38 minutes reading time (7613 words)

Web Curios 30/08/09

Web Curios 30/08/09

Let's...let's all take a breath, shall we?

It's fair to say that even by the somewhat...febrile standards of 2019, this has been quite a week. So let's focus on the positives! I did my two-hour presentation yesterday! It went ok! Apart, perhaps, from the part where I told the assembled audience of corporate communications professionals that they needed to 'accept the whoredom and mendacity of their profession', but noone's mentioned it since so let's see if they let me in the office next week. 

What else is good? Well, er, the cricket (if you like that sort of thing)! Friend of Curios Rishi Dastidar has a new pamphlet of poems out! Shardcore and I have some tentative interest in the algobongo! Imperica will, as of next week, get a small rejigging, with content divided up into three sections - website (intelligence, interesting links etc) / magazine (long form) / commercial (stuff we do for other people)! It's the last weekend in August and moderately sunny!

Oh, look, it's no use, I can't do it. The world is burning, in many cases literally, the UK appears to be heading for some sort of intense schizophrenic breakdown, I got bitten by a spider last weekend and it still hurts, and the world is seemingly full of the dreadful, the mad and the stupid, many of whom appear to be in charge. 

So, to misquote Martin Crimp's modern-day translation of Moliere's 'The Misanthrope', "That's it, you're right. The world? We've fcuked it; so let's sit back and deconstruct it". 

This, as ever, is Web Curios; I, as ever, am Matt; this, as ever, is your weekly dose of linky opiate to take the pain away. 

By Seungyoun Kim



  • FB To Require Additional Info From Political Advertisers: Well, in the US at least, although one would imagine that this will roll out more widely in short order as it seems eminently sensible and the sort of thing which might actually make a not-insignificant difference to the general issue of lies and misinformation on the platform (well, some of the lies and misinformation). As of now(ish), advertisers seeking to run ‘political’ ads in the US will be required to provide additional information to Facebook about who they are, including “submitting a tax-registered organization identification number (EIN); a government website matching an email ending in .gov or .mil; or a Federal Election Commission (FEC) identification number.” This will get you a ‘confirmed organisation’ label, which will be visible to those being advertised at; smaller entities wishing to do political ads can submit different info, including the legal name of the Page Admin buying the ad - they won’t get the same confirmed org label, but this information will be available to people seeing the ad. This is obviously imperfect, but still SO much better than the current setup; the implementation will obviously need to vary from country to country depending on local legal frameworks, but as a general idea this seems wholly sensible and is to be applauded.
  • Instagram Testing Threads Messaging App: This is very much a speculative story, and this particular app/feature may never come to light, but, well, I’m rather light on s*c**l m*d** stuff this week and so thought I’d chuck this in to make up the numbers. Instagram is apparently testing a new messaging app which, according to the Verge which broke the story, will effectively function much in the same way as some of Snapchat’s functionality (NEVER STOP INNOVATING, INSTA!) by allowing people to automatically share their status with their ‘close friends’ list, including their battery life (WHY WOULD YOU WANT TO DO THIS?!?). To quote the piece, “Screenshots reviewed by The Verge show an app that’s designed to promote constant, automatic sharing between users and the people on their “close friends” list on Instagram. Opt in to automatic sharing, and Threads will regularly update your status, giving your friends a real-time view of information about your location, speed, and more. At the moment, Threads does not display your real-time location — instead, it might say something like a friend is “on the move,” according to sources familiar with the matter. You can also update your status manually, with statuses appearing in the main feed along with messages.” Do you care? You shouldn’t, this couldn’t be less important.
  • Twitter Tests New Larger Image Carousel Ad Format: I mean, that’s literally it. Do you want to read more? Are you HUNGRY TO LEARN? Click the fcuking link then, go on.
  • YouTube Kids Launches Web Version: Rather than only being available via an app, harassed parents looking to drug their spawn with a child-friendly smorgasbord of vapid animations can now access YouTube kids via the web! Additionally, you can now specify the age of the child who’s using the platform so as to further limit the range of content available to them, based on the entirely reasonable fact that what a 10 year old might want to watch isn’t necessarily going to be totally suitable for a 4 year old. Again, sensible, though given YouTube’s previous track record with its Kids service I wouldn’t trust this sort of age-gating too much.
  • TikTok’s Testing Audience Network Ads: Of course it is! This is inevitable, so whilst I’m caveating this with the whole ‘testing’ thing, this is OBVIOUSLY going to become a thing within the next 6-9 months. Advertisers on TikTok will be able to use its ad network and targeting to place ads across a range of affiliated sites and apps, as you can on Facebook and other sites. To quote the piece, “According to the company’s documentation, media buyers can choose between full-page video ads or the rewarded video ads that crop up in most free-to-play games. And now, thanks to this audience network, TikTok can turn those microtargeting capabilities loose on the verifiable smorgasbord of apps across the iOS App Store, Google Play and a handful of app stores specific to China, like TapTap, Xiaomi and Meizu. Media buyers can also blacklist particular apps they’d rather avoid, along with apps in risque categories like “adult health care” and “plastic surgery.”” There’s a brief, throwaway line in the piece about the potentially-creepy extent to which TikTok might end up hoovering users’ data for nefarious advertising purposes which possibly merited a little more thought; still, though, MORE WAYS TO ADVERTISE AT CHILDREN!!!
  • Spotify Wants Everyone To Make Podcasts: Can everyone STOP making podcasts please? Mainly because I don’t listen to them. Spotify is testing a new ‘create podcast’ feature that will pop up within the app, encouraging everyone to record themselves SPEEKING THARE BRANES to the anxiously-listening world. Except the world isn’t listening because there are TOO MANY PODCASTS; can we all go back to blogging, please? READING IS BETTER.
  • The Odd World Of Localised Bank Landing Pages: This might not sound interesting, I concede, but I promise you that this Twitter thread, which investigates the slightly odd way in which Chase Bank in the US attempts to personalise its login pages for its users, is honestly fascinating (if you work in digital, and have ever had to think about stuff like this; otherwise, I concede, you can probably live without this one). Man, this has been an underwhelming section; I promise the rest of Curios is better, though (as it always is when we get the worky stuff out of the way tbh).

