread on their experiences in-game in RDR2; recently, she and some friends decided to see what would happen if they tried to explore the very edges of the game world. These tweets show screenshots of what happens when you go past the map boundaries - honestly, I know it doesn’t sound interesting, but there’s something deeply interesting about the idea of these edge spaces in virtual worlds and how the faux-reality falls apart at the margins. Digital psychogeography is a fascinating area (and a really, really wanky thing to write, sorry).
  • Book Rings: Jeremy May is an artist and jeweller, who makes bespoke, elaborate, beautiful rings from the pages of books. Customers come to him with a book that they would like turned into jewellery - May’s technique involves taking the pages and creating beautiful, layered, lacquered creations from them, with the unique shapes inspired by passages from the text in question. The aesthetic won’t be for everyone - they tend towards the chunky side, so if you’re a minimalist you’ll probably not be tempted - but I think these are gorgeous and SUCH a beautiful gift for the right person.
  • Vrayu: Vrayu bills itself as the world’s premiere VR sex club - I have absolutely no idea how much competition for that title there is, but WELL DONE! It’s in Russia, and is seemingly a venue in which you can don high-end VR equipment and engage in ‘sexy games’ to explore your sexuality and fantasies in a safe, virtual environment, with expert staff to help you appreciate the experience. Or at least that’s the impression they try and convey - does anyone read this and imagine anything other than sticky vinyl booths and very tired equipment and awkwardness and misery? Still, any entrepreneurs reading this and needing inspiration for the next big thing in nightlife, LOOK NO FURTHER! The site rather quaintly also mentions that you can play traditional games in VR too, not just sexy ones - the image of someone happily playing Fruit Ninja while someone else receives a virtual lapdance next to them is too bizarre to imagine.
  • 5 Step Steve: You are a cat, called Steve, in space. You have to move from screen to screen in this simple-but-increasingly-fiendish puzzle game, the catch being that you can only move 5 steps before having to find a safe place to stop. Far more addictive than it ought to be, though I strongly advise turning the sound off before you become murderous.
  • Adventures in Anxiety: Finally in this week’s miscellanea, this short interactive fiction (emphasis more on the fiction than the interactive) about anxiety and coping with it - the art style is lovely, and the conceit (you are the human’s anxiety) makes the whole thing feel fresher than it might. This is soothing and worth saving up to send to people who you think might need it.

By Victoria Siemer




  • Adam Hacklander: The feed of travel writer and artist Adam Hacklander, which in the main features his beautiful, densely-illustrated travel journals, which have the wonderful, slightly-cramped quality of the the sort of books that absolutely fascinated me as a child.
  • Euglena: This is a Japanese feed, which I think is connected to the Tokyo University of Art and which features quite remarkable sculptures made from dandelion seeds. Honestly, you won’t believe this stuff, it’s mental.
  • Rhiannon Buckle: Rhiannon Buckle is a pet photographer based in Bristol - her feed is an EXCELLENT procession of ROFFS and MAOWS, should you like that sort of thing.
  • Tsubaki Office: Remarkable photos of Japanese ornamental fish.


