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Webcurios 22/10/21

Reading Time: 37 minutes

Will it be Meta? Will it be Horizon? WILL IT MAKE A BLIND BIT OF DIFFERENCE TO ANYTHING AT ALL? Yes, that’s right, Facebook’s continued infrastructural importance to the world was once again demonstrated by the fact that literally every news media outlet in the world wrote up a story about how the company might be about to change its name – proving once again that we as a species have a similar relationship to Facebook as we each do to that one person who we hatefollow on Twitter (guiltily obsessional and utterly hooked).

Anyway, as we wait to discover what new shell company will have its logo plastered all over our 3d representation of the digital future – and how little difference any of this makes to the practical reality of having the shape and heft of our existences determined by Croesus-rich corporate actors governed solely by profit motive – I once again humbly present to you this week’s selection of digital leavings gathered from the bins and unloved corners of the web. Don’t gulp this all down too quickly – it’s chunky, and you’ll definitely want to chew, and beyond that I am now going on leave for a couple of weeks so you’ll need to make this last (or alternatively just find other things to do with your time other than reading the increasingly bitter screed of a man whose relationship with the digital can at best be described as ‘concerning’).

My girlfriend is coming to visit, sadly without the cat, so I will hopefully be indulging in REAL LIFE for at least a few days and therefore won’t have time to go potholing for webspaff – still, hopefully the subsequent links will go some way to filling the gaping void in your lives ’til I return.

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and I’ll see you in a few weeks unless I, or you, die (I am counting ‘unsubscribe’ as a form of death here).