By Amanda Friedman



  • YouTube Decade: This is PERFECT INTERNET. YouTube Decade, built by Bennett Feely, is a simple, wonderful site which each day presents the most popular videos on YouTube from 10 years ago, by category. The criteria’s quite simple - the site just looks to match the upload date to today’s date, and pulls the most-viewed vids on that basis; so, at the time of writing, I’m being served some sort of terrible skit by a Latina YouTuber called ‘Baby Smiley’, a short film of venom being extracted from a scorpion stinger, and a car crash compilation that I really don’t want to click on. Fine, so this isn’t a particularly compelling selection, BUT WHO KNOWS WHAT TOMORROW WILL BRING? You can also go back through previous days, which is how I was just reminded that Jamie Archer was once A Thing (God but the world was a purer place in 2009). This is a wonderful piece of quotidian time travel and I love it. Also, lazy publishers can TOTALLY get a daily column out of this should they be minded to (please don’t).
  • The Election Handbook: We all know there’s going to be one soon, we just don’t know when yet. In anticipation, the London College of Political Technologists at Newspeak House are compiling this guide to digital tools and resources which you can use to inform yourself about the process and the candidates or to help you campaign. It’s open source, so if any of you have anything interesting or useful to add, do so. I don’t hold out an awful lot of hope of this awful shower of cnuts not getting another 5 years, to be honest, but if the Tories are going to be defeated then stuff like this is going to be instrumental in doing so.
  • Soundscape: This is a reasonably-standard music-generation page, but the visual design here is lovely; it presents as a tranquil pondscape by night, and as you add loops and effects and layers, the scene subtly animates in time with, and dependent on, your choices, to create a pleasantly-soothing visual accompaniment to your musical noodlings. Even better, it’s seemingly impossible to create anything that doesn’t sound generally lovely, even if you’re a tin-eared no-talent no-mark like me. Hover over the left-hand-side of the screen to reveal the controls, and click around to your heart’s content; this is quite gorgeous.
  • Emojivision: Silly-and-pointless-but-fun app which lets you take photos and then renders them as pixel-art-ish images, where the pixels are emoji. Have you ever wondered what you would look like if you were made up entirely of smiley poos? Well now you can find out. Entirely frivolous and the sort of thing that you will use approximately 6 times before forgetting it exists, but it’s probably worth a few extra likes on Insta if you get in here early (AND THAT’S WHAT COUNTS, RIGHT? THE CEASELESS PURSUIT OF THIRD-PARTY VALIDATION!).
  • Redditsearch: A genuinely useful search engine for Reddit, letting you specify keywords, date range, specific subs or authors, and the rest. In theory, this is an excellent way of researching all sorts of stuff about online culture; in practice, this will in the main be used entirely for surfacing bongo (don’t worry, I don’t judge, I just know).
  • Save Whales: I know everything seems to be quite banjaxed at the moment, what with the Amazon being on fire and the politics and the rest, but it’s important that we don’t forget about the whales. SAVE THE WHALES! I have no idea exactly how this website is assisting in the preservation of our lovely cetacean mates, but it’s very pretty, full of information about various species of massive aquatic mammal, audio recordings of their song, CG models of their lovely, barnacled bodies and some GREAT facts - did you know that a large dog could comfortably walk through a Blue Whale’s arteries? YOU DID NOT! It would, in all likelihood, be an unpleasant experience for canine and whale alike, but it’s nice to know that it could happen with a bit of effort.
  • Amazon Is Burning: Speaking of the Amazon being on fire (SEAMLESS!), this is a Chrome extension that, while the fires are still blazing, will remind you of that fact each and every time you visit Amazon the retailer, specifically by making the website look like it’s actually on fire with some impressively-shonky-looking 8-bit flames licking about the bottom of the page. On the one hand, even an Amazon (the retailer)-hater like me would be hard-pressed to draw any correlation between it and the fires in the Amazon (the forest); on the other, this would be an excellent and disconcerting thing to install on the computer of any colleagues or family members who spend too much time browsing for tat and enriching MechaBezos.
  • Fourble: This is a very clever idea, and potentially hugely-useful, particularly for anyone who has to listen to an awful lot of archive audio from the web. Fourble basically lets you turn a bunch of MP3s, hosted anywhere else on the web, into a podcast, which you can then listen to whenever and wherever you like; it’s not hugely user-friendly, and the instructions are...sub-optimal, but the functionality is seemingly pretty good, and as a way of compiling slightly obscure, old audio from around the web it’s pretty good. As an added bonus it has a list of all the podcasts that have been created using it (or at least the ones which aren’t labelled as being for private use), making it a great source for new, different and interesting audio gubbins - seriously, check out this list of stuff; if you can’t find something to listen to in this then, well, what the fcuk is the point of you (I am currently enjoying an excellent selection of 1920s jazz, for example)?
