Web Curios 30/11/18
Have you all got over the excitement of the BIG COW (not in fact a cow)? Good, thank fcuk for that, let's focus on the things that matter.
Or, more accurately, let's focus on a whole load of largely pointless links and words - I am LATE today, so this intro is going be even more phoned in than usual. Still, rest assured that everyone else on the web has kept up their end of the bargain, ensuring that all the links are still ACE - it's just my bits that are a little shonkier than normal.
Oh, and, briefly, a moment of sincere apology to anyone who happened to be at the Soho Theatre on Thursday to see 'Nate' and who as a result had to see me all damp and half-naked; if it's any consolation I probably enjoyed it even less than you did.
Anyway, it's once again time to bite down hard and ready yourself for my prose to flow through you like so many volts - not enough to kill, but certainly enough to leave you feeling a bit unsettled and like your fillings might be on fire. This, as ever, is WEB CURIOS!
THE SECTION WHICH WOULD HAVE RESPECTED THE CULTURE, MEDIA & SPORT SELECT COMMITTEE SIGNIFICANTLY MORE THIS WEEK HAD THEY FILLED ZUCKERBERG’S PLACE WITH A TUB OF LARD:
- FB Expands Watch Party to Pages: It’s not exciting, it’s not going to set the world alight, and, based on anecdotal evidence, noone’s going to use it as noone has any particular interest in collaborative viewing through Facebook or any other online platform, but, still, Watch Party! Facebook’s feature which lets people within Groups watch a video together with realtime commenting, etc, has now been extended to Pages (despite the fact that Pages are largely useless as a vehicle for reach). It’s not just that, though - they’re also enabling you to schedule a Watch Party (Christ, that’s a really horrible name when you have to type it more than twice, turns out), introducing threaded comments, and adding the ability for Page owners to Live Comment on a Watch Party (see? I feel that those terms ought to be capitalised and it feels So Wrong) which as far as I can tell means livestreaming themselves talking about whatever other video is also playing. Look, it all sounds cacophonous and confusing and horrible, if I’m honest, but maybe you’ll find something to love in this awful morass of horor.
- Facebook Launches ‘Today In’ : Readers, I read this and laughed. Facebook cares about community! It cares about ensuring that the local ties that bind communities are strengthened, not weakened, in the ever-burning fires of Zuckerberg’s Big Blue Misery Factory! It cares about providing the ability for users across America to easily find out local news and information by simply accessing a specific section of the app, which will present news from local media outlets, popular posts from local Pages, offers from retailers, etc, in one handy location. The bit that made me laugh particularly was the line explaining that Facebook is “testing Today In in communities located in news deserts, places that have low supply of local news and community information” - might that be because websites such as, er, Facebook have absolutely hamstrung the ability of local publishers to monetise? It might, mightn’t it? Anyway, this is only in the US and it’s not clear what the commercial implications will be, but a) it’ll expand soon enough; and b) as if there won’t be some sort of ad unit grafted onto this at some point.
- Updating UK Political Ad Transparency on FB: This is effectively rolling out the final stage of the political ad transparency measures they’ve already instituted in the US, with ‘political’ (and we’ve covered quite how inadequate this distinction is in Curios passim, but it remains worth noting) advertisers being required to give information on their identity, location and the entity funding the advert before said advert will be approved on the platform. Not a bad measure, just an inadequate one - and whilst users will be able to flag adverts as ‘political’ and for review when they suspect advertisers might be trying to circumvent the rules, any ‘bad actors’ worth their salt ought to be able to work around this stuff without too much difficulty.
- Instagram Improves Assistance for Visually Impaired: Instagram’s going to start using Facebook’s image recognition software to better caption the images on the site for the benefit of those with visual impairments; they’re also adding a new custom alternative text field, so that users can append their own richer descriptions of whatever they choose to upload. Not only a good idea, but the sort of thing you could potentially do quite a cool, if niche, execution with; I love the idea of a feed which tells a unique and secret story to users that have image descriptions enabled, for example, but I’m sure you can think of something better. CAN’T YOU?
- YouTube Rolls Out Stories: I have exhausted everything I could possibly ever think to say about the inexorable rise of the Story; to be honest, I had completely forgotten that YouTube had enabled this feature already for its TOP CREATORS, and now it’s only gone and extended it to any channel with over 10,000 subscribers; “Creators who use the tool will be able to respond to fans who interact with their stories, and creator responses will be seen by anyone who comes across the story. Fans can leave comments or questions on stories, and creators can publicly address each response. The focus for YouTube Stories, which was first announced in November 2017, seems to be on community engagement and channel promotion more than day-to-day life updates. Creators can show behind-the-scenes snippets of videos being made, for example, or tease upcoming collaborations.” Does that sound exciting to you? Does that sound like another thrilling addition to the already thick and clotted and lumpy content mix? No, it sounds AWFUL. WILL EVERYONE STOP TALKING INTO CAMERAS PLEASE I DON’T LIKE IT ANY MORE.
- New Data on US Teens; Social Media Habits: Another research drop from Pew in America, and another opportunity for me to make some slightly tired joke about how even if you don’t live or work in the US you will still doubtless use these stats to prove something or other about how vital it is that you get paid to make MORE CONTENT. Anyway, there’s a reasonable amount in here but the headline stats are all around how teens don’t, in fact, think that they inhabit a hideous panopticon driven by the tyranny of the smartphone and than in fact social media makes them happier and more connected, although, they concede, it can lead to ‘drama’. Of course, they’re only saying this because they don’t know how much better things were in the past before we had phones and when instead we all simply stared at our hands and did autopalmistry instead.