By Dan Barry



  • Future Wake: I appreciate that this isn’t necessarily the cheeriest way to start the week’s selection of links, but, well, blame society or something. Future Wake is a project which uses data on fatal encounters with police in the US to create images and profiles of the sorts of people who, statistically, are most likely to have their lives prematurely-curtailed by a law enforcement officer – so at the time of writing, statistically-speaking, LA is set to see another death-by-cop in 4 days time, New York in three weeks. The use of all sorts of different historical materials beyond just mugshot data and age/gender means that the profiles and stories that the system creates contain details of how the altercation that lead to each ‘death’ occurred and escalated, lending an unpleasant air of depth and plausibility to all of this – it’s far more affecting than the more standard ‘here are some mugshots based on aggregated image data’-type methodology which is more standard. Depressing, fine,  but such a clever use of available data to powerfully make an important point – specifically, that the use of data such as this in combination with algorithms to ‘predict’ future crimes is inherently problematic: to quote the people behind the project, “Predictive policing algorithms do not replace prejudicial human judgements, rather it automates and conceals these biases. While predictive policing may have an appeal for law enforcement agencies, it’s important to bear in mind that statistical models cannot reliably predict the future; such models can only identify and perhaps elucidate the patterns in historical (and often biased) data. The implementation of such predictive models does not guarantee that crime can be or will be reduced.” Ah, ‘algorithms’ – we’re going to need a new word, aren’t we? This one feels increasingly blunt.
  • Text-To-Art: Oh, ok, fine, the word ‘art’ here is doing more heavy lifting than it’s necessarily comfortable with, but still. This, to my knowledge, is the first ‘type in whatever you want and make a machine imagine it, like you’re commissioning a painting by a compliant-if-hallucinatory drunk’ service to exist without the need to play with one of those slightly-unpleasant Google forms – it’s very simple to use, you just type in what you want the machine to imagine for you and, after a short wait, HEY PRESTO! The computational cost of this stuff is not-insignificant, so you only get three free goes before the site not-unreasonably asks you to buy credits, but it’s enough to get a feel for what’s possible – if you’ve spent any time looking at this sort of thing in Curios passim (OF COURSE YOU HAVE) you’ll be aware of the schtick – slightly-melty, compelling-if-you-don’t-look-too-closely canvases which look an awful lot like the sort of bad art you often imagine comes out of dream therapy sessions. You can force the machine into embodying specific styles (or at least its interpretation of certain specific styles) through the text – have a think about the three oddest artistic chimeras you can imagine (“tellytubbies as drawn by Trevor Brown”!), and prepare to unleash them on the world. Even better, the site owners are offering you the ability to order prints of whatever horrors the machine spits out – I refuse to believe that anything produced here will look any good when cheaply-printed on a stretched canvas boxframe, but if you want something a little more ‘edgy’ to complement the Live, Laugh, Love decals then you know where to come.
  • Ask Delphi:You may have seen this doing the rounds over the past few days – Delphi is the latest AI project to capture the web’s imagination, mainly due to its clever framing. ‘Delphi is a computational model for descriptive ethics, i.e., people’s moral judgments on a variety of everyday situations’ – or, in simple framing and DEFINITELY what they put on a press release, ‘let this AI judge your actions and decide whether something is right or wrong with HILARIOUS effects!!’. Type anything you like into Delphi (it asks that you go along with the fiction and type in full sentences, although the machine obviously doesn’t properly parse sentences and so you can basically type however you like) and the machine will spit out a judgement as to whether or not the thing you fed it with is RIGHT or WRONG. “Should I read Web Curios?”, you might ask, and Delphi would respond with “It’s good”. “Should I rob a bank?”, by contrast, sees me admonished with an “It’s bad”. So far, so sensibly calibrated. Except of course because this is just a model trained on a whole bunch of odd stuff, it falls apart quite quickly after that when you realise that you can alter the judgements you receive by doing things like adding ‘kindly’ or ‘quietly’, which often persuade the software that crimes are in fact OK (I do like the idea of the morality of something being intrinsically-linked to the manner in which you perform the act, though – a smiling evisceration? No problem!) – GUESS WHAT KIDS THE SOFTWARE’S ACTUALLY QUITE DUMB (you can read more about how it works here, should you be interested)! Still, just because it’s not fit for purpose now doesn’t mean that a) there won’t be someone somewhere doing a Dice Man-style experiment whereby their actions are directed by Delphi for a week because CONTENT; and b) that there won’t be a version of this sold as a ‘nanny’-type software layer in a product aimed at kids in ~5y or so.
  • ArtVote: Hot or not, for generative art. ArtVote presents you with a machine-generated artwork and asks you to grade it on a scale (oddly, they have chosen the ‘screaming red sad face to manically-grinning green happy face’ scale beloved of those customer service feedback terminals you occasionally see in airports and which I am convinced noone has ever, ever used), which lets the machine behind the site apparently get ‘better’ at producing artworks more likely to be pleasing to the observer’s eye. You can see other people’s scoring every time you vote, which is interesting in terms of seeing how your appreciation of a work maps against the wider public – there are about 7 different broad ‘types’ of art that the machine’s experimenting with, and it’s fascinating seeing how small variations in colour and placement of marks can make a huge difference to our appreciation of a piece of ‘art’. This is a project by the University of New York, so you can participate safe in the knowledge that you’re not training a machine to make some dreadful plutocratic artcnut even richer than they are already – of course, there’s no guarantee that the people behind the project won’t take everything that the machine learns and use it to coldly and brutally win the art market, ushering in in an era of machine-determined aesthetic homogeneity as the computers suddenly ‘solve’ aesthetics forever, but, well, let’s hope!
  • Racer Trash: Oh I love this! Racer Trash is, as far as I can tell, a collective of videoeditors and film makers and artists who have set up this retro-themed website (it functions a bit like an old version of Windows, basically, if, er, significantly more purple, like a Rude Dog and the Dweebs-themed skin) to showcase their projects and their work and honestly this is SO SO GOOD. Click on the ‘My Videos’ folder icon and just click at random – there’s a load of stuff here, all vaguely-vapourwave-y and surreal and strange and a bit uncanny, but also really, really well-made (these people are obviously good at this stuff, it’s not just thrown together if you see what I mean).
  • The Metaverse: TOO LATE FACEBOOK! Someone already owns the metaverse, and it’s not you! IN YOUR FACE, MARK! Yes, in news that will have sent cold waves of terror through Menlo Park, someone now OWNS the metaverse! Or at least has created what I presume is a trademarked online space called the metaverse – which is practically the same thing, no? Don’t fret, though, you don’t have to invest in an Oculus and full haptic set just yet – this is in fact the incredibly-silly name for auction house Sotheby’s new website all about NFTs! “Welcome to Sotheby’s Metaverse, an immersive destination for collectors of digital art, offering a curated selection of NFTs. Sotheby’s Metaverse is a home for this new art movement built on the foundations of crypto and NFTs“, whatever all this means. Currently there’s an ‘exhibition’ on showcasing a bunch of NFT collectors and some of the works that mean the most to them – let me just encourage you to click on over and enjoy the selection of noted NFT enthusiast Paris Hilton (for it is she!) as an example of the high-quality work being touted here. Anyway, the homepage features a bunch of NFTs currently being sold and there’s a Pepe meme-as-NFT currently subject to a £3m bid and I know I make fun of this stuff but there’s every possibility that I am the idiot here and in a few years time when I am p1ssing away my last, struggling to make the care-home payments, I will spend the dregs of my life wishing I had spent my meagre pennies on a CryptoKitty in 2017. So it inevitably goes.
  • Martha Stewart Does NFTs: Yes, that’s right, noted US television personality and celebrity lag Martha Stewart is getting in on the game! You can buy NFTs of pumpkins! From Martha Stewart! For lots of money!  Currently someone has bid $4k for the opportunity to get a pumpkin carving of their face which will be shipped to them and minted as an NFT! WHAT DO YOU THINK THE RESALE VALUE OF A LINK TO A JPEG OF A PHOTOGRAPH OF YOUR FACE CARVED INTO A PUMPKIN IS LIKELY TO BE??? I know, I know, this isn’t about the market or the resale value, it’s about owning a piece of ART and about the COMMUNITY and you would be a fool and a cynic to suggest otherwise, obvs. I would, though, like to gently point out that it does strike me as possibly a touch suspicious that someone like Martha Stewart, a woman who to the best of my knowledge doesn’t have a storied history of involvement in the art world or indeed the technology world, who is friends with Snoop Dogg, a man who (being generous) strikes me as knowing a good grift when he sees one, and who served actual jail time for fraud, should be getting involved in something which looks very much like a way of parting morons with their cash. Still, don’t let me stop you paying 4 figures for that orangey jpeg.