  • Three Metre Stories: A lovely project by Curios reader Steve Toase, using What3Words as a writing prompt for short stories (parenthetically, I am always amazed by What3Words’ ability to have a sudden spike in interest every couple of years whilst at the same time gaining no mainstream traction whatsoever - seriously, whoever does their PR is good). The project uses the three words for any given location as a jumping-off point for a piece of writing; beautifully, each short piece is then appended to that location via the W3W website, creating, in theory at least, a story for every single point on the globe. Part of me feels it would be nice to open this up to the wider world, creating a genuinely global storytelling movement to carpet the world in short tales; then, though, I remember that most people really can’t write for toffee, and that that would be a terrible idea. Regardless, nice one Steve, I love this immoderately.
  • Pipes: When I was a kid, my mate Nev went through a brief phase of smoking a pipe - it’s the sort of thing that if you’re 14 and living in Swindon you think will give you a raffish, debonair style, but in fact just makes you look quite a lot like a massively-affected weirdo. I tried it a few times but could never quite get into it; it was mainly the unpleasantly-spittly stem/mouthpiece thing, and the fact that you’d occasionally get a gobbet of slightly damp tobacco hurtling into your gullet after a particularly ambitious puff. Regardless of whether you smoke or not, though, this website - that of Italian pipe-maker Arcangelo Ambrosi (and what a fabulous name that is) - is quite wonderful; he makes some truly beautiful smoking devices, and whilst not everyone can carry off a pipe in the shape of a massive cartoon frog, I’m glad that such things exist.
  • Peter Oravec: Another in the occasional series ‘incredibly creative and slightly-overdesigned developer portfolio websites’, this is the homepage of Peter Oravec, a Slovenian coder and designer who’s created an entire 16-bit style top-down gameworld through which to explore his work and learn more about him. On the one hand, this is a staggeringly inefficient way of presenting all this information; on the other, this is SO MUCH FUN, and there are all sorts of lovely little touches and flourishes which make it a joy to explore. Go and have a wonder, and then maybe hire him - he’s obviously got interesting ideas and no little skill.
  • Living Vehicle: As we prepare for the seemingly-inevitable breakdown of civil society here in the UK (oh, ok, fine, that’s utterly hyperbolic, but I do wonder whether something’s going to snap over the next month as the madness gets more intense and the XR protests start up again and we all start to fray more quickly around the edges), why not consider buying yourself a carbon-neutral trailer-type thing to live in as you flee the burning cities in favour of a bucolic existence living off the land? This looks incredibly ambitious - the idea is that it can support an entirely off-grid existence, powering itself through solar panels and featuring an array of waste-recycling technologies which will provide water. Obviously this will be of no use in a country where the sun shines for approximately three months of the year, but if you feel like escaping somewhere sunny and living the life of a trailer-bound hermit then perhaps this could be your best shot at freedom.
  • Neuralcam: An app for iPhones which enhances the device’s ability to take nighttime or low-light photography; that’s literally it, sorry, I have nothing else to say. Feel free to imagine a pithy witticism of your own, I simply can’t think of one.
  • Lyrics.Rip: This is rather fun - a site which takes the lyrics of any artist whose work is featured on Genius and runs the words through a Markov Chain and spits out some imagined approximations of songs. I just asked it to do Oasis (because I am old and feeling momentarily nostalgic for 1994) and it gave me this, which feels pretty much perfect if you ask me: “D'you know the things that you'd never knows the games I mean? yeah, yeah, nobody knows it's just don't know is in the mornin' light” - seriously, just imagine that in a Gallagher whine, it’s JUST RIGHT.
  • The Etsy Design Awards: Etsy’s a weird sort of place; a mixture of genuinely impressive artisanal craft (one of the few occasions when the word ‘artisanal’ is actually justified), some truly horrific oddness and an awful lot of absolute tat. The inaugural Etsy design awards celebrates some of the former; this is a really nice way of browsing some of the higher-quality sellers on the platform, and, if you’re the unscrupulous and unimaginative head of design for a major homewares brand, a great way of finding stuff for you to rip off for the 20/21 season. I’m now slightly obsessed with this set of miniature concrete homes, though I cannot for the life of me explain why that might be.