- YouTube’s Ad of the Year: You love adverts, don’t you? GREAT! This is YouTube’s annual vote to select the best ads appearing on the platform in the past 12 months; these skew US, and in the main I wasn’t hugely impressed with any of them, but it might be interesting in a general inspirational sense, and, well, quite a few of you can reasonably pass watching these off as ‘work’ for the next hour or so.
- JWT’S Future 100: If this is the last thing that JWT ever does as a company then, well, the name’s going out on a high. You want a 200+ page 2019 trend forecast? You want it to contain such wonderful headings as ‘S-Commerce’, ‘Wanderluxe’ and ‘Funerals on Demand’ (THANK GOD THE FUTURE IS HERE TO SAVE US FROM THe TYRANNY OF FUNERALS THAT WE HAVE TO WORK OUR LIVES AROUND!)? Then you will ADORE this. It’s slightly less silly than some of the language suggests, but it’s still quite silly - still, if trend 49, ‘Breakfast Booze’, comes to pass then we’ll all be too tanked all the time to care.
THE SECTION WHICH WONDERS HOW LONG ‘TIL KNICKERS THE STEER IS REVEALED TO BE A NAZI, PT.1:
- GAN Paint: You can’t move online this year without stumbling across another example of the incredible advances GAN-type tech has made in the past year. There were two or three examples last week, and this time we’re back again with a couple of rather cool toys. First up is this, sent to me by Shardcore, which lets anyone play with a GAN that has been taught to draw scenes - so you take a photo of a building (there are loads to choose from) and then mess with it by telling the network to ‘draw’ trees or doors or brickwork onto the photo wherever you tell it to. Fine, yes, the outputs janky in the now-classic ‘computer imagines thing, thing looks massively weird and generally a bit wrong’ sense, but remember that this is running in your browser, fast, in real-time, and that you hadn’t even seen anything like this a year ago. I maintain that free, online, ‘any idiot can do this’-type GAN-assisted image editors are going to be a big thing...er...soon, but til then this is an interesting glimpse at how this sort of stuff might work.
- AI Portraits: Upload a photo of yourself (go on, DO IT. Don’t think too much about where the photo might end up, or what it might get used for. JUST UPLOAD IT FFS) and then watch in slight horror as the machine spits back an image, imagined from the dataset of actors and actresses on which it was trained, which it thinks looks like you. This is honestly weirdly uncanny - it generates something which is almost, but not exactly, entirely unlike you, but which if you squint could pass as a marginally-better-looking version of you as played by the sort of actor you half-remember from an episode of Doctors you once saw whilst off sick with a temperature. Why not get it to generate an image of you and then see if you can use said image as an official ID photo next time you have to change your work pass? Why NOT?
- Algotransparency: Ha! Obviously the name of this site’s a joke - transparency! In algorithms! Such fanciful, antediluvian, web 1.0 thinking! - but the principal behind it really isn’t. The idea is to attempt to shed some light on the famously unknowable YouTube algorithm, looking at what it recommends to users watching the newest-uploaded videos from some 1000 popular US YT channels and then crunching that information over and over again til it gets a sense of what the most-recommended videos are across these channels at any given point. Its findings? At the time of writing, the top 10 includes two pieces of Republican attack propaganda about how the Mueller investigation is the latest evidence of the Deep State conspiracy with the Obamas and Clintons at the heart of it, and another all about the MIND-BLOWING SECRET OF THE BOSNIAN PYRAMIDS THAT THEY DON’T WANT YOU TO KNOW ABOUT (what amazes me about this stuff, as an aside, is the sheer volume of stuff that THEY don’t want YOU to know about which, despite THEIR best efforts, still ends up on YouTube anyway. Don’t mean to be naive here, lads, but, er, THEY are pretty bad at keeping a lid on this stuff, aren’t THEY?) (that said, BOSNIAN PYRAMIDS!). So, er, it’s all good then!
- The Movie Music Quiz: Really simple but really nicely-made, and, if you’re me, incredibly difficult to the point of impossibility, this is a simple site which plays a film’s soundtrack and asks you to simply guess which movie said music is from. There are a bunch of different categories and difficulty settings, and the visuals while you’re listening are really rather nice, featuring abstract 3d renderings of the film’s poster which resolve themselves should you guess correctly. Basically if you like films and think yourself an expert, this is an excellent opportunity for you to be confronted with your own hubris.
- The Underground Radio Directory: An excellent...er...directory of...er...underground radio stations from around the world. Sorry, it’s just that there’s not much else one can do descriptively with this, other than to say that the definition of ‘underground’ basically tends towards ‘urban/hipster’, that its UK selections include Rinse, Hoxton Radio and, bizarrely, BBC6Music, which should give you an idea of the sort of vibe you’re likely to find here, and that I’ve been listening to some pleasingly scuzzy blues this morning courtesy of Dublin Digital Radio and, based on that, I’ll heartily recommend this site to anyone.