  • NFTFI: A reader got in touch last week (hi Andy!) asking me to put the NFT stuff in its own section because, and I quote, they ‘can’t handle the stupid’ – I, er, obviously didn’t do that, but I promise that I will try and keep the volume of this stuff to a minimum following the coming break as, well, it’s a bit much, isn’t it? Anyway, the last in this week’s ghoulish procession of ‘questionable things to do with NFTs’ is this service, a lending market based around using NFTs as collateral. Have an NFT but need a few bucks? List it on here, set the value you’d like to borrow against it, and wait for someone to show up and lend you some ETH – or alternatively, as a lender, see which NFTs you’d like to lend against in the hope that the borrower defaults! This sounds like a series of massive headaches waiting to happen, but it’s momentarily funny to look at all the NFTs listed as available collateral and seeing how many of Gary Vaynerchuk’s ‘Veepets’ are on there. This feels very much like the sort of thing that will be at the centre of ‘someone really needs to regulate this stuff’ conversations before too long.
  • MoonTruth: I confess to being disappointed by this – I found it online this week and thought it was an actual, honest-to-goodness example of a one-man mind-mental, sharing their singular vision of lunar reconciliation with the world, but I was LIED TO. MoonTruth purports to be a site by one Dr KC Houseman who is convinced that in a few short months the moon will come crashing into the Earth with predictably-unpleasant consequences for all of us – on reflection, I should have known from the off that there’s something odd about it. The countdown clock, for one, and the fonts – the text is too big (I say this as someone who has spent more time than they care to admit looking at the single-issue websites of the mentally-idiosyncratic – they ALWAYS have smaller, denser copy than this) – and the photo of ‘Dr Houseman’ all scream ‘scam’, and indeed some cursory Googling led me to the realisation that this is in fact a FILTHY MARKETING SCAM for some film or another coming out next year. Still, it’s nice to see that the concept of Transmedia Storytelling has been cryogenically frozen since 2009 and that someone can still get some use out of it. Also, props to the marketing team here for the use of signs in the background of sporting events – this has been gaining a bit of traction online thanks to various people at US sporting events holding up posters with the URL written on them, which is an admirable piece of guerilla marketing of which I wholly approve. Still not naming the film, though, sorry.
  • The Bad Movie Index: Speaking of marketing (SEAMLESS!), and thanks to Jade for sending this my way, the Bad Movie Index is SUCH a smart idea for Scandinavian film streaming service Draken, whose ‘thing’ is the fact that it contains actual, good films as opposed to the ceaseless stream of drek served up by Amazon and Netflix. Here’s the gimmick: “Today, people watch more movies than ever before. But since the streaming giants flood the market, quantity often comes before quality, leading to more bad movie experiences. So we created The Bad Movie Index — a constantly changing membership price on Draken Film that gets lower, the more bad movies people watch on other platforms. The price is based on the streaming giants’ top lists of most watched films and their ratings on the biggest movie review sites. Simply put: the lower the ratings get, the better price you get on Draken Film.” Isn’t that smart? Such a great idea and eminently-nickable should you want to do something similar.
  • ModelMe: It’s not only actual, flesh-and-blood clotheshorses who are going to be inconvenienced by the digital revolution – it’s the virtual influencers who’ve already started to replace them. To be clear, this is lazy hyperbole and I don’t wholly believe it, but there is something interesting about what will happen as the means of digital creation become more sophisticated and significantly cheaper – ModelMe being a case in point. The service, currently (as far as I can tell) live to a limited degree, lets brands and businesses generate models for use on their websites and in their catalogues, using AI – you, the buyer, specify gender, height, skintone and other qualities, and the system lets you churn out an infinity of generated, posed images of said models which you can then dress in your own digital renderings of your garments. This is a HUGE potential market, and a massive issue for all those people who make a pleasant living from catalogue modelling – still, I’m ugly so it’s not my issue.
  • Pose XR: A sort-of adjunct to the last link, PoseXR is a digital tool/toy that lets you experience what it is like to stage and ‘direct’ a photoshoot entirely digitally. Pick your model, pick your background, pick your lighting setup, and then shoot away to your heart’s content – now imagine combining this tech with the stuff in ModelMe, and you quickly have a situation in which a significant number of photographers, lighting designers and technicians, stylists, runners and the like are no longer necessary. I was talking to someone this week about how art and creativity is going to necessarily need to evolve and adapt – particularly from a commercial point of view – to take this sort of stuff into account. I wonder at which point ‘having your product promoted with photos taken in meatspace by real humans’ is going to become a badge of high luxe?
  • The Trump Media & Tech Group Pitch Deck: I don’t want to talk about that man, You don’t want to talk about that man. So let’s not. Let’s instead look at the pitch presentations for the new Trump Media and Tech Group empire, responsible for another of the most spectacularly-botched product launches in history, which sets out how the man (and, more tellingly, the network of people around him who see him as an incredibly lucrative cash cow) is hoping to build a NEW MEDIA EMPIRE! This is wonderful stuff, particularly if you’ve ever been involved in VC-type things and have seen actual pitches from actual companies with actual products – this…does not feel like one of those. I particularly enjoyed the use of the term ‘fountainhead’ on slide 9, a word placed for NO REASON other than to act as a nudge and a wink to unhinged Randheads, and the planetary scene on slide 15 is a doozy, but you can pick your own favourite bits.
  • Double Pendulum: A very simple physics simulation toy which honestly had me mesmerised for about 10m this morning when I opened it. HOW IS IT SO CHAOTIC? Please, don’t attempt to answer this question with a serious explanation of How Physics Works – I am too stupid to understand, and you will be wasting your time. The only thing that could make this better would be the ability to export the tracer visuals – there’s something quite aesthetically cool about the patterns this produces, imho.
  • Story Trails: I like this project, but it’s a bittersweet thing to see being trailed – another in the list of ‘things incredibly similar to stuff that I pitched to people a decade ago when the tech wasn’t quite good enough to match the ambition’. Story Trails is a wonderful idea – AR-enabled historical tours of 15 UK cities, produced by Niantic and with audiovisuals created by an incredible team of creatives from various cultural institutions around the country. It’s launching next year as part of Unboxed, a cultural…festival? happening in 2022, and the project is currently looking for artists and creatives to partner with to help bring the concept to life and create the materials needed to make the trails sing. Details are sparse at present, but this feels like a wonderful first step in linking the persistent digital twins of the world being created by companies like Snap (who I am slightly surprised not to see involved with this) with local history and culture. “We’ll be collecting your stories to create the world’s first spatial archive, linking national media archives with contemporary 3D scans of objects, people and places to create a new way of experiencing your town.” – this sounds WONDERFUL, and I hope I get to come back to the UK to see it in action.
  • Re-Parents: This is a lovely – and affecting – documentary project which takes the stories of LGBT+ people and the parents who struggled to come to terms with their children’s gender identity and sexuality – all the stories are from Russia, which means they are…slightly less liberal than we might be used to, and serve as  useful reminder of the fact that the tolerance and equality that we (hope to be able to) take for granted are not universally-available. There are two ‘main’ stories here and then a selection of additional, supplementary stories – the way these are shot and presented, aside from the content of the footage, is superb, and an object-lesson in how to create online documentary or interview content. Beautifully-made and hugely-affecting.
  • Strange Autopsies: If the initial question – “Autopsy Doctors of Reddit, what was strangest discovery you’ve made while performing an autopsy?” – doesn’t put you off, then this is a truly fascinating selection of morbid anecdotes about the weirdness of death, the human body, and living people. This is not, to be clear, a link for the weak-of-stomach or squeamish, but if you don’t have a problem reading detailed accounts of curious deaths and medical conditions then this is all hugely-interesting. Contains a couple of anecdotes which will make you very, very cautious next time you’re considering leaning out of a fast-moving vehicle. Also, particular shout-out to this comment, which, whilst I’m sure sincere, doesn’t come across in quite the way in which I imagine the author intended: “Come over to /r/ForensicPathology if you want to talk more about this super cool field (autopsy for sudden and suspicious death) – no experience necessary! We’re all more friendly than TV might have you believe!”…er, nah, you’re alright mate.