By Martin Klimas



  • Mapgen: This is a touch like one of those NVidia paint-with-GAN toys that let you draw shapes and then turn then into approximations of landscapes, except here you can paint onto an autogenerated fantasy-type map with peaks and valleys and rivers and lakes, and create your own imaginary Middle Earth-type landscape into which you might want to imagine escaping. In a nice-but-largely-pointless touch, the maps are generated in 3d, meaning you can tilt them to see the topography of your newly-created world. I honestly have no real idea why you might want to use this, but who cares? It’s lovely! (actually, if you play D&D or similar, this in conjunction with the random city builder toy might be quite a nice pair of worldbuilding tools)
  • Web Fluids: In no way as disgusting as the title makes it sound, I promise; this is simply a browser-based simulation of fluid dynamics, but one with a beautiful hi-res sheen and some really gorgeous colours, which has had me mesmerised for about 5 minutes now and is a genuinely soothing little webdiversion. Seriously, stop what you’re doing and have a play; on a touchscreen surface you can make some incredible, magical effects.
  • Odd Traffic Signs: The Centre for Urban Transportation Studies at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee curates this webpage, showcasing various examples of ‘odd’ street signage from around the world. I have no idea at all why they do this, but I’m sort of pleased that they do; there is STRONG memetic potential in quite a lot of these, not least this particular beauty which I feel might get a lot of use in the coming months.
  • Create Transparent PNG: Yes, it’s boring, fine, but if you’ve ever spent frustrated minutes looking for transparent png files, this will prove an occasional godsend.
  • Building Ages in the Netherlands: Fine, you might not think you give a flying one about the different ages of buildings across the Netherlands - and, to be honest, you may well be right. I certainly don’t, but still rather liked this quite lovely site which presents an isometric 3d laydown of the country with the ability to pan, zoom, etc, with all the structures colour-coded by age to give you a quick visual guide as to the youthfulness or otherwise of the buildings. Zoom out and you’ll get a wonderful sense of how the country has evolved over the past century; the view of Amsterdam alone is beautiful, and it’s a hugely impressive bit of datagathering and viz work.
  • Rock Cocks: I don’t, as I’m sure you know, tend to link out to listicles and magazine-style photo compilations; I’m making an exception for this, though, as it’s such a wonderful collection of photographs of 70s rock gods in VERY TIGHT TROUSERS! Do you want to pore over every single wrinkle in Mick Jagger’s ballsack? Ever wondered exactly what Ringo was packing? I can’t imagine that the answer to either of those questions is ‘yes’, but I guarantee that this is going to keep you oddly compelled for the length (fnar!) of time it takes you to get all the way through to the painfully-bifurcated Andy Gibb. Regardless of whether or not you’re into cock, this is great.
  • Pagemap: You know what would make almost all webpages better? Yes, that’s right, a mini-map in the top-right showing you exactly where on the page you are at any given time. Thankfully, this site offers you the code to implement that very thing - Editor Paul, can you install this on Imperica please? I like to imagine it will add to people’s hopeless horror as the scroll through the seemingly-infinite expanse of Curios.
  • Dynamic Wallpaper Club: Dynamic Wallpapers, for MacOS: “With macOS Mojave, Apple has introduced two new time-shifting desktops that match the hour of the day wherever you are. Now you can create them yourself or browse the gallery to find a wallpaper that fits your personal style.” Totally pointless, but there’s something sort-of magic about a desktop wallpaper that changes over the course of a day with the passage of time.
  • The End of Civilisation: Render is a Russian site where digital artists get together to share their work, often of a sci-fi or fantasy bent; it recently ran a contest inviting artists to submit work on the theme ‘The End of Civilisation’ - these are the resulting entries. Quality’s variable, and your appetite for this will be largely link to your tolerance for the sort of work found in videogame concept art folders and on the cover of a particular sort of dystopian scifi, but there’s undeniable talent on display here.
  • What’s Cooking?: The actual title of this YouTube channel is in fact ‘What’s Cookin’?’, but I absolutely detest the folksy abbreviation and so I’m correcting it in the headline here. SEE MY AUTHORIAL CLOUT AT WORK! Aside from my needless complaint about its name, though, this is ACE - a series of videos exploring the native cuisine of a variety of European regions; episodes include one on kelp cookery in Northern Ireland, the specialities of the Fruili region of Northern Italy, and Macedonian paprike mousse. It’s a nice, slow, gentle series of 20-odd minute episodes, featuring some genuinely unusual cooking and lovely photography; highly recommended for those of you who are into cookery.