  • Galloway on Libra: The takes on Libra keep coming, with the web significantly less bullish on Facebook’s currency play this week than it was last. This is Scott Galloway’s piece on it, which has the virtue of being significantly more entertaining than most others I read. Galloway’s argument - that Facebook’s status as an untrustworthy business as long as Sanders and Zuckerberg are at the help precludes Libra from success - is debatable (there’s enough evidence to suggest that the trust issue is overplayed, especially in the second world which is where Libra is likely to gain traction first), but he delivers it with brio.
  • How Oxford University Shaped Brexit: One of two articles this week - the other being the one about Eton further down this section - which does a depressingly good job of reminding one of the preposterous class-based system of privilege and patronage which has seen us driven to the brink of a farcical, ruinous exit from Europe by a bunch of, roughly, 500-odd people who mostly went to school and university together. If you can read this and not get vein-throbbingly angry at the stitchup that’s been going on for centuries and shows no signs of stopping then, well, you are a calmer person than I am.
  • Can Democrats Win Back The Internet?: It’s miserable to think that we’ve now entered the 18-month long US electoral news cycle and that the direction of travel of the debate is only pointing one way from hereon in. This piece is an interesting dissection in Vanity Fair of the incredible success of the American right in terms of its dominance of the online discourse - it’s worth reading even if you’re not personally interested in the US version of the global culture wars, as many of the arguments about the right’s use of online channels apply here as well. For Republicans, read the Brexit Party.
  • The Unites States Nuclear Warfare Strategy: Want to read exactly what the US’s approach to its nuclear arsenal is? GOOD! 60 pages of detailed thinking about how and when and where the US would consider deploying nukes, all delivered in reassuringly cold, calm prose. It won’t make you feel any better about anything, but it’s nice to know that at least there’s some sort of semblance of a plan.
  • America’s New Concentration Camps: You can’t have failed to see the images coming out of the US this week, as the conversation around border controls becomes uglier and more human. This is a deeply miserable piece which looks not only at the present system of detention employed by the Trump administration and which is seeing thousands of migrants kept in appalling conditions at length, but also at the history of the concentration camp through the 20th century, and the historical and geopolitical conditions that have in the past resulted in the mass-mistreatment of the vulnerable. The lessons from history here...well, they’re not good, let’s say.
  • Alphabet’s Smart Toronto: Alphabet (Google’s parent company, lest you forget) this week unveiled its plans for a proposed ‘Smart District’ in Toronto, which will be debated and voted on over the next 12 months - should it get approval, construction is slated to begin in 2021. There’s obviously lots to be fascinated by in this from an urban planning perspective, but there’s an equal amount to be potentially wary of when it comes to a company such as Alphabet embedding itself so deeply in the civic DNA; were I given to dystopian flights of fancy (who, me? NEVER), I might start speculating about a future where the nation state is replaced by city coalitions based on which of the tech giants supplies your urban infrastructure. The Coalition of Alphabet Urbanites; The Bezos City Affiliate Network; The Facebook Federation of MegaCities; that sort of thing.
  • RIP Quartz: You may remember in the Great Chatbot Excitement Boom of 2016(ish) that Quartz, the US news site, created something called ‘Brief’, which was effectively a news chatbot app which would let users ‘converse’ with the news, get headlines in conversational format and delve into stories in greater depth with a chat interface. Turns out, though, that noone actually wants to consume news like that, and so they’re shuttering the whole thing. This is an interesting read on the general question of why chat interfaces didn’t take off in the manner many predicted - the main reason being that they simply aren’t very good, as the natural language interface stuff never got good enough quick enough, but there’s also some good stuff in here about the nature of information discovery and how chat interfaces complicate rather than simplify.
  • The Language of Late-Stage Pride: A brilliant piece of writing, one of the best I’ve read on the corporatisation of Pride and the increased attempts at allyship from brands - attempts which increasingly involve meaningless, convoluted attempts to co-opt the language of queerness. I loved this SO MUCH.
  • TikTok’s Predator Problem: Well, I suppose this one was inevitable. Turns out that a platform featuring, in the main, video of young people might also be likely to attract the sort of person who quite likes looking at said video of young people for less-than-wholesome reasons. This Buzzfeed writeup is reasonably non-sensationalist, but the points it makes about TikTok’s AI-driven timeline being effectively a perfect autodiscovery mechanism for vaguely sexy teen content are interesting.
  • Love, Death and Begging Celebrities To Kill You: On the very 2019 phenomenon of expressing one’s Stanning through a repeated and public expression of desire for the object of your affections to murder you. This is both a brilliantly deadpan dissection of a small-but-sort-of-macrocosmically-significant linguistic tic on the internet, and a perfect example of the fact that perhaps the media industrial complex’s endless attempt at dissecting The Culture and analysing it and explaining it back to us might want to take a short break now please.
  • On Viral Fake Twitter Stories: A tremendously satisfying piece all about how awful those ‘hey here’s a long, convoluted and largely implausible story on Twitter that I am going to share with you now, which makes me look really cool / lovely / funny / adorable and which is quite transparently a play for some sort of short-to-medium term kudos and reward’ threads are; not because there’s anything wrong with writing fiction or wanting it to be seen, but because they are empty and dishonest and, well, just sort of bad, in the main. I exclude Zola from this, as she was the first and, well, it was a cracking story regardless of veracity.
  • The History of Kart Racers: You may not think you’re in the market for an exhaustive history of the kart racer as a game genre, but I promise that this is a wonderful nostalgia trip and will remind you of some absolute forgotten classics.
  • Lo-Fi-House: An interesting look at lo-fi house as a genre, and how its position at the intersection of a variety of different popular musical genres means that it’s been uniquely positioned to benefit from the evolution of the YouTube recommendation algorithm (I’d argue that it’s also benefited from the massive rise in people doing prescription tranqs, personally, but wevs) - the logical end point to all this is a future in which 90% of all music produced by 2050 is lo-fi in style, and we’re all afflicted with a sort of permanent ‘why does everything sound like I’m hearing it from three rooms away and it’s being played on old vinyl?’ tinnitus.
  • The Rise and Fall of Babe.net: For those of your not intimately familiar with the US online publishing landscape, Babe.net was the site that broke the Aziz Anzari story and went from being sort-of medium-sized to being very famous very quickly; this article tells the story of what went wrong. It’s a fairly standard tale - scrappy outfit run by a group of kids fails to cope AT ALL with having to behave like a grown-up business - but with an added layer of ‘exploitative men at the top of the business taking more of a personal interest in the young women working there than one might have hoped’. Feels a bit like a cautionary fable for our times, from a media point of view at least.