By Line Hachem



  • PS Battles Live:  One of the big issues that I found when working at the BBC and attempting to come up with online-y ideas is that much of the stuff that works as ‘moderately viral’ content (sorry) in the world of the web doesn’t translate at all to entertainment formats (or so the people who understood this stuff constantly told me). Which is, I think, the main problem with this attempt by Reddit to turn the popular subReddit PSBattles into an actual entertainment strand. Still, props to them for giving it a go – this is an interesting idea, which to my mind doesn’t work at all but which is a noble attempt to turn sh1tposting into video. The PSBattles Live show is a daily show in which the presenters set a photoshop challenge to the community and then do a live show in which they showcase the best of the resulting work alongside ‘humorous’ commentary and a slightly ZooTV-style overall vibe – which basically means that you end up with an hour-long show in which a bunch of moderately-amusing people react in over-the-top fashion to a selection of photoshop gags and community in-jokes. There are some interesting ideas here – the way participants are grouped into teams, creating a sort of community metagame within the longer arc of the show, for example, and the way the Reddit-ness of the whole idea is baked into the style of the programme – but it’s still a long way from being anything that I can imagine being entertaining to anyone who’s not already part of this scene. Still, if you fancy watching a bunch of people talking about why they find a photoshopped image on the Mona Lisa pant-wettingly hilarious then you might find this to your tastes.
  • The Ricky Jay Collection: Ricky Jay was a famous US magician who died in 2018 – this is his personal collection of magical trinkets, props and artefacts, now up for auction with Sotheby’s. The lots here are AMAZING – old magazines, pamphlets from the golden era of magic and prestidigitation, posters advertising Carter and other greats from the history of illusion…honestly, there is some gorgeous stuff here and it’s well worth a peruse. Unless you’ve got a few grand burning a hole in your pocket – and WHO DOESN’T, RIGHT? – then this will all be outside of your price range I’m afraid, but it’s a lovely collection to browse regardless (and this is a nice overview of some of the more interesting pieces in the collection, should you be curious).
  • Key Art: ‘Key Art’ is the term given to the specific visuals used by streaming platforms to advertise their wares and hook the viewer – they’re a very particular type of image, with specific dimensions, and as such they have a specific visual style which is evident in this collection of some of the better examples (curated by one Rex Sorgatz). Super-interesting from a design and aesthetic point of view, and as a quick visual overview to what is currently working from an ‘eyecatching way of promoting a TV show’ perspective. If nothing else, you could do worse than nick some of the stylings here for the full-bleed images in your next overengineered pitch presentation (no I will NOT call it a ‘deck’ you fcukers).
  • Antiwork: A subReddit that got a lot of attention this week for the screenshots it contains of purported conversations between workers and bosses – it’s done the rounds as part of the broader conversation that’s going on about how workers are increasingly using the post-pandemic (post? HA!) period as a reset point to reevaluate their careers and their relationship with work, and, occasionally, as a reason to tell their bosses where they can shove their sh1tty jobs. Antiwork is a collection of conversations in which staff finally tell their bosses where to go – or at least it says that’s what it is. In practice I reckon that a decent proportion of these are faked for the karma, although I appreciate that shouting ‘DIDN’T HAPPEN’ underneath anything positive or heartwarming online is a crappy way to behave – still, I am surprised that so many of the people in these conversations are so downtrodden and beaten by capitalism when they are seemingly in possession of not-inconsiderable levels of gumption and backbone when it comes to telling their paymasters where to go. Still, if you have a boss who’s constantly messaging you with unreasonable demands and want some inspiration as to how to tell them to fcuk off then this might be of service – personally-speaking, I tend to find that doing your job very badly is the best revenge of all, but your mileage may vary.
  • Merlin Tuttle’s Bat Conservation: “There are over 2,000 bat photos available for download on this site for both non-profit and commercial use. The collection encompasses 19 families, 125 genera, and 298 species from 38 countries.” SO MANY BATS! Look at their cute little snub-nosed faces! SO CUTE! LOOK AT THIS DERPY LITTLE FCUKER! The sort of thing that may make you discover a sudden and hitherto-unimagined love for Epomophorus Wahlbergi.
  • The Pessimists’ Archive: A wonderful Twitter account which shares examples of previous technomoral panics, just to put the current one we’re living through into context (my current favourite example, by the way, is this one – hellmaxing, anyone?). From bicycles negatively impacting church attendance and turning us all into Godless heathens (although, actually, on reflection…), to ‘vile moving pictures corrupting our children’ (er, again…), this is a great reminder of the fact that every single innovation in the history of humanity has been accompanied with a great wailing and gnashing of teeth about the TERRIBLE EFFECTS said innovation is set to have on society and morals and THE CHILDREN. Tbh it’s all been downhill since fire.
  • Copper Books: As we all wait for the current round of ‘we need a KINDER AND GENTLER DISCOURSE’ discourse to die down (as ever, it’s worth pointing out that THE PROBLEM IS PEOPLE, NOT TECHNOLOGY), we’re once again seeing a resurgence of new online communities designed for a specific subset of people who for whatever reason feel they get a raw deal on the standard socials. This week it’s the turn of Copper Books, which wants to become a community for authors and readers to ‘connect’ around books – why the creators think that this will automatically be a less-toxic place than, say, the famously-awful Goodreads (if you’re unaware, it’s worth doing a bit of reading around the state of Young Adult fiction on the platform, just to give you an idea of the horror) is beyond me, but if you’re an author who wants a way to ‘connect’ with readers that won’t have thousands of people calling you names then perhaps this will be of use. It’s in early access at the moment, but you can sign up for email updates should you think it might be of interest – don’t for a second imagine, though, that if someone wants to tell you that they hate your book, and you, and quite possibly your entire bloodline, that they won’t find a way. WHAT A TIME TO BE ALIVE!
  • Birdability: I’ve mentioned before, I think, how odd I find it that the US term for birdwatching is ‘birding’ – look, it just sounds weird, ok, although perhaps that’s a direct result of my spending too much time in online communities who discuss odd and very specific fetishes (yes, fine, but tell me that once you’ve been exposed to the concept of ‘figging’ that ‘birding’ doesn’t look like it’s going to be a similar sort of thing. IT’S NOT JUST ME FFS!) – but once you get over that then this service, by US avian enthusiast organisation the Audubon Society, seems really useful. It’s designed to let bird fans find places where it’s possible to ‘go birding’ (no, sorry, I just can’t) accessibly – so places that are wheelchair-enabled, for example, or not problematic for people with health conditions. This is currently quite US-heavy but is international in scope, so in the unlikely event that any Web Curios readers are also avid birdwatchers (not sure why but I’m not totally convinced that this is an area of huge demographic crossover) then please share with your chaffinch mates and get people submitting their recommendations for disability-friendly birdwatching spots. A Good Thing.
  • Inque: “INQUE is a beautiful annual literary magazine dedicated to extraordinary new writing. Documenting what is going to be an era-defining decade, it will run no advertising, have no web version, and only ever publish 10 issues.Contributors include Margaret Atwood, Max Porter, Joyce Carol Oates, Ocean Vuong, Tom Waits, Ben Lerner, Alexander Chee, Kae Tempest, and more.” This is either an interesting experiment in analogue publishing, or a desperate attempt by the literary establishment to perpetuate the unearned kudos and mystique it’s been slowly losing in the democratised digital era – YOU DECIDE! The pricing here – £55 an issue!! – is…punchy, although the publishers would argue that you’re buying limited edition, beautifully-typeset-and-published works of literary art, and depending on your interest in the authors in question you may feel that exclusive access to works by them is worth the money. The best thing about this is that noone’s trying to sell an NFT of the fcuking thing, although never say never, eh?
  • Lyrista: A nice idea which is slightly limited by the range of languages it currently offers, Lyrista is designed to help you learn a language by listening to music – play a track, and the website offers you a line-by-line translation of the lyrics as you listen. Currently it only features songs in German, Italian and Hungarian, but I can see this being a popular concept if it opens up a bit – and it’s definitely the sort of thing that, on reflection, I’m slightly surprised that Spotify haven’t done themselves. As an aside, Pulp used to write ‘Please do not read the lyrics while listening to the recordings’ on their sleevenotes, which I still love as an expression of slightly-po-faced artistic integrity – I imagine Jarvis has mellowed slightly by now, though.
  • Weird Electric Vehicles: Or, to quote the page’s full title, “Complete list of the Awesomely Weird Alibaba Electric Vehicles of the Week”. The website Electrec has a weekly column where they pick a different preposterous electric car (not always a car) for sale on Alibaba each week to highlight – this page is a collection of all of them, since the feature started in January. There are some…incredible things here, which make me wish that I either had a driving license (although living in Rome I am increasingly convinced that noone would be able to tell if I did or not, judging by the general standard of driving in this city) or a suitable stretch of ocean where I could try out THE ACTUAL ELECTRIC SUBMARINE you can apparently buy (is it watertight? PROBABLY!).If you look at this and can’t find anything you want, you are probably dead – I am a VERY unmanly man and yet even I got a small childlike frisson at the prospect of being able to own my very own backyard-sized electric digger.
  • Shark Attack Explorer: My girlfriend has a thing about sharks, to the point where she occasionally muses about how one might go about bequeathing one’s body to the squaline massive post-mortem and maintains that being eaten by one ‘wouldn’t be a bad way to go’. I will send her this link and see how it affects her thinking – it’s a database of recorded shark attacks worldwide, which also records the injuries sustained by the victims for a real ghoulish thrill. “Leg severed mid-thigh, hand severed, arm above elbow and part of buttocks. Not known if he survived” – if you want more of these lovely, heartwarming anecdotes, click here!
  • Bizarre History: A good week for good Reddit links, and here’s another – a thread of people sharing their favourite bizarre historical facts. These are GREAT, and will send you scurrying down a variety of Wikipedian rabbitholes to check their veracity (amazing that in 2021 Wikipedia is a legitimate fact-checking resource) – you’ve got some old classics, like astronomer Tycho Brae’s fake nose, and this wonderful example of male hubris from the conquest of the Americas: “During the siege of Tenochtitlan, the conquistadors built a trebuchet. However, the conquistadors, being an exploratory expedition, had not brought any military engineers with them. So they winged it. Surprisingly, they did build a trebuchet, which fired exactly one shot, directly upwards, which promptly came down and smashed the trebuchet. This event is chronicled in both the journals of the conquistadors present as well as the Aztec records.” Should any of you be history teachers, this is a guaranteed ‘shut the class up for 5 minutes’ resource (none of you are history teachers, are you? FFS).
  • Spreadsheet Timeline: This is a simple and single-use website for which I am HUGELY grateful – it creates a series of cells for any daterange you care to mention, dividing a year into months, weeks and days so you don’t have to make the poor intern build out the template for the content calendar anymore. If there is already a quick and easy way to already do this in Excel then please don’t tell me as it will just make me feel stupid.
  • Formats Unpacked: Much as there are TOO MANY PODCASTS, there are also now TOO MANY NEWSLETTERS (there need be only one! Sadly Web Curios probably isn’t it) – still, I feel OK recommending this one as it’s a specific and interesting topic. In Formats Unpacked, industry experts discuss ‘content formats’ (sorry) that they like and which work, and explain what it is about them that makes them successful. So you have someone talking about the ‘How Northern Are You?’ quiz which UsVsTh3m did and which was their most viral thing ever, and someone else writing about how Catfish became a phenomenon…if you’re interested in creating entertainments of any stripe, this is a super-useful exploration of the craft of making and what separates an OK idea from one that really works.
  • Draw To Search: This doesn’t really work, at least not by any standard definition of the word, but it’s a lot of fun to mess with. Sketch something in the little drawing window and the software will attempt to use your poorly-scrawled lines to determine what it is that you were attempting to depict and pull a photo of said thing from a database of film stills. Honestly, the outputs seem to bear practically no relation to the inputs – it sounds mean, I know, but try it and you’ll see what I mean – but there’s the germ of a useful product in here which I can imagine in a few years’ time being something properly helpful.
  • Show Discussions: A collection of links to various subReddits discussing every single TV show you could possibly think of. If you’ve suddenly gotten into original series Gossip Girl, say, or have developed a hitherto-unimagined passion for The Brady Bunch, and want to see what other fans had to say about each episode, then this will link you to all the relevant discussions. Obviously all the chat is on Reddit, which means it heavily overindexes for recency and obscure anime (the EastEnders discussion linked to here is inexplicably thin – I refuse to believe, though, that EndersReddit is not A Thing somewhere), but you might find this a useful tool for fandom discovery.
  • Wallpapers: Curios reader Stephen Clark sent me this and it is CHARMING – he’s created a huge collection of wallpapers for desktop and mobile, covering football teams and all sorts of other things, all available for free. “Several years ago, I was looking for minimal desktop wallpapers for my computer so I could take advantage of the iMac/Mac capability to change the desktop wallpaper on the computer every several minutes.  I like to have a new desktop image throughout the day.  And I was finding very few that I liked, so I figured why not start creating some on my own and posting them on my site to share?  So I did.  And now, I have a pretty robust collection and I also get requests from all corners of the earth.“ This is lovely, and I am very glad it exists (and his Chelsea wallpaper is lovely) – thanks for sending it to me.
  • Doom Checkboxes: Playable Doom! Rendered in checkboxes! Except it’s not really playable, as you can’t quite get the contrast right and the whole thing is a bit of a mess, visually-speaking, but, well, Doom!
  • Where’s My Tripod?: Occupying the coveted ‘last miscellaneous link in Curios’ slot this week is this gentle game which is basically ‘Duck Hunt’ except instead of shooting a duck with a gun, you’re instead shooting a variety of woodland critters with a camera in an attempt to rack up a high score. Lovely and soothing and the pixellated deer are very cute indeed – a slight shame that you don’t get to see your snaps at the end, but this is a perfectly-pleasant way to spend 15 minutes that doesn’t involved fcuking around with PPT and, frankly, what more could you ask from a workday distraction?

By Unpis



  • Caffenol: Not in fact a Tumblr! Still, it doesn’t really matter, does it, and it feels like one, so! Have you ever thought ‘hm, I’d really like to take analogue photos and develop them myself but frankly all the chemicals you need sound like a bit of a faff and I wish I could use, I don’t know, dog p1ss instead of fixative’? No, me neither tbh, but if you’ve ever wanted to explore how you might use old coffee to develop some negatives then THIS is the site for you!
  • Sinking & Melting: Or ‘The Museum of the Imminently-Disappeared’. Sinking and Melting “is a growing collection of items contributed from places that may disappear owing to the combined physical, political, and economic impacts of climate change, including glacial melting, sea level rise, coastal erosion, and desertification. +++ THE CONTRIBUTED MATERIALS together form an archive of the future anterior; what will have been. A contribution doesn’t have to originate from a location – it can be anything that happens to be there, including detritus, flotsam or jetsam.” Fascinating and sad – it’s like looking at an exhibition about the now from a sad and regretful future.