  • Prisoners’ Inventions: Oh I love this. Temporary Services is a two-person artistic collective from the US; this is one of their projects, which...oh, look, their description will be better than mine: “This project is an ongoing collaboration between Angelo, an incarcerated artist, and Temporary Services (Brett Bloom & Marc Fischer). We asked Angelo to illustrate and describe the many incredible inventions made by prisoners that he had made, seen, or heard about over the years. These inventions are attempts to fill needs that the restrictive environment of the prison tries to suppress. The inventions cover everything from homemade sex dolls, condoms, salt and pepper shakers to chess sets, privacy curtains and ways of communicating between cells. We collaborated on this project with Angelo for over two years to get it going.” Click the links to the right to access the gallery - this is sad and funny and ingenious by turns, and wholly wonderful.
  • Propina: This is a really nice idea, though I doubt its ability to gain traction; the gimmick is that this app allows participating shops and bars to showcase the farmers who produced the coffee that they serve, and by extension lets customers deliver a tip directly to the grower via a small tip system. This lives and dies by the number of participants on board, but it’s the sort of thing that it would be genuinely great to see a large-scale coffee chain get on board with.
  • Colour Collect: Hugely useful app for designers, this, which lets you pull colour palettes and individual pantone shades direct from your phone’s camera and any stored picture on your camera roll. Excellent if you want PALETTES INSPIRED BY NATURE and that sort of jazz (or, alternatively, if you want your new interior to replicate the dusty grey of London streets).
  • The Figure 8 Voyage: This is a very, very brave thing to do (some might even consider it mad). “Randall Reeves set out alone on The Figure 8 Voyage in an attempt to circumnavigate both American continents and Antarctica in one season. Departing from San Francisco in the autumn of 2018, Reeves' expedition took him all the way to the bottom of the world, past South America, around Antarctica, then all the way up the Atlantic to the top of the world, and returning home to San Francisco via the Arctic – all to be completed solo in one year. The total route is about 40,000 miles. A loop around the world via the Southern Ocean is considered the Everest of sailing. No one has yet attempted five oceans, two circumnavigations, in one year, alone.” Randall is still out there, still sailing, and you can chart the progress of his voyage via this site and various social media channels; bafflingly, this appears to be the second time he’s tried this. Mad, but incredibly impressive.
  • Vulgarlang: This is a really interesting tool which will mostly be of use to...actually, no, I have no idea who this would be of most use to - maybe any of you writing some sort of epic, Tolkien-esque fiction and who want a helping hand creating a made-up language for your race of elf-analogues? Anyway, this is a paid-for product which you can trial onsite, and which generates an entirely new, made-up language complete with grammatical rules and a full vocabulary at the click of a mouse. This is honestly INCREDIBLE - I know that it’s just a series of rules under the bonnet guiding all this, but the way it spits out pronunciation guides, short vocabulary examples with English translations and all sorts of other stuff is quite amazing. Any of you interested in the meaty, structural bits of language might find this quite a fun curio.
  • Overtype: I was rewatching Spaced the other day with my girlfriend and there was a scene in which Daisy sits down to do some journalising AT A TYPEWRITER, and I was momentarily struck by how utterly miserable it would be not to have access to modern word-processing technology and what an absolute, total and utter ballache being a writer must have been back in the olden days. How did anyone get anything done? How long would it have taken me to do Curios? HOW WOULD THE HYPERLINKS WORK?!?! Anyway, this is an in-browser typewriting similar that I suggest you send to all the children in the office to show them how fcuking lucky they are to be in the digital age (they are not lucky, everything is dreadful and the fault of the web, but at the very least they have a delete key).
  • Monumental Trees: A website dedicated to trees - not just a website but a community. Honestly, this is so pure and lovely that I might week - just LOOK!: “Trees around us can be remarkable because of a number of reasons: some can be very large or tall, others are old or simply very beautiful. On this site thousands of photos, measurements, and location details of often unknown monumental trees can be found of many species, like giant sequoia, oak trees, sweet chestnut trees, and many others. Also you can upload your own photos or add new trees. Have fun!” I mean, honestly, this may be the sweetest thing I’ve seen all year, Also, it has reminded me of the TREE OF THE YEAR contest, which unaccountably no longer seems to exist in English but I can confirm still features some excellent arboreal lads.
  • The Petrucci Music Library: The International Music Score Library seeks to collect all of the public domain musical scores in existence. If you play an instrument, this is basically your Nirvana.
  • Seed: Last up in this week’s miscellanea, Seed is a browser game in which you play trees, desperately trying to survive and flourish against the predations of an increasingly wood-hungry tribe of people. Starts gently and then gets quite hard quite quickly, but in general it’s a fun way of spending 10 minutes or so (although, be warmed, if you’re already slightly of the opinion that our species is a cancer on an otherwise beautiful world then this won’t do much to correct that viewpoint).