- Bad Cupid: This is...extremely internet. I know I have mentioned SaltyBet on here a few times, and linked it waaaaay back in the day, but it possibly still requires some degree of explanation as I can’t really expect any of you to remember what the fcuk it is. So. SaltyBet “is a website that embeds a Twitch.tv stream, usually of live competitive events like the Evolution Championship, and allows its users to place virtual bets on said events. When there are no notable competitive events running, the stream runs AI M.U.G.E.N matches and allows people to bet on said matches. Salty Bet is purely for entertainment purposes and no real money will be paid out. Users that create their account start with $400 in fictional currency of Salty Bucks that can be used to place their bets. Between every match there is a betting phase during which the players can place their bets.” So. Got that? SaltyBet is basically a virtual betting arena for people to place wagers of fictional currency on fighting game bouts, often played by an AI. Now imagine that, but instead of fighting it was instead allowing you to bet on whether two AI characters would fall in love via a virtual dating platform. HOW ACE IS THAT? Ahem. Clicking the link will take you to the Bad Cupid stream - its timings are a bit irregular, but I urge you to save the link and come back to it if it’s not on right now, as it’s just mind-boggling - let me repeat, this is something that lets you bet virtual currency on whether or not two AI characters (not really AI) will fall in love in the next two minutes - over and over again - whilst chatting with strangers in a virtual chatroom. I am calling it now - THIS IS THE FUTURE OF ENTERTAINMENT.
- The Playlists of Reddit: This is an incredible resource, BOOKMARK IT. Quite simply, this collects all the playlists posted to /r/Spotify, searchable by recency and date range and WOW is this eclectic. At the time of writing, a quick scroll gives me what looks like Cumbia, a 12-hour lofi beats mix and, oddly, a playlist consisting entirely of music used by the American secret services as part of the interrogation process in Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. If you can’t find something to listen to in here then you hate music, frankly.
- Age Hams: I don’t understand this at all, though I appreciate that that’s probably the point. This is a website, called Age Hams, that, er, sells small rubber models of pigs. That’s it - nothing but small, pink, 2d pigs. You order them, they get sent - that’s it. They cost $3.99 and you can arrange for them to be sent from you or from a range of mysterious characters - current options include ‘a french person’ or ‘Santa’ - and, seemingly, that’s it. On the one hand, I feel very strongly that this sort of pointless consumption is A Bad Thing and ought to happen less; on the other hand, this is bafflingly whimsical and makes me quite happy.
- No Man’s Pics: Those of you who play games will probably know about No Man’s Sky - for those who don’t, it was released a couple of years ago and is a game which lets you zoom around a near-infinite galaxy in which all the planets, flora and fauna are procedurally-generated and therefore always new and random and magical and baffling. This Twitter account posts images from the game - if you want a neverending procedure of the sort of scifi landscapes which are straight from the cover of a 70s pulp novel then this will be perfect for you (and, honestly, who doesn’t want that? NO FCUKER, etc).
- The Internet Boyband Database: I might have to stop featuring work by The Pudding here as it’s getting a bit embarrassing how often I post fawning descriptions of their latest dataviz. Not yet, though - their latest, a look at all the boybands that have charted on America’s Billboard Hot 100, is too charming not to include here. It gives you a snippet of each track along with a genuinely LOVELY little animation of the boyband in question, crooning away to their hit in lovely, slightly whimsical fashion. Oh, and there’s an accompanying Spotify playlist too. What more do you want? Although it has now reminded me that O-Town were once a thing, which was a momentarily upsetting flashback.
- Playlist: “Music, Made Social!” runs the blurb for this app, which is the latest in the long line of attempts to create a product for shared, simultaneous, chatty playlist listening, despite their being no evidence whatsoever that this is something that anyone actually wants or needs. From what I can tell this features pretty much the same feature suite as all the other variants of this idea I have seen over the years; live chat, simultaneous streaming, collaborative playlist creation, etc etc; look, you might find a reason to love this that I simply can’t, and who am I to judge?
- Barely Maps: Gorgeous design, here. Peter Gorman spent a year cycling around the US and Canada, and, inspired by the places he visited, began creating a series of minimal designs representing some of the landmarks and cities he saw on his travels. These are wonderfully composed, and there’s an Etsy shop and everything should you want to take your chances with international shipping before Christmas.
- Language Guesser: I think this was in B3ta last week, but in case you don’t subscribe (you should, though, it’s great) then ENJOY. A really simple idea - this cues up a series of YouTube videos and asks you quite simply to guess what language the artist is performing in, you can select a specific genre of music for it to focus on...that’s about it really, but it’s genuinely fun, and could expose you to some exciting new music you might never have heard before. I especially recommend trying the ‘hiphop’ category, if for no other reason than you will quickly realise that rapping in certain languages (Slavic tongues and Arabic, in particular) just sounds fcuking great (although, er, I was a touch worried exactly what some of the Slavic stuff in particular was about). OPEN YOUR EARS AND DO A LEARN!
- Peen Cuisine: I’m genuinely amazed that I’ve never featured this before; I don’t know whether it’s just that I used to have standards that I no longer possess, but this is exactly the sort of website I would imagine would have crossed my path at some point in the past 8 or so years of Curios-ing. Anyway, regardless, better late than never, HERE IT IS! A website devoted to instructions on how to make cock-shaped food! Obviously this is puerile, obviously this is pointless, but, at the same time, the photos of the food are surprisingly pretty good, the recipes don’t seem totally terrible and, well, I’m a sucker for a terrible gag and this site is full of terrible gags. I can’t imagine who, outside of someone organising a very tongue-in-cheek hen weekend, this is aimed at, but if you’ve ever wanted to create an entire buffet consisting solely of food shaped like a cartoon phallus then, well, fill your metaphorical boots.