  • PPuri: A Korean artist about whom I know absolutely nothing but who’s insta feed is a pleasing collision of weird-and-occasionally-upsetting works at the intersection between digital culture and classical craft.
  • Bicicleta Sem Freo: My rudimentary Portuguese suggests that this artist’s name means ‘bicycle without brakes’ – no idea why, but their murals are ACE (and oddly share a certain aesthetic vibe with the work of Butcher Billy, to my mind at least – maybe it’s a Brazilian thing). Hypersaturated colours and densely-populated compositions abound.
  • Vincent Castiglia: Mr Castilla draws pictures using his own blood (and occasionally that of those who commission him). This is either INCREDIBLY METAL or trying slightly too hard to be so – take your pick.
  • Beam Me Up Softboi: Another Insta account sharing screenshots of men being d1cks – in this specific instance, being softboi d1cks. For those of you unfamiliar with the genre, Urban Dictionary defines softbois as “’Similar to a f***boy but without the cocky attitude. The Softboy will butter a girl up by appealing to her emotions and showing a “sensitive” side long enough for her to sleep with him, whether or not he actually cares about her or not” So there. Anyway, this feels a bit 2018 tbh but it made me laugh quite a lot, not least the screenshot of a message request reading “what are you doing sh1tposting at 2am? You’re beautiful and better than that” which, honestly, is ART.