By Andrea Kastner




  • Ani Abakumova: The most impressive stitched art you will ever see. You think I’m being hyperbolic, but I’m not (probably).
  • Depop Drama: Thanks Kev for sending me this, following last week’s longread on Depop; this Insta feed shares screencaps of preposterous conversations between buyers and sellers on the platform. Lots of potential submissions to /r/Choosingbeggars here.
  • Real Future Punk: Awesome retrofuture cyberpunk vaporwave-style aesthetics here.
  • Gomi Sutero: This Insta feed consists solely of photographs taken by a woman of all the crap her husband just leaves lying around the house, in the fashion common to almost all men everywhere (what, you mean it doesn’t just magically put itself away?!). The name of the account means ‘put your trash away’ in Japanese, apparently.
  • Qixuan Lim: Lim is an artist from China who makes...oh, God, look, just click on the link, but be warned that it’s all a bit meaty and cannibalistic.


  • All The Trackers: Farhad Manjoo at the NYT spent a week with a special Mozilla plugin installed to attempt to keep track of all the things that were tracking him as he spent an ordinary week surfing the web. Whilst a few commentators, Ben Thompson included, have been a bit sniffy about the definition of ‘trackers’ used here, and there’s definitely a whiff of the hyperbolic about the piece overall, there’s no denying the mass of data aggregators working behind the scenes to keep tabs on what we’re doing, what we’re clicking, and, through this, determine who we are.
  • How The Degree Lost Its Value: A piece in the New Statesman about the incredible grade-inflation which has taken place at UK universities over the past 10-15 years, and what that means in terms of the quality of graduates emerging with ostensibly high-quality qualifications. I’ve long said this, but one of the most pernicious legacies of the Blair years was the preposterous aspiration to send 50% of people to university, which did very little to reduce inequality but did an awful lot to fcuk the university system and the students passing through it. Obviously my degree was really hard and well-earned and stuff (it really wasn’t; I am an absolute charlatan).
  • Unfluencers: I very much liked the characterisation in this article of a specific class of individual who one hate-follows on social media and whose personal lifestyle choices can actively turn one off certain things, whether it be clothes or food or drinks or activities or anything at all. I know for a fact that there are certain words and phrases I will never, ever commit to paper (well, pixel) simply because I’ve seen them written by individuals whose skin I would happily wear as a dressing gown. There’s an interesting side-idea here about the idea of companies paying divisive, unpopular people to feature their rivals’ products in their Insta feed to downgrade the brand, which now I come to think of it is almost a darkly brilliant idea which one of you can have for free if you want it.
  • The Fake Drama Channels of YouTube: I think I’ve said this on here before, and I was talking to Alex in China about this the other week, but Kayfabe really is the key word of the first two decades of the 21c; it perfectly encapsulates the creeping sense of uncertainty as to whether things are real or part of some sort of elaborate fiction. See this article which describes the dizzying, slightly baffling world of YouTube drama channels, which spend their time agonising over the minutiae of YouTuber gossip and associated issues and which, in the case of the ones described in this piece, are themselves seemingly part of a wider, fictional universe, fronted by ‘presenters’ who are seemingly written by a writing team and then played by voice actors as part of some sort of weird, persistent other universe...and is making potentially quite a lot of cash out of the whole thing. Honestly, I really don’t understand what is going on here AT ALL.
  • Gamergate in the Classroom: There was a Twitter thread that did the rounds a few weeks back, whose tone was infuriatingly arch and middle-class and preachy but which contained a seemingly reasonable assertion - that is, that edgelord humour and gamergate-style debating tactics were being used to draw young men towards the far right (ah, here it is); this article explores similar territory, arguing that teaching has become actively more challenging in the wake of the gamergate movement and, slightly terrifyingly, that students are no longer tabula rasa when they arrive but often need to be deprogrammed from the crap they’ve learned online. Another reason to perhaps not leave your kids alone with YouTube all the time.