- The Teletext Museum: Last week I got all excited and reminisce-y about Teletext and then this week this turns up and GOD IT’S LIKE THE UNIVERSE LISTENS SOMETIMES - maybe Noel Edmonds was right and all I need to do is ask! Welcome to the Museum of Teletext, a lovingly-preserved archive of, er, Teletext, showcasing all the various iterations of the platform across different channels, and showing off some of the EXCITING CONTENT users could enjoy back in the day. Honestly, even if this means nothing to you and you’re not old enough to recall any of this and me typing this stuff basically just gives you an almost unresistable urge to shout “FCUK OFF GRANDAD” and unsubscribe (please dear God no), please click this link and look at what the past was like. Personally speaking I would pay actual cashmoney for a phone app which rendered everything as Teletext, come to think of it - can anyone sort this out for me please?
- The Trade Journal Cooperative: There has been a trend over the past few years towards subscription services which send you a different magazine at random every month from a selection, the idea being that you’re presented with a fresh perspective on design or craft or fashion or art each time. This is that premise, but instead of beautiful, glossy magazines produced by bearded artisans in whatever area of their city is most analogue to New Cross at that point in time you will each month be presented with a copy of a very specific, niche trade journal - think ‘Proctology Today’, say, or ‘Gromet News’. This is a genuinely great present for a particular type of person.
- The TV Treasures Auction: LADS LADS LADS THIS IS HAPPENING TOMORROW! Starting at 10am PST (whatever that means) on Saturday 1 December, this is another in the occasional series of ‘amazing auctions featuring truly brilliant telly props’ I occasionally feature; this contains a bunch of stuff from the X Files, including a truly unpleasant fleshy head, as well as some inexplicable child octopus costumes (no, really) which are a snip at a starting bid of $500. Honestly, so much good stuff in here.
- People Getting Stabbed In The Head in Medieval Art: Literally a collection of images of that very thing.
- Stoop: An interesting idea - this effectively acts as a podcast-type app for newsletters, letting you plug everything you’re subscribe to into one place so that you can keep track of what you’ve read, sate your hunger for words from within the app, etc. The idea is that by so doing you declutter your inbox and get rid of the weird, pervasive guilt that i know you all feel at the hundredweight of unread Curios clogging up your Gmail. Newsletters are included based on submissions - I have suggested that they add this one, mainly to see exactly how badly an 8,000 word linkdump breaks their app; I’ll let you know how it goes.
- Good, Cheap and Fast: You know the old adage, right? Things can be good, cheap or fast - maybe two of the three, but never all of them. This is a site by a (seemingly anonymous) data scientist, which he (I am assuming here, but the site very much reads masculine) freely admits he’s going to make cash from, and which offers you a series of product recommendations across categories based on the following system: “This site wouldn't exist without user reviews, i.e. the reviews that actual customers write about a product. I find products with lots of positive reviews, then I toss out the suspicious ones. Then, I remove the products with above-average prices.The result: above-average products selling at below-average prices.” It’s obviously totally joyless and functional, but it’s not a terrible idea for a recommendations site. Might be worth a look.
- Designer’s Eye: This is going to REALLY annoy you. A very simple game, this - is the pixel in the centre of each image you’re presented with actually in the centre? How good is your eye? You will get VERY ANGRY at this in reasonably short order, or, more accurately, with your eyes and their pathetic inadequacy.
THE SECTION WHICH WONDERS HOW LONG ‘TIL KNICKERS THE STEER IS REVEALED TO BE A NAZI, PT.2:
- Worldcat: ‘Libraries, Matt? So analogue! So old!’ Yeah, well, wevs, I love a library - some of my favourite periods of unemployment have involved me basically spending entire days in South London libraries, hiding from the rain and enjoying the peculiarly damp and slightly wooly atmosphere you only ever get in a public library on a wet Tuesday in January - and this site is a genuinely great resource which I wish I had known about back in the day. Type in any book title you like - it also works for CDs and DVDs, in case you’re feeling REALLY retro - and tell it where you live and it will tell you the closest library which holds a copy. Simple but SO useful, particularly for the sort of obscure stuff that would cost you tens of pounds on Amazon.
- Pyongyang Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Conference: Thanks to Kev for the tip - though, er, what were you looking for, man? - this is the first must-attend event of 2019; taking place in Pyongyang in January, this is an eight-day Crypto jamboree in everyone’s favourite bizarre dictatorship, open to anyone with an interest (as long as they’re not South Korean, or Japanese, or Israeli) who can pony up the 3,300 Euro to attend. Can you imagine the sort of people who are going to go on this? I’d rather hang out with Kim tbh. So much to love here, from the answer to the ‘Is it safe?’ FAQ (“North Korea is the safest country in the world!”) to the opportunity on day 7 to engage in “private business meetings with interested counterparts” which sounds like exactly the sort of activity which will get you put on a watchlist back home.
- Color by Fardos: Nice Chrome extension for designers which lets you easily pick shades and make gradients from any site you visit. Not groundbreaking, but might be helpful.