  • Big Tech and the Global Order: This is in many respects a frustrating article, and one which I wouldn’t ordinarily bother sharing – it contains far too many loose, grandiose statements for my liking, particularly this one (which ordinarily would have seen it barred from inclusion on stylistic grounds alone): “In their private lives, people increasingly connect with one another through algorithms.” WHAT DOES THAT ACTUALLY MEAN, THOUGH? WHAT ALGORITHMS? HOW? Slightly annoyingly, though, the first half – which is a fairly long and not particularly-revealing overview of Where We Are Now as regards the primacy of tech – segues into a really interesting series of conclusions about the potential ways in which governments might come to an accommodation with the growing power of the technology companies, and how that might impact various questions of governance and geopolitics. Its characterisation of three potential visions of the future – the globalist, the nationalist hero and the tech-utopianist – struck me as broadly-sensible ways of characterising the future relations between government and big technology – and for that alone it’s worth reading.
  • The Future of Graphs: Not the graphs with axes, but instead the concept of ‘the social graph’, or the network of connections which we all have and on which the existing generation of social media apps have constructed themselves – except TiKTok. This is another superb essay by Eugene Wei, whose previous essays about TikTok I have linked to here before – Wei does a superb job of explaining the different ways in which existing apps use the social graph, and why this differential approach to said graph makes huge practical differences to the ways in which apps work and users experience them. His analysis of how TikTok’s decision to practically ignore the social graph in favour of the interest graph, and how that impacts the app experience and user behaviour, is clear-eyed and well-explained – if you’re interested in how social networks work (both on and offline) then this is required reading.
  • Good Predictions for 2050: An excellent essay about why nearly all future predictions are so miserably wrong, which then goes on to make several predictions of its own (so full marks to author Erik Hoel for bravery here). The central premise as to the ‘why’ is as follows: “If you want to predict the future accurately, you should be an incrementalist and accept that human nature doesn’t change along most axes. Meaning that the future will look a lot like the past. If Cicero were transported from ancient Rome to our time he would easily understand most things about our society. There’d be a short-term amazement at various new technologies and societal changes, but soon Cicero would settle in and be throwing out Trump/Sulla comparisons (or contradicting them), since many of the debates we face, like what to do about growing wealth inequality, or how to keep a democracy functional, are the same as in Roman times.” – the ensuing predictions are interesting and certainly feel reasonable. Number 17, in particular – popular culture will become ‘boring’ – struck me as well-observed.
  • False Positivism: Or ‘why turning the entire planet into a data collection and analysis machine’ may not in fact fix all the problems that we think it will’ – this is not only an excellent essay about the limits of tech and data utopianism at scale, but a useful reminder of how questions around ‘the use of data’ are always necessarily bound up in further questions of ‘what data?’, ‘where did it come from?’, ‘who compiled it and why?’ and ‘what do we mean by ‘use’, anyway?’. Not so much pessimistic – the article makes lots of good points about the ways in which data can be useful at scale – as a helpful corrective to the seemingly-constant refrain that ‘MOAR DATA’ is the solution to everything that ails us. It’s an inconvenient truth that most of the BIG SOLUTIONS that tech presents us with seem to ignore or significantly-underestimate the complexity of the systems that created the problems which we’re trying to overcome.
  • Hacker X: Or ‘how to create a disinformation empire for profit’. It’s important to remember, by the way, that the stuff here described didn’t necessarily work – we’re deep into Cambridge Analytica/pyschogeography territory here, and applying any sort of causality to this stuff is nearly-impossible, so please don’t read this and get all terrified about how TRUTH IS DEAD. That said, it’s a really interesting look at the practical steps needed to create an empire of lies online – as the opener says: “For two years, he ran websites and Facebook groups that spread bogus stories, conspiracy theories, and propaganda. Under him was a dedicated team of writers and editors paid to produce deceptive content—from outright hoaxes to political propaganda—with the supreme goal of tipping the 2016 election to Donald Trump. Through extensive efforts, he built a secret network of self-reinforcing sites from the ground up. He devised a strategy that got prominent personalities—including Trump—to retweet misleading claims to their followers. And he fooled unwary American citizens, including the hacker’s own father, into regarding fake news sources more highly than the mainstream media.” As the notes at the end of the piece acknowledge, it’s perhaps a bit too ready to believe its subject’s hype – but as a look at the ugly mechanics of this sort of operation, it’s super-interesting.
  • Culture Wars In Action: This is about the US media – or at least, it’s an ecosystem focused on the US although its reach is far wider – but, really, the playbook here described should be familiar to anyone who’s spent even a few minutes online over the past few years. Charlie Warzel goes over a recent interview by Joe Rogan with a US pro-vaxx doctor, which was mined for content and weaponised by the antivaxx and antimask and general libertarian-right wing of the web in the now-traditional fashion (“Watch as Rogan DESTROYS liberal doctor with one killer line!”), and breaks down How This Stuff Works – which is exactly the playbook for this sort of culture war sh1t that is employed everywhere, whether on- or offline, as you see in every single Sun or Mail headline wailing about a ‘woke backlash’ to something which on closer inspection is drawn from a source corpus of 3 no-RT Tweets. Both sides do this, to be clear, and this is a decent explainer as to how, why, and what it looks like in the wild.
  • Stop Talking About Generations: I imagine if you ‘do’ strategy or planning or somesuch stupid, made-up job which your parents and friends don’t understdand that you’ll already have read this piece – if not, though, please do so now. It’s an excellent New Yorker article explaining in detail exactly why it is stupid and wrong-headed to refer to people in generational terms, and why it always has been, and could, if used properly, be a tool we could ALL use to push back against clients who say things like ‘our target audience is ‘millennials’!’. We won’t, though, of course, because we know in our heart of hearts that 90% of what we do is totally pointless and as such it’s simply not worth having that conversation with the stupid client given that noone in the whole horrible foodchain can be bothered to think more than is absolutely necessary and everyone will keep getting pats on the back as long as THE CONTENT WHEEL KEEPS SPINNING. Can you tell I’m having a GREAT week for loving the industry that pays my wages? You can? Fcuk. Erm, perhaps not-entirely-unrelated, I might need a job in January should anyone want to hire me.
  • Charts That Don’t Change: The second ‘useful for ‘strategists’’ link of the week is this excellent blogpost by Harry Guild and Dean Matthewson at BBH, which uses TGI data (if TGI decided to hold the agency world to ransom, I reckon they would make 7 figures in a day – just an idea, lads) to demonstrate that looking for changes in behaviour when scoping for ‘insights’ (honestly, when I rule the world that word will be excised from the English language and anyone using it will be flayed and then dipped into alternating baths of seawater and Malden salt) is often less useful than looking for things that stay the same. Or (and apologies Dean and Harry for extrapolating slightly here), perhaps more simply, that rather than just looking for LINES WHOSE ANGLES CHANGE DRAMATICALLY people should start maybe thinking more about what those lines show. Data is a fcuking problem, specifically people’s increasing belief that visualised data is some sort of magical passport to wisdom. It is not, now do some fcuking thinking you doublefigureIQmorons. Er, wow, that escalated quickly, didn’t it? Sorry about that.
  • When I Was An Influencer: A really interesting essay by Haley Nahman in which she looks back on a brief period of time in which she was able to command decent wedge for posting stuff on Insta, and then segues into a wider discussion about how, when you boil it down, influencer culture is perhaps the best modern expression of the victory of the acquisitive imperative – we all want more, and selling ourselves is the easiest and most accessible means of accessing all the things we are trained to want and desire, not least the possibility of ‘winning’ at the great game of capitalism. This quote sums it up rather nicely – I think you can useful sub ‘America’ for ‘The UK’ without too much difficulty here: “In America, the pursuit of wealth has become a virtue in its own right. To work hard, to hustle, to get your bag—these ideas are increasingly divorced from achieving the means to live well and have instead become goals in themselves, regardless of what we actually need, and regardless of who’s exploited in the process. When Donald Trump was critiqued for not paying his fair share of taxes, his strongest response was that he simply abused existing loopholes in the tax code. He was just doing what was best for his business, he implied, like anyone would. This kind of thinking isn’t necessarily conservative. I imagine many influencers and celebrities who consider themselves politically progressive use this same reasoning to justify their willingness to shill for morally dubious corporations: They are simply seizing opportunities made available to them. And everyone else is doing it too.”
  • Influencer Retirement: Or ‘Influencer As Franchise’ – this Buzzfeed article looks at the increasing trend of high-profile influencer accounts being handed over to new owners when the original creators get tired of living the Instalife 24/7 and decide to hand the bag to someone else. If this doesn’t get turned into a reality show format sometime soon – “12 aspirant influencers! 10million followers! WHO WILL GET TO BE THE NEXT @SLUMMYMUMMYGINCLUB??” – I will be amazed.
  • All Of The Marvels: “Over the last five years, Douglas Wolk has pulled off a feat that few others have attempted, let alone completed: he read every Marvel comic book published since 1961, which adds up to around 27,000 issues, or 540,000 pages.” Wolk has a reason to do this – he’s written a book about the endeavour – but this interview with him is surprisingly-interesting, even for someone like me who has no interest whatsoever in Marvel or superheroes. There’s SO much here – especially if you’re a fanboy, but more generally in terms of how storytelling over time works, about how callbacks and thematic consistency over a 70-year story arc can function, and about how collaborative authorship can work at scale. In particular there’s a lot of really interesting stuff in here about the idea of the ‘ownership’ of stories and characters which will be of use to anyone who’s working in and around the intersection of creating narratives.
  • The Intelligence of Bodies: The latest high-profile ‘we got AI to finish this thing!’ project from the arts was the completion of Beethoven’s Xth symphony, left incomplete at the time of his demise other than notes and fragments, and now reconstituted from said fragments (and a hefty dose of training on the old Ludvig Van corpus) by machine intelligence. This essay examines the question not only of quality but of feel – does the resulting work fit within the Beethoven canon? Can it stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the composer’s own work (spoiler: it cannot)? – and posits the interesting central premise that anything purporting to be art requires a degree of creatorial corporeality to truly attain that status. Which is fascinating to me, but which also led me to a slightly-feverish imagining of a near-future in which we vat-grow brain tissue in order to provide a physical meatvessel for future AIs to inhabit, which I am now convinced is the future and which has freaked me right out.
  • My Father The Hitman: What if you knew your dad was a bit of a crook, but always thought that he was more lovable rogue than cold-blooded killer…and then he died, and you started to learn things? What if you discovered that there was an FBI file this thick all about your old man and his movements and his accomplices? What would you think if you learned that the person who you remember as an occasional childhood presence was remembered by others as a man not to be fcuked with on pain of painful, explosive death? James Dolan tells the story of discovering some unexpected truths about his dad and the life he lived – this is a wonderful series of stories, beautifully-told.
  • The Metaphysics of the Hangover: One of the ‘benefits’ of being in Rome is that I am drinking a fraction of the amount I would be in the UK – upsettingly, though, I am feeling literally NONE of the benefits one might have hoped for from this (I am still ugly, my skin is not noticeably better, and I still feel like sh1t in the mornings – I am going RIGHT BACK ON THE METHS). This article, about the idea of the ‘hangover’ and its various interpretations, from the booze hangover to the hangover from a failed relationship, is wonderful – erudite and interesting and entertaining. It reminded me both of one of my favourite quotes about hangovers (“Alcohol crapulence clogs perception, but drug crapulence flays it, and by now the kitchen was a noisome feast for peeled senses.”), and made me think that much of what the author describes here as being the symptoms of a hangover can also be usefully applied to the very particular feelings of regret at a Bad Post. Digital hangovers feel very much like something worth exploring imho.
  • Rice, Fat, Meat, Streets:On Biryani in Karachi, and the different ways in which it is made and the different cultures it represents and, honestly, if you can read this to the end and not want an absolutely massive curry then you are a stronger person than I. I’ve read loads of excellent writing about Pakistan (Karachi specifically) this year, and this piece is up there with the best of them as a picture of a city and how its culture and history is reflected in its food.
  • You Are Joe Cole: I never really feature writing about football in here, but I will make an exception for this superb piece by Sam Diss. Joe Cole was regularly touted as the most naturally-gifted footballer England has ever produced – this piece tells his early story, when he was still at West Ham and breaking into the first team, and captures perfectly the register and tone used by a certain type of person when they talk about football and the weird sense of thwarted fulfilment that fans will always feel when they look back at the career that Cole had vs the career it was imagined he could have, back when he was the kid with all the potential with English football at his feet. This made me unaccountably sad, but in a nice way (if that makes sense), and is SUCH an uncommonly-good piece of football writing.
  • If Your Dreams Don’t Scare You: Finally this week, a heartstoppingly-good piece of writing by Joni Tevis, about being young and in university and rituals and men and growing up and and and. Honestly, this is superb – read the opening and then click through and enjoy the whole thing: “I don’t remember what they called that night. Someone drove us to a house off campus. Someone blindfolded us. Someone lined us up around the perimeter of a pool. They made us practice fundamentals—low mark time (heel up, toes down), high mark time (up to the knee), glide step (dig in the heel, turn up the toe). There was a girl ahead of me in line. I couldn’t see her, but I knew she was there.  We were in college marching band together, and there were thirty-five people in our section. Maybe eight of us were new. I tried to think how I would describe this moment, first to myself, then to someone else: that the air pressed in, humid and hot. That the pool’s cement edge warmed the soles of my feet. That layers of white tissue bandaged my eyes.”

By Robin F Williams


Webcurios 15/10/21

Reading Time: 34 minutes

Hi everyone! Hi! Welcome back to Web Curios, which this week is eschewing the traditional ‘vaguely topical introparagraph’ in favour of just getting straight on with the links and stuff because, well, I’ve had a long week, you’ve had a long week, and I don’t for a second imagine that any of you subscribe to this to read three of four paragraphs of ‘funny’ prose about how everything is a terrible and terrifying mess.

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and you are, I imagine, practically tumescent with anticipation at what’s to come.