  • The Matrix and Trans Experience: I’m amazed I’ve not read something like this before - thanks to Alex for sharing with me. This looks at the legacy of the Matrix films as part of the wider acceptance of trans culture; given the Wachowski sisters’ own transition, it makes sense to view the films through the prism of gender issues, and this analysis makes several interesting points that had never occured to me as a tedious cishet. Really interesting.
  • Teens Airdrop Memes: There really is nothing new under the sun. In the early-00s when Bluetooth on phones was first a thing and they all started getting terrible, grainy cameras for the first time, there was a brief craze one Summer whereby strangers would Bluetooth you absolute filth in bars; I remember being slightly horrified at receiving a horribly pixellated video of what was still recognisable as a man cracking one off whilst in a pub one afternoon and then looking round to see the man in question eagerly scanning the venue to see which poor fcuker had received his unwanted emission. GOOD TIMES. Anway, this article’s about how teenagers with iPhones are doing similar stuff with Airdrop, except because it’s 2019 and the kids are all prudes and milquetoasts they’re sending memes instead. There’s something in this, I think, from an advermarketingpr point of view, though I’m buggered if I can think exactly what.
  • The Floss Kid: A slightly sad profile of the kid who invented the floss - ‘Backpack Kid’, as he was known - and how he’s trying to keep that fame alive and not really succeeding. It’s by no means a mean-spirited article, and the kid comes across as reasonably normal and not a monster, but the overall message is a dispiriting one for anyone seeking a slice of the internet fame pie (wow, that’s a truly AWFUL analogy, well DONE Matt). Turns out that one dance move does not a career as an online celebrity make.
  • Faking Street Photography in China: Thanks again to Alex in China for this one - he told me that he ended up on the street named in the article a few times, and can attest to the fact that it’s really true - people actually do p[ay fake photographers to pretend to pap them, so as to look like they’re famous in the photos of the other people who are now photographing them. The world is utterly mad, and we are all sick in the head.
  • The Michael Jackson Seance: There are some things on TV that are so strange and so surreal and so odd that they exist as weird, uncertain fragments of memory, always accompanied by a vague sense of unease that you might be making it up - chief amongst these in my mind are Virgin Cola’s ‘You Can Taste Our Love Every Time You Swallow’ tagline (I mean, really), and the fact that there was a kids’ TV show in the 90s called ‘Brill’ which was fronted by a disgusting-looking rubber puppet modelled after the titular flatfish (HOW did that get commissioned?). Anyway, this is the remarkable and very funny account of the Michael Jackson Seance, televised just after his passing, in which famed psychic Derek Acorah sought to communicate with the King of Pop from beyond the veil. You will laugh a LOT.
  • Slenderman for Boomers: Exploring the weird ‘creepypasta for the old’ that is QAnon - which, as the article points out, hasn’t stood up well to this year’s developments in Trumplandia and which now basically seems to consist of lots of middle-aged people doubling down on the idea that ‘liberals’ are all vampire paedophiles. Do they believe this? Is this just a form of collective mythologising by a demographic that feels inexplicably under threat and which is retreating into fantasy and myth? Who knows, but if you see anyone you know referring to ‘adrenochrome’ you might want to break out the sedatives.
  • The Giant Toilet Roll: Bear-in-woods toilet paper peddlers Charmin recently released a truly gigantic toilet roll. This is an investigation of WHAT IT ALL MEANS (thanks, again, Buzzfeed) - whilst obviously it seems like a totally ridiculous thing to write 3,000 words about, and equally obviously really is a totally ridiculous thing to write 3,000 words about, it’s also very funny; Katie Notopoulos is one of my favourite writers on the warp and weft of THE NOW, and this is just aware enough of its own silliness.
  • Gangs of New York: This is from the Atlantic in 1928, and it is AMAZING. The piece is a rundown of the gang scene in the city between the wars, giving profiles of the various groups and their activities, all punctuated with a slightly ‘boy’s own/true crime-style’ series of vignettes about fights and murders and heists and arrests. The language here is WONDERFUL - look, try this: “Another sort of gang altogether is that known as the Hudson Dusters. It numbers among its fellowship former stevedores, roustabouts, seamen, villains of a very sturdy type, who earn a rich living along the water front. The Hudson Dusters are workmanlike and thorough thieves. And they are undisturbed by internal strife or rivalries with other bands of criminals. I must confess that I draw this latter conclusion by the process of deduction. I believe them to be workmanlike, careful, and, after their own lights, peaceful, for the reasons that their thefts are enormous, they are rarely in the hands of the law, and death does not follow in their trail.” Glorious.
  • The Five Families: A nice companion piece to the previous one, this is about the modern mob in the US, the post-Sopranos Mafia that’s seeking to claw back the old values and return to the code of omerta that characterised the organisation back in the old country. It’s GQ, so the tone’s a bit too pally for my tastes - the Mafia is fcuking horrible, lads, did we all forget Gomorrah? - but if you watched Tony and the boys back in the day then this will scratch your itch real good.
  • Soho’s Ruthless Genius: A profile of Jeffrey Barnard, timely given the final demise of Soho’s Coach & Horses. The piece is a good one - unsentimental, and clear-eyed on what an absolute bastard alcoholics can be and Barnard most definitely was - but it’s included in this week’s selection as a eulogy to a Soho now departed, one that I was too young to see but which I caught the odd whiff of at lunches at the Coach.
  • Hideous Men: It ought to be more amazing, shocking and upsetting that the latest allegation of sexual assault against the President of the US has passed with nary an outcry; this, it seems, is where we are. This is a link to the whole piece by E Jean Carroll, which names Trump as just one of multiple ‘hideous men’, whose behaviour shaped her existence - it’s an incredibly well-written and candid piece of writing. It’s also very depressing when one considers that, based on the stories shared in the wake of the Me Too movement, every woman I know could write one of these essays, of similar length and featuring unpleasantly similar anecdotes.
  • Yesterday: I’ll just quote the Tweet via which I found this: “In 2011, @davidblotclub wrote the graphic novel YESTERDAY, about a man who falls back in time before The Beatles were big. So he records their songs and gets famous. Without pointing at the similar new Danny Boyle film, he's made the comic free online”. This is ACE.
  • Eton: Read this. It’s BRILLIANT. James Wood attended Eton - he was there on financial aid, but saw close up the men who are now running the country. What is it about Eton that creates this legacy of success, and breeds people of such cast-iron self-confidence? I know a couple of Etonians, and whilst the chippy state school kid who still basically commands my thoughts and emotions really wanted to hate them I simply couldn’t; they’re all just too fcuking charming. Anyway, this is brilliant and anger-inducing and a must-read.
  • School For Girls: Finally this week, a beautiful essay about friendship between young women, peer pressure, the strange, almost-too-intimate prison that is teenage friendship, eating disorders and fear and all the other things. Wonderful writing by Jasmin Sandelson.