- Droneseed: I feel it essential to point out here that ‘Droneseed’ sounds morelike the terrifying future of artificial insemination than a tree planting service, and that they really ought to change the name. Right, now that’s done, Droneseed is in fact not the terrifying future of artificial insemination but is instead a service which uses drones to plant trees - ‘scaleable forestry’, as they term it, which is SUCH a tech-bro, tech-solutionist term I might actually die. Still, there seem be sound practical reasons as to why this is efficient, and the recent California fires highlight the need for reforestation schemes which operate over huge distances at pace, so it’s perhaps less of a mad idea than it sounds. Still, though, I find the idea of someone out for a walk one afternoon being nailed in the face by a drone-dropped sapling to be almost impossibly amusing.
- The Phrontistery: Stephen Chrisomalis has compiled this truly epic site, featuring glossaries of rare, obscure, forgotten or simply preposterous English words - it is GLORIOUS. Honestly, if you care at all for language then you will happily lose yourself in this - I am now personally in love with this site, and, at this specific moment in time, the word ‘cuniculous’, meaning (as any fule kno) ‘full of holes or rabbits’ and the word ‘quadrupedation’, or ‘the act of stamping with four feet’ which, honestly, try and imagine that. This is lovely.
- I Type NY: I think that this is just a calling card for a digital design shop, but, regardless, it is SO BEAUTIFUL. It’s small, and all you do is scroll, but the way it uses kinetic type and colour gradation and parallax (I presume) is honestly stellar.
- Disksleeves: This is an EXCELLENT piece of old obsessional web - Disk Sleeves collect images of the protective sleeves which 5’¼” floppies used to come in, which, for the children in the audience, were the first vaguely portable disc-based storage units used in personal computing (they were about the size of a CD case, roughly, and really not floppy at all as anyone who tried to bend one as a child found out to their cost). Anyway, as they weren’t hugely robust they tended to come in paper sleeves to protect them, many of which had designs and branding and the like, examples of which are collected here. There are...er...lots, and should you be interested the homepage exclaims that EVERYTHING on the site is available to buy. I have no idea what the going rate is for 17 cardboard boxes full of mouldering paper computer disc sleeves currently being housed in a garage in Aberystwyth is, but try your luck!
- The Best Photos of 2018: Selected and presented by National Geographic, these are as stellar as they are every year - there’s the usual mix of human interest, nature, war reporting and CUTE ANIMALS. Beautiful, and the photo of the human face sitting waiting to be grafted onto its recipient, mid-transplant, is absolutely my photograph of the year.
- Boardtrack Electric Bikes: I think I’ve said here before that electric bikes just feel wrong, like a cheat that shouldn’t be allowed; still, my bleating aside, if you’re in the market for a lazy coward’s motorcycle (YES I WENT THERE) then these are truly rather wonderful-looking. Boardtrack makes electric bikes based on the chassis of 100 year old motorbikes, for the sort of ridiculously affected hipster aesthetic which ought to be risible and yet sort of works. I imagine that shipping these outside of the US would be criminally expensive but, well, as I’ve said before, in my head you’re all millionaires (SO WHY WON’T YOU PAY ME FOR THIS YOU BASTARDS?).
- 30 Ways to Die of Electrocution: I don’t know where these are from, but they are GREAT - my personal favourite is the guy pictured in paroxysms of what look like agonised ecstasy (I know, but I promise you’ll know what I mean) as he p1sses on some electrified overhead cables (again, I know, but you’ll see what I mean), but you’ll doubtless have your own. Compiled by the mysterious Bre Pettis, who asks anyone who links to this to name him and link to his (broken) blog - there you go, Bre, don’t say I’m not polite.
- JPB or IC?: Or, to give it its full name, Jordan B Peterson or Islamist Cleric? A Twitter account presenting the words of JBP overlaid on photos of the sort of firebrand nutcases that give Islam something of an iffy name on occasion. You can imagine the gag here. What is Allah’s position on lobsters, out of interest?
- All The Animals: Now this is a podcast concept I can get behind. All The Animals is a podcast in which the hosts are planning, episode by episode, to name every single animal in existence. They’re only 12 episodes in, having reached part 3 of the ‘rodents’ segment, but you get the feeling they could be at this for a while, particularly if they’re expanding ‘animals’ to include ‘insects’. Still, if you want to know the peculiar soothing pleasure of a pair of soft-voiced American men gently intoning ‘gerbil’, ‘hamster’, ‘star-nosed mole’, etc, then get involved.
- Webcam of Life: Have YOU ever wondered how an 8-bit webcam shot of your face would look if translated into a starting position in the famous ‘Game of Life’ pattern? Would your fizzog sustain existence forever? Are the secrets to eternal life at a cellular level encoded in your peculiar facial physiognomy? Find out NOW!
- Fake Britain: Compiled by the Londonist, this is a lovely endeavour, seeking to map all the fictional locations named in novels, comics, cartoons and TV shows about the UK. Ever wanted to know where Fulchester of Viz fame is, or Trumpton, or Midsomer? Here you go. With a slightly different design this would make a rather lovely poster - regardless, it’s a really nice project and they’re accepting submissions for other fictional places they might not yet have included.
- Titanic Honour and GLory: This is quite an incredible project in the making - Titanic: Honour and Glory will be a full, immersive, explorable 3d representation of the Titanic, which you’ll be able to wonder around and interact with as you explore the final hours of the ship; whether you think this is ghoulish (there’s something in the blurb about being able to ‘simulate the drowning’ which, I don’t know, doesn’t sound great) or a superb historical reenactment in the virtual world, it’s hard not to agree that it’s hugely impressive - there’s a demo you can download free from the site, which lets you explore a single floor of the boat, and there’s a video on there so you can experience what it’s like. Genuinely fascinated to see how this turns out when it’s done.