  • When Your Boss Is Your Boyfriend: I feel quite conflicted about this; on the one hand, it sort-of makes sense; on the other, it feels horrid. The author explains that her partner has never been good at sharing domestic labour with her; rather than change his habits and become better, they instead decided that she would continue to undertake the bulk of the shopping, cooking and cleaning up, but that he would compensate her for the time each week that she spent undertaking it, as a salary. What do you all think? And, er, Saz, please don’t get any ideas.
  • Has Netflix Peaked?: With Disney+, the great entertainment splintering of the 2020s has begun - as a raft of other content owners prepare to launch their own competing streaming services, and as consumers prepare to see a significant hike in the cost of spending a weekend stoned in your squashies watching rubbish on the box, so Netflix is going to see the quantity of content on its platform diminish. What’s going to replace it? Judging by the quality of Netflix’s own output, a bunch of shonky crap! The future of the streaming market looks fascinating from a business point of view, but equally incredibly bloody; I do rather feel that it’s consumers are going to be the ones getting shafted, though. Maybe Britbox will make it all ok (ha!).
  • The Finance Guy and the Sneakers: This is short, but practically-perfect; the story of finance mogul and very rich man Miles S Nadal’s sudden interest in collecting rare, expensive trainers. The disdain the author feels for Nadal - quite reasonable disdain, it would appear - is palpable, and whilst it’s never nice to snark, it sort-of feels ok when the subject is so appallingly rich and such an evidently awful prick.
  • The Rise of Hard Seltzer: Or, to non-Americans, slightly-flavoured fizzy water with booze in it. Apparently this is a very big thing this Summer in the US, which I suppose maps onto the UK’s increasing obsession with sh1t cocktails in a can. What’s interesting about this is the very 2019 branding/marketing that’s being done around this, a sort of general ‘you’re trash, we’re trash, everything’s a mess so let’s get a bit buzzed’-type thing. Is the prevailing mood and aesthetic a sort of cheerily-despairing nihilism? Feels like it. Anyway, sorry, no idea what that’s got to do with booze-in-a-can, but there you go.
  • Horrific Real Face Emoji: Not really a proper longread, but, well, suck it up. What would it look like if you used a machine learning model to attempt to map real human faces onto emoji? ABSOLUTELY HORRIFIC SCENES is what. I really, really, really want these to deploy in every single email conversation I have for the rest of the year.
  • The Facebook Meat Auctions: There’s something lovely about the fact that, despite the uniformity and control exerted by the Big Blue Misery Factory on its platform, users still find ways of using it for vaguely odd and subversive purposes. Witness this article, all about the Facebook Groups running MEAT RAFFLES! It sounds mad, but the idea is basically that people will post up things that they are raffling (mostly, but not always, meat); users will buy tickets; and then the winner gets their wonderful, meaty prize. Why? WHY NOT?!
  • Visiting Palmerston: 2,000-odd miles North of New Zealand, stuck out in the Pacific, Palmerston is an island with a stable population of 35. It has no landing strip and can only be reached by boat, and residents are largely isolated apart from a few hardy visitors every year. All are descendents of British sailor William Marsters, who landed there in the 19th Century and then stayed, marrying various woman and siring a load of kids (the article pointedly makes no mention of the residents’ very, very knotty genetic history but, well, you do wonder rather); this article is a gentle snapshot of island life as it adapts to modernity and faces up to the threats posed by climate change.