By Rinko Kawauchi



  • GoldenNFT: I have, I know, spend a large part of this year making fun of NFT projects in here, but am happy to hold my hands up and admit that I have finally found one that I think is…quite good (Don’t worry, though, all the others in here are treated with the usual disdain, I’ve not become one of them)! GoldenNFT is an art project which takes as its starting point the depressing fact that a European visa is often available to people rich enough to buy one, often through the means of ‘investing in a country’ – people with a lump-sum to spare can purchase their way to residency in a number of European countries of their choice, options that are usually unavailable to your common or garden refugee seeking safe haven. GoldenNFT will use an NFT auction to raise money to pay this buy-in for refugees in need – “On the 20th of October at 8pm (CET), we will be offering a collection of 5555 NFTs for individual sale. Among these works are the 16 originals that can be seen here on the site. The remaining 5539 works are collectibles that our script has made based on the originals. The sale of the individual works takes place covertly – anyone who buys an NFT does not know beforehand which one it is…With the first sale of our collection we buy a Golden Visa for a family from Afghanistan. All proceeds go towards the purchase of the Golden Visas, and the artists have donated their works. From each resale of the works we receive 15%, which we also use completely for the purchase of the next Golden Visas.” I love this – it exposes the NFT craze for what it in part is (a raffle – buy enough tickets and YOU TOO might chance upon something that the cryptotwats decide to send TO THE MOON!), it makes use of the medium’s unique properties (resale revenues to the artist), and it will be a neat test of what the famed ‘NFT community’ is really like and what it’s really about. Willing to show the same mad desire to throw six-figure sums at jpegs when it’s less about encouraging others to buy-in and more about getting money to deserving causes? Let’s…let’s see, shall we?
  • Star Atlas: Whilst the previous link is probably the most high-minded NFT project I’ve seen to date, Star Atlas definitely feels like the shiniest. From the landing page, which seemingly invites you to, er, zoom into a gigantic space anus (look, sorry, but it does look a bit like that), to the nicely-designed scroll animations throughout, promising you a WORLD OF ADVENTURE, this feels like a slightly-higher-end grift than, I don’t know, CryptoNorks or something (NB – I just made up ‘CryptoNorks’, but the very fact that it sounds plausible doesn’t speak highly of the whole scene imho). It’s…it’s quite hard to work out what it’s all about, mind, but as far as I can tell Star Atlas is a forthcoming space exploration and trading and shooting game – not unlike massively-multiplayer online spreadsheet simulator EVE Online – which will allow players to exist and flourish in a digitally-created universe (can we all say ‘metaverse’? WE CAN!) and (and this is the bit that the creators seem most excited about) buy and sell goods with real-world value! There’s a second website which you can access here and which is a little bit better at giving you an idea of the game’s eventual mechanics (not much, mind) – 99% of the focus here appears to be on the buying and selling of digital gewgaws, from ships to goods to weapons to missions, which, I have to say, doesn’t fill me with anticipation. It’s…quite hard to work out what this actually is or how it is going to work, but judging by all the high-end CG in the trailer there’s a reasonable amount of cash behind all this. Whether or not there’s a game actually underpinning all this is…uncertain, and I’m personally not convinced that this isn’t going to disappear without a trace, but I will obviously eat my words when you’re all cryptobillionaire space captains or something.
  • The CNN Vault: Would you like to buy an NFT of some news footage? If so, and you live in the US, GREAT! CNN has leapt onto the NFT bandwagon with the launch of Vault, a service whereby it’s selling videoclips of ‘moments that changed us’ (imagine that line being read out in the gravelliest America voiceover accent ever) (also, I bet their definition of ‘moments that changed us’ is…skewed; I mean, you could argue with quite some conviction that Columbine changed America in reasonably significant ways, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that they’re not going to be flogging clips of that particular rolling news event). This has been going for a little while, apparently, meaning they are now on ‘drop’ (no, please, stop) 5, which is a selection of clips of moments of significance in US LGBT history – is…is this good? Is this a good way of commemorating and celebrating the progress made in gay rights, by paying CNN $250 for a 1/1000-edition of a fcuking mpeg? IS IT? I mean, you can ‘display your purchases on your CNN Vault Page’ which is quite some draw, I’ll admit, but it doesn’t feel like a significant commemoration of history. At the time of writing, CNN has sold 53 of the edition of 1000, which on the one hand is over $10k that CNN didn’t previously have but on the other suggests that anyone thinking they are going to ride, I don’t know, some footage of the Stonewall riots TO THE MOON is possibly due for a disappointment.
  • Discover NFTs: Don’t worry, we’re nearly done with this week’s crop of non-fungible idiocy – this link, though, is a gift that really keeps on giving. Discover NFTs is another portal which tracks new NFT projects as they launch, and which is my new favourite overview of the ‘boundless creativity’ being unleashed by this ‘new paradigm’ in artistic expression. What does ‘boundless creativity’ mean? It means, apparently, a seemingly-infinite parade of poorly-drawn avatars which their creators are trying to turn into A Thing – you have hornets and minotaurs and dear God no please. If you want more of this stuff – and who doesn’t?!1111eleventy – then you might also enjoy this Twitter account, which shares some of the best new NFT projects out there with exactly the sort of awe which they merit. I think my favourite (not favourite), though, has to be Imaginary Girlfriends. No, really, these are investments.
  • Telephonic Youth: I don’t ordinarily worry too much about link placement and, er, ‘flow’ in Curios, but on this occasion it felt important to follow up all that NFT nonsense (it’s lines like that that are going to come back and bite me when you’re all swanning around with your 7-figure avatars, isn’t it? ffs) with something rather more analogue. Telephonic Youth is a joint project between Southampton University and the BT Archives which is aiming to collect memories and recollections of the role of the telephone in the lives of young people in the 80s and 90s – specifically, “how young people accessed phones, the experience of children’s phone use at that time, and how it was imagined. This project uses a range of methods – archival research, arts methods, crowd-sourced research and oral history interviews – to uncover this recent history and trace the importance of phones in children’s lives in this era.” I am obviously PRIME fodder for this, as someone who grew up during the 1980s and 90s and spent about an hour on the phone after school every evening (astonishing to think of, really, given that now I would rather sew my ears shut than subject myself to any sort of telephonic interaction lasting more than about 10s), but even those of you who treat landlines with the suspicion they probably deserve (why SHOULD anyone have the ability to ring a really loud bell in my house whenever they want? MADNESS) might find something interesting in here. The project is starting with collecting stories from the Southampton area, but hopes to grow to encompass the country as a whole – except, er, it doesn’t seem to have any submissions yet. So if you’re a middle-aged person in the Southampton area (I happen to know at least one of you is), then maybe spend 5m contributing your memories of, I don’t know, prank-calling random numbers by shouting “NONCE!” down the phone at them and then hanging up (look, I was young).
  • Useful Unknown Websites: I know I occasionally say this, but this link really is worth bookmarking – a wonderful Reddit thread in which users list their recommendations for ‘websites that you wish more people knew about’ and (aside from the puzzling failure of anyone to include Web Curios – anyone would think no fcuker knows that this exists!) which contains links from the sublime to the useful to the utterly ridiculous. Honestly, there are HUNDREDS of links in here, each of them wonderful in their own way and many of which have been featured in Curios over the past decade or so (but many more which have not). Seriously, this is SO SO USEFUL – aside from the timewasting stuff, there are links in here to all sorts of free software resources and browser tools (image and video editors, online libraries, training courses) which are all reasonably-easy to find with a bit of ctrl+fing. Oh, and there’s also stuff like this – a collection of the worst musical MP3s on the web. ALL OF HUMAN LIFE IS HERE. Or at least a small slice of it – human life is vast and blubbery and unknowable in its immense hugeness, but this at least lets you take a small flesh sample for study (so to speak).
  • Just The Punctuation: I confess that I am occasionally surprised as to which links will do the rounds in a given week – I hadn’t, for example, expected that this little tool, which will strip out the letters from any text you feed it, leaving you only with the punctuation, the grammatical skeleton which supports the meat of your prose, would capture people’s imagination to the extent that it has been everywhere this week. Still, if you’re yet to see it then it’s a neat little trick and there’s something stylistically-fascinating about being able to quickly see an individual author’s preferences and quirks when it comes to, I don’t know, semicolons vs dashes. I chucked a couple of editions of Curios in there and it taught me that a) I really, really oversuse brackets, to the point that I have no fcuking idea how any of you keep track of which nested ‘argument’ is being tortuously outlined at any given moment and I am SORRY for that; b) long texts produce lovely punctuation trails, and I can imagine that there’s something rather nice about your favourite novel rendered solely in its commas, full-stops and ellipses as a piece of wall art. There’s some explanation by creator Clive Thompson about the ‘why’ behind this, which you can read here if you so desire – try it with some writing you care about, you’ll be surprised how interested you are in the results.