- Goop’s Ridiculous Holiday Gifts: When I put this on Twitter on Monday I think I termed Goop ‘Gwyneth’s Tat-for-Twats Emporium’ and I am quite proud of that so am going to shamelessly recycle it (sorry, but you can’t expect 8,000 words of pure originality every Friday) (please, there’s no need to point out all my tediously repetitive writerly ticks, I am already painfully aware of them) - anyway, this is the bit where Goop goes all self-aware for the clicks, knowing that this list of preposterous gifts (a whole Spanish village! Rizla made out of actual gold!) will go viral and then hook people in to the £40 cotton buds or whatever they sell elsewhere. Still, I can’t help it, it is funny to gawp at this crap. Please, though, whatever you do, DON’T BUY ANYTHING.
- Incredible SNES Music: A thread featuring some GREAT examples of excellent old-school 16-bit videogame soundtracking. Geeky as you like, fine, but some of these compositions are great and the Gameboy version of Robocop contains some legitimate bangers, no lie.
- 2018 Interactive Fiction Contest Winners: Finally in this week’s miscellania, the winners of this year’s Interactive Fiction Contest - set aside an hour now and explore these, there are some GEMS in here, from Infocom-style text adventures to more modern Twine-type iterations. The winning entry is a truly stunning piece of early-20thC detective pastiche, but there are styles and genres aplenty so you should find something of interest whatever your personal tastes. I know I always bang on about this, but even if you don’t think interactive fiction is necessarily your thing you ought to take a quick look.
THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!:
- Paul Robertson: 8-bit artist doing 8-bit art. Excellent style here.
- XOXO Store: A collection of craft-type items, all available for sale, all very much of the sort of aesthetic you’d expect from Tumblr; if you’re friends with some internetty people, there might be some decent stuff in here for them for Christmas.
THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!:
- Streetview Portraits: An feed presenting images from Google Streetview as art; apparently it’s run by an agoraphobic who finds escape through wandering the world in streetview and capturing their favourite views, which is a sort of lovely, happysad tale.
- I Draw On Cats: Look, Saz! Cats! He doesn’t draw on the actual cats so much as on photos of them, in case you were worried.
- Luca Luce: Trompe l’Oeil makeup artistry has become a bit ubiquitous online in recent years, but it’s rare to see it being done by a guy - Luce’s work has a very cool, slightly cubist style to it in parts which looks excellent as well as slightly mind-boggling.
- Ida’s Creatures: Pets, but photoshopped to the nth degree. The account owner apparently takes submissions, so if you want your ANGEL, your LAMB, immortalised as a weird, post-Chernobyl horrorshow then this is the place to come.
LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:
- 100 Notable Books: Thanks to Katie for pointing this out to me - this NYT list is a rather good place to start if you’re looking for decent holiday reading, though the annoyance of US-curated lists is that they’ll occasionally recommend things that haven’t had the decency to be published in the UK yet. I’ve read half a dozen of the books on here and based on that I’m happy to endorse their selection (ha! ‘Endorse’! Matt, you appallingly hubristic wanker!).
- NPR’s Best Books of 2018: Another American list, this time by NPR. Look, it’s not my fault that the American sites do nicer, shinier interactives around their ‘best of’ lists, don’t look at me like that.
- The Moral Bankruptcy of the MBA: As Facbook’s annus horribilis rumbles on with new allegations about po’Sheryl’s conduct re Sors emerging this morning, this is an interesting article in Vanity Fair suggesting that the issue we’re facing with ethics in tech businesses can in part be attributed to the cult of the MBA, and the fact that the prized qualification may be good at many things but training you to see value in anything other than growth, dividends and the dollar not so much. In a week in which we’ve seen another high-profile person in the UK question the value of arts degrees at a conceptual level, it seems an opportune moment to point out that people who do science degrees are cold, unthinking rationalists who’d kill you if that’s what the equation says (I JEST, SCIENTISTS, I JEST!!).
- Americans Don’t Disagree About What Racism Is...White People Do: One of two superb essays about race this week, written about the US but applicable to the UK and the world in general; this first, by Michael Harriot, is a brilliantly-written examination of the current culture war issue surrounding race relations, to whit the problem that many white people have is that they don’t understand the difference between feeling and action in questions of discrimination. Unsurprisingly the author puts it better than I could hope to: “Dear white people: Feel free to hate me with the white-hot passion of a thousand suns as long as you feel free to treat everyone equally. The narcissistic Caucasian notion that black people have been fighting all this time so that white people would have positive feelings towards non-whites fuels the idiotic notion that perpetuates racism because it allows the people playing keep-away with equality to concentrate inwardly instead of actually doing the hard work required to correct the persistent problems of white supremacy.”
- White Lies: Touching on similar themes to the piece above, this is a conversation between author Ijeoma Oluo and Mark Leviton, touching on both the problems with, and potential measures to improve, race relations in 2018.