  • What Goop Really Sells Women: Making fun of Goop is, fine, a bit fish-in-a-barrel, but it rarely gets old because the whole thing is so fcuking ridiculous. In this piece, the author goes so far as to actually purchase $1500-odd worth of Goop products in an effort to see whether they will bestow upon her the Paltrow glow and make her life infinitely better (I feel it will not be a spoiler to reveal that they do not in fact do this). A lovely read, and far less nasty than it might have been about the overpriced tat-for-twats emporium.
  • The Randonauts: This is very, very bizarre but also sounds like quite a lot of fun. Randonauts, as they call themselves, are a loose collective of people who believe that we’re living in a simulation and the only way to beat the system is “to leave their “reality tunnels” and discover new contexts, appreciate daily life in fresh ways, or even venture into parallel iterations of their own realities.” No, I don’t know what that means either, but in practice it seems to involve being sent random coordinates via telegram, travelling there and observing whatever WEIRD SH!T might transpire. Confusingly this often seems to involve bottles full of urine (this is not explored in enough detail, imho). If anyone I know in real life is interested in doing this one afternoon, let me know - it sounds like wonderful psychogeographic fun.
  • How To Review a Novel: On styles and principles of literary criticism. Scholarly, but still a lovely read, not least because of the passages of reviews peppering the piece - and this is just a beautiful sentence: “what is wanted of a reviewer is much the same as what is wanted by the reviewer: a modest, unemphatic originality, a meticulously circumstantial account of the novel’s merits, and a plausible (or should I say truthful?) response to them.”
  • Queen of Darts: Other than London Fields, I don’t feel that the sport of darts gets the literary recognition it deserves; certainly not women’s darts, which is something I shamefully hadn’t even considered existed til I read this article, which charts the progress of two of the favourites in this year’s Dutch Open, Japan’s Mikuru Suzuki and the UK’s Deta Hedman. Less about the sport than it is the players, the portrait of Hedman in particular is lovely; I had no idea whatsoever that there was an English female darts player of colour who was one of the best in the world, but I am now very glad that I do.
  • Conversations With My Loveliest: A niece talks about her aunt’s slow decline into old age and infirmity, and the heartbreaking decisions that have to be made about care when people reach the point whereby they can no longer take care of themselves. My mother’s been looking after my grandmother in Italy for over 10 years now; as an only child, I’m likely to end up doing much the same for her in a few years time - this piece floored me. Beautiful.
  • Let’s Meet Again In Five Years: Finally in this week’s longreads, a proper love story. Even a cynic like me couldn’t failed to have the cold, atrophied muscle in their chest warmed by this - it’s GORGEOUS, and I promise that you will feel marginally better about everything after reading it.

By Tanya Marcuse


  1. First, this is called ‘Run It To Ya’ by Black Belt Eagle Scout, whose album is out today and is entitled, magnificently, ‘At The Party With My Brown Friends’. This is a lovely, wistful vocal:

  1. This is sort of weirdly 70sish, a bit Weyes Bloody-y, and utterly beguiling; it’s by Chromatics, and is called ‘I Want To Be Alone’:

  1. A sort of mental mashup of spoken word, jazz, hiphop and VERY art visuals, this is quite brilliant - ‘Can The Sub-Bass Speak?’ by Algiers:

  1. I quite expected to be bored of Poppy by now, but whatever the project is going to look like when it’s all over there’s no denying its malleability. For her latest single, she basically does Babymetal - I mean, were I that band my lawyers would be looking at this quite closely - but with the traditional Poppy-style visual flourishes. Odd, but I have listened to this three times this morning so there’s definitely something in it. It’s called ‘Concrete’:

  1. HIPHOP CORNER! This is Knife Knights, with a slightly wonky slice of space-y hiphop with a very Afrofuturist video which reminded me quite a lot of Knightmare if Knightmare had been recontextualised as the adventures of a space-faring African prince; the song’s called Seven Wheeled Motion:


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