Via Sotiris Fokeas


1) Inevitable, really, but this is the first video I’ve seen composed entirely of TikTok vids. This is called ‘Coinstar Song’ by Juiceboxxxxx - the song basically sounds like Smash Mouth, which isn’t my thing but may well be yours:

2) This is VERY GERMAN and I love it. It’s called ‘Hass Satellit’ and it’s by Stereo Total, who were VERY COOL for about 10 seconds about 15 years ago:

3) Thanks Dan for this - a short film called ‘Accessories for the Paranoid’, showcasing some lovely theoretical designs for products designed to shield us from the digital panopticon. I would like ALL of these to exist in real life, please:

4) This is called ‘Telepathetic’ by Sløtface and it is a brilliant three-minute injection of buzzy indiepoppunk and I love it:

5) Last up this week, have the new single from Web Curios’ favourites Why? - this is called ‘Please Take Me Home I Don’t Belong Here’ and, as ever with this band, the lyrics and wordplay are just wonderful (although lead singer Yoni Wolf is looking increasingly like some sort of hipster Rick Moranis, which is a touch odd). Anyway, this is brilliant and smart and touching and I love it and that’s it SO BYE BYE BYE I HOPE YOU’RE HAVING FUN AND IF YOU’RE AT GLASTONBURY AND SO READING THIS WHEN YOU GET BACK THAT YOU HAD AN AMAZING TIME AND YOU DON’T FEEL TOO BAD AND IF YOU’RE NOT INGESTING PILLS IN A FIELD IN SOMERSET I HOPE THAT YOUR WEEKEND WAS LOVELY TOO AND THAT YOU ENJOY THE SLIGHTLY SMUG FEELING ON SUNDAY OF NOT HAVING A THREE-DAY COMEDOWN AND BASICALLY WHAT I AM TRYING TO SAY IS THAT I WANT ALL OF YOU TO HAVE FUN BECAUSE I LOVE YOU AND VALUE YOUR READERSHIP PLEASE TAKE CARE AND SEE YOU NEXT WEEK BYE BYE BYE!

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