- The Human Cost of Black Friday: So, are you happy with your purchases? Did you get all the STUFF you wanted? Was Christmas saved? I’m not being (that much of) a smug refusenik, honest, I’m just slightly jealous of all of you who’ve gotten your Christmas shopping done already, regardless of where you purchased it from. Still, if you did buy it from Amazon, or if that’s where you’re planning to do the bulk of your remaining buying this year, this piece, looking at what it’s like working the fulfilment centre when it gets really busy, might be eye-opening. With this and the new semi-regular Guardian column by the anonymous Amazon worker it does rather feel like we might be reaching some sort of inflection point with regard to our attitude towards the company and immediate gratification - although it’s more likely that we’ll look, shrug and think ‘fcuk’em, they’re only minimum wage workers’ and go back to filling our carts. Which is nice.
- The Mystery Font That Took Over New York: Even if you’ve only visited New York once or twice, you’ll probably recognise the ‘Choc’ typeface from TV and films depicting the city - this article explains how it became weirdly ubiquitous and why it’s oddly popular.
- What’s Down The Internet Rabbithole?: This is a great piece of longform journalism. The New York Times goes down the shipping and logistics rabbithole that exists behind A N Other Amazon storefront, and uncovers a genuinely fascinating series of fronts and shells and bluffs, and companies which don’t really seem to exist in any meaningful way at all. If you recall the articles over the summer about the fake watch businesses, or the weird Amazon storefronts that exist only as ship-on-demand stores then, well, this is that but to the power of 10.
- Consent in the Robot Brothel: I’m not, contrary to what regular readers might think, obsessed with sex robots (methinks he doth protezzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz); it’s just that I find the idea of human/machine interaction in the spehere of intimacy, physical or otherwise, to be genuinely fascinating, and, the internet being what it is, it tends to churn out a lot of stuff about weird sex; basically what I’m saying is that IT FIND ME, etc etc. Anyway, you may recall a Twitter feed I featured a month or so ago from a robot brothel in the US; this piece profiles the venture, whose gimmick you will recall is that the dolls will have to provide ‘consent’. Whilst in practice this is obviously rubbish - you can’t, I don’t think, meaningfully define consent as ‘any situation in which a rigidly defined set of conditions have been met’ which is how this would have to work - there is a more broadly interesting set of questions about it what is and isn’t ok (and ought and oughtn’t) to do to humanoid figures designed to mimic personhood with increasing degrees of success. Worth reading if only to meet the man with the most incredible alias you will ever have heard (no, really, I’m not kidding).
- Red Dead Redemption Is Art: I am still playing Red Dead, me and Monghorse hanging out in the old West, and I’m doing so VERY SLOWLY in an attempt to eke it out forever. This is a short piece doing the whole ‘games as art’ argument using RDR2 as its centrepiece - honestly, even if you don’t play you should try and read this to get an idea of the incredible achievement and, yes, work of art, it is.
- The Blurbing INdustrial Complex: I’d never thought about the practical business of soliciting blurbs for novels - you know, the two or three line endorsements from fellow writers which are pasted all over the cover of novels and which I’d always sort of assumed were tossed out over the phone in 10 seconds flat. Not so, according to this piece, which lifts the lid on the slightly racket-y nature of the blurb business in a grumpy and slightly cantankerous fashion. I have a degree of sympathy for the author’s position, but there’s also an extent to which she might possibly want to take the whole thing marginally less seriously; after all, if you’re spending more than 10 minutes on a 50-word appreciation of a novel then you’re perhaps dissembling slightly imho.
- The 100 Best Pens in the World: This isn’t a great piece of writing, nor is it particularly interesting, but I am an absolute sucker for this sort of minute investigation into an incredibly mundane and seemingly sort-of-pointless topic. You want to know what the best rollerball pen you can buy is? YES YOU DO! There’s something honestly cumulatively soothing about all this banality, I promise.
- The Juul Story: My girlfriend got a Juul recently and whilst it’s literally fine as far as vapes go it’s very easy to lose and the flavour which purports to be ‘Golden Tobacco’ or somesuch tastes almost exactly like old, stale sweet shortcrust pastry so I couldn’t possibly recommend one. IN YOUR FACE, JUUL! Anyway, this is an interesting article looking at the travails the company is currently facing in the US in terms of its marketing approach and the fact that it basically undertook a strategy that could be summed up as ‘let’s make underage kids think that these things are really cool’ (of course they did! They’re not idiots ffs!) - the most interesting thing, though, to my mind, is that lots of this could be applied to pretty much any startup in 2018, from the desperate VC-led rush to SCALE AT ANY COST to the abnegation of principles that sort of rush engenders, to the desperate and inevitable game of catch-up played by regulators, to the company in questions fall from grace to occupy a position whereby it becomes emblematic shorthand for every bad thing in the world....It’s happened to Uber, it’s happening to Facebook, it’s basically the new Gartner Hype Cycle but for tech. Someone draw this for me, please.
- The Stasi Played Along: Brilliant piece from Der Spiegel, thoughtfully translated into English and presented in lovely, slightly-interactive 8-bit style, looking at the weird history of videogames and surveillance in 1980s East Germany. The Stasi were fascinated by the propagandist potential of games, and apparently kept a close eye not only on the titles coming into the country but also the people playing them, on the offchance that a seemingly innocent Frogger tournament was in fact hiding some sort of darkly-seditious anticommunist plot. This is great.
- Dropping Acid: A history of the 303. Not much more to say than that - if you’re into your music/tech history then this will wiggle all sorts of knobs for you.