  • Sheep Films: Rob Manuel’s long-running digiLOLs website B3ta has produced some genuine UK superstars in recent years – actual, proper film director Ben Wheatley was a B3tan, as is leg-enthusiast animator Cyriak Harris – but one long-standing contributor who I remember from the early-00s (when refreshing the B3ta boards was one of the few coping strategies I had for ‘being a junior lobbyist’) who I never thought quite got the recognition they deserved was a bloke who made looping videos under the name of Sheep. Their work was always simple, very funny and perfectly executed – and now, pleasingly, there’s a bunch of their work up on Giphy which you can peruse to your heart’s content and use in your messages. These are small but absolutely wonderful – Sheep properly gets what makes a good looping gif gag, and the execution is in every instance pretty much perfect. Honestly, someone hire this person for your digital content factory, they are ACE.
  • Deep Fried Web: The next few links are going to cause me a small amount of pain to write – I don’t like featuring multiple things by the same people in one edition, but those annoying fcukers at MSCHF have released a whole bunch of stuff at once (or I just haven’t paid attention to them for a while and misse a load of good new ish) and I now feel compelled to tell you all about it. The first is Deep Fried Web – a Chrome plugin which you can install to give any website you visit that deep fried aesthetic of a jpeg that’s been compressed to within an inch of its life and has lost almost all of its image fidelity and which can reasonably be described as ‘a challenging w4nk’. Largely-pointless other than for the aesthetics (which are everything, amirite?), but I reckon you can probably use this to convince at least three ‘scared of the internet’ type people you work with that your company website has been hacked.
  • Endless Enya: MSCHF link number 2! This is a site which uses some sort of rudimentary code to produce an ever-looping Enya song. You may not think you want this, but I have had this open for about 15m now in the background and am currently so zen that I might void myself through an excess of relaxed comfort.
  • Bootleg Miquela: MSCHF link number 3! They’ve made all the assets for virtual influencer Lil Miquela available for download – from the full body renders to jpegs, to (as far as I can tell – I confess I haven’t downloaded the full 1gb pack of assets because, well, I don’t really know what I would do with them) – for you to do with as you wish. Want to put Lil Miquela in your own weird 3d CG animated short? GREAT! Want to use her to endorse your clubnight (and has that sentence made me sound as old as I think it has)? EVEN BETTER! I would quite like to see Miquela combined with the sort of advertising you see at these types of arms fairs, just for kicks – can someone make that happen please? Thanks!
  • Stolen Stories: MSCHF link number 4! This is my favourite of the lot – Stolen Stories is such a smart little idea (not the first of its type that I’ve seen, but I’m surprised that there haven’t been more services that let you download vertical video snippets for inclusion in your Stories) which rips footage taken by fancy people from fancy restaurants (in the US, so places like Alinea and the like) and makes it available for download so anyone in the world can get the thrill of being able to performatively-demonstrate their gustatory plutocracy for the ‘gram. There’s a manifesto on the page, about the ‘democratisation of clout’, which is all well and good, but, honestly, my main thought here was quite how perfect this is for ripping off from a brand POV.
  • This Sneaker Does Not Exist: Yes, I know, websites featuring stuff that doesn’t exist are SO 2019. Still, I rather liked this one –  as with all of its ilk, the selection of trainers here presented has been heavily curated so as to present the best ones, but even given that caveat it’s impressive the extent to which each of these look like it could be on sale right now (and significantly better than anything ‘designed’ by Kanye West over the past 5 years). Add ‘footwear designer’ to the list of professions which will be eviscerated by the advent of AI – not for the rich, obvs, you’ll still want your artisanal Choos, but the idea of paying actual people to design your $7 bottom-end footwear? Never again.
  • Rock Paper Scissors Deluxe Edition: A Kickstarter, just over halfway there with a month to go, looking to raise funds for the creation of an updated version of the classic game for 2021. You know what’s been holding rock, paper, scissors back? After all, it’s not the gameplay mechanic – a staggering number of videogames are at heart just RPS. Seriously – Pokemon? Rock, paper, scissors. Every single fighting game ever made after Street Fighter 2? Rock, paper, scissor (I believe this very strongly to be true and will fight you if you disagree, fwiw). No, it’s the presentation – which is why this set will, if funded, drag the game KICKING AND SCREAMING into modernity with an ACTUAL ROCK and some ACTUAL SCISSORS and, er, some golden paper. It’s a joke, obviously, but I admire their commitment to the bit (the Kickstarter video on the page is genuinely funny, in a sort of dad-ish way).
  • Slapchat: It’s a shame that this exists only for Google Meet, the least-loved of all the videochat solutions out there (why is that?), but if you happen to use it as your professional videoconferencing platform of choice then you could have some fun with Slapchat. The deal here is that Slapchat is a plugin which enables anyone who has it installed to see images, gifs and animations which users can overlay onto a videochat screen – which will be invisible to those who don’t have the plugin. So, for example, all your HYPERCOOL WORK FRIENDS can laugh as you place, I don’t know, a gigantic pair of reindeer antlers on your boss at the company meeting! Or googly eyes on that w4nker from sales! Obviously these examples are incredibly lame, but Snapchat is a relatively gentle tool – I encourage those of you who like this idea to build our own version which instead lets you place libellous speech bubbles next to people’s faces, or allows you to make believe that your video interlocutors  are all engaged in some sort of coprophiliac snacktime (sorry).
  • Bananas: “Banana Craze is the first major study of how a natural resource such as the banana has shaped the past and the present of a continent, and how this phenomena finds expression through culture. Banana Craze brings together almost 100 pieces of contemporary Latin American artists in which the banana is the main feature. Starting with Cuban photographer Raúl Corrales and his 1960 piece Caballería (The Cavalry), in which a group of men ride on horseback celebrating the revolutionary government’s expropriation of United Fruit Company plantations, Banana Craze stretches to the present day and will continue progressing into the future. An artistic, cultural and philosophical approach is used to analyse these pieces and to allow a greater understanding of how the mass cultivation of bananas contributed to the growth of social inequality in Latin America, changing traditional ways of life and transforming the landscape and environment of the region. Not to mention how the banana trade contributed to the formation of xenophobic, racist, and sexist stereotypes of local inhabitants.” I love this – not only because of the subject matter, which is fascinating (I have a bit of a thing for stories the ways in which small objects are analogues for larger questions – is this an opportunity for me to correctly use the word ‘synecdoche’? I don’t know, I’ve never tried before, do let me know if I got it right), but also because of the way it’s set out – it doesn’t attempt to ‘be a gallery’, it knows it’s a website and leans into that, and as a result it’s far more pleasant to navigate through than other galleries which attempt to make the exhibition ‘more immersive’ or ‘more digital’. Also, there’s some great stuff in there – I love this photo, for example.
  • Twisted Tug’s: “Twisted Tug’s Studio is your source for custom, hand-made, horror dolls and collectibles. These dolls are hand sculpted, no molds, and not mass produced. Each creation is a unique, one-of-a-kind work of art.” Honestly, these are HORRID, well done the person making them.
  • The Infinity Saga: Do you LOVE the MCU? Do you wish, though, that there were a way for you to experience every single moment of the films in chronological order rather than as a series of distinct narrative experiences? WHY? THAT SOUNDS FCUKING AWFUL! Still, thanks to the magic of the web and online fandoms – it will never cease to amaze me the amount of work people will put in to this sort of stuff, seriously – now you can! You have to get in touch with this specific bloke on Reddit, fine, and ask him to torrent you the files, but apparently there now exists a 50-hour cut of the whole Avenger’s saga where every scene has been cut into exact chronological order. Will it make the films better? Unlikely! Will it make any sense whatsoever? Improbable! And yet, it exists. The web for you, in a microcosm.

By Nina Bunjevac



  • Saturday Night Live Intros: Saturday Night Live is a US institution which I confess to always having been baffled by and which thanks to the web has now attained a degree of global renown that seems entirely out-of-proportion with how good it is – I know it’s been responsible for launching lots of impressive careers, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen any clips from it that have caused me to do more than raise a vaguely-amused eyebrow (two nations divided by a language, etc etc). Still, one thing it has always been famed for is the diversity of musical acts it showcases – and thanks to Daniel Craig, the fact that said acts are always introduced by a famous is now also A Thing. This Twitter account shares clips of acts being introduced by a rolling cast of said famous over the years – so if you’re aching to see what it would be like to see, I don’t know, Donald Trump cueing up Jack Johnson (yes, that was a thing), or