- Finnegan’s Ewok: A brilliantly silly reworking of the first page of Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake, famously unreadable by any but the most dedicated of souls, redone so as to tell the story of Star Wars. Obviously totally pointless, but as a linguistic exercise it’s quite fun, particularly ifyou have any familiarity with the original.
- You Want To Pet The Big Cow: In slightly similar vein, an imagined piece of interactive fiction featuring this week’s meme superstar Knickers the steer. Honestly, how can you not love this? “I whisper secrets into the ear of the cow who is swollen with truth. I am here to defeat him. I whisper, “This is my grass boy, Jeremy, and he is riddled with goodness and reticulated chambers.” I daren’t whisper. I am a one-stomach coward and a soft-hooved never-you-mind, and this field is as the dark and treacherous sea to me. I have no home here among the cows and their huge baby father.”
- AN Oral History of San Junipero: Looking back at the making of what for many is the best Black Mirror (I’m going to contend that the XFactor-type one featuring Daniel Kaluuya was better, but I won’t fight you about it), this is an extract from the forthcoming book about the series’ genesis and evolution and takes you through the script’s development through filming. Featuring the thoughts and recollections of all the principles as well as Brooker, this is an excellent look at how things develop from concept to page to screen (if, er, you’re a multitalented team of creators with Netflix money behind you).
- Scrooged at 30: You can keep your tedious debates about what the graetest Christmas film of all time is, for the truth is that it is Scrooged. My Dad took me to see this at the cinema when it came out and, honestly, it scared the everliving sh1t out of me - this article does a good job of explaining exactly what it is that makes it so unsettlingly brilliant, which in the main is the sheer intensity of the whole thing; the whole film is basically turned up to 11, all the time, whether it really needs to be or not. Honestly, if you’ve not seen it then you really ought to, even if you’re as sick of the tedious latter-day worshipping at the altar of Bill Murray as I am.
- How To Properly Eulogise A Body Part: An excellent story about a prosthetic leg and the ghost of its progenitor. Odd, funny and beautifully-voiced.
- Meet Alexa: I was in two minds about including this - on the one hand, it’s not very well-written (not that it’s bad so much as justs a bit flat and affectless, though I concede that might be a deliberate authorial choice and I’m just not really getting it and it does rather have a touch of ‘old person writing about young people’, but on the flipside it’s a pretty complete picture of some of the major touchpoints of a young person’s life in 2018 (er, says an old person). Take a look, see what you think - if nothing else, you can probably circulate this instead of some bullsh1t ‘persona’ next time a client presents you with an insultingly lazy brief where the target audience simply says ‘Millennial’.
- Lena Dunham: It’s fair to say Dunham’s a...er...divisive figure. Reading this profile in The Cut, which is her first big piece of media since her well-publicised health issues, it’s not hard to see why; one does wonder, as the author herself questions, whether Dunham’s entire life is some sort of deliberately provocative performance art, and exactly what it is about herself that requires her to be both creator and protagonist, author and narrator; I mean, I get that creative types can occasionally be a touch on the solipsistic side, fine, but this is a degree of narcissism bordering on the pathological. Though the brief, article-stealing cameo made by Dunham’s mother does go some way towards explaining some of this, I think - they fcuk you up, your bohemian artist mum and dad, etc etc.
- The Club and the Mob: WHAT an essay this is, ostensibly a review of Alan Rusbridger’s new memoir about the Guardian and journalism but in effect a potted history of the past 25 years in the media industry, If you have any interest in the media and digital and how all this stuff works, and how it doesn’t, this is absolutely essential. So well-written, it wears its 10,000 words far more lightly than you’d expect; definitely worth your time.
- Mr Wu: Finally this week, a truly lovely story in which the author goes back to Beijing to visit the house where she previously lived, in search of her old landlord Mr Wu. One of those pieces of writing that does place and person equally well, this is another of those essays that works a bit like a hug in prose form; glorious, to be enjoyed with (green) tea.
AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:
3) Next up, this is ‘Summer Nights’ by Lightfoil and, despite the name, I think it is PERFECT for sunny wintery mornings like this one (yes I know it’s afternoon now, but I’ve been typing for 5 hours straight by this point and so my sense of time is somewhat dislocated).
4) Oh look, it’s The Private Sector with another slice of cheery Brexit-era social commentary! The perfect soundtrack to the fortnight’s febrile excitement in the run up to the Great Jezzus vs May Brexit Debate! This is called ‘Their Reality’:
7) Finally this week, would you like to see the entirety of Shrek remade sort-of-shot-by-shot by a bunch of disparate and diverse creators in a whole variety of media, turning it into a genuinely odd and surreal and often creepy experience? YES YOU DO! Enjoy this, and take care, and BYE I LOVE YOU BYE I HOPE YOU HAVE REALLY NICE WEEKENDS AND THAT YOU MANAGE TO GET A TREE IF YOU HAVEN’T ALREADY AND THAT YOU ENJOY DECORATING IT AND THAT THE OFFICE GETS YOU MINCE PIES AND MULLED WINE AND DOESN’T FORCE YOU TO WEAR A STUPID FCUKING CHRISTMAS JUMPER IF YOU DON’T WANT TO AND THAT YOU ARE OK, YOU KNOW, DEEP DOWN INSIDE AND KNOW THAT I LOVE YOU OK BYE SEE YOU NEXT WEEK BYE BYE BYE BYE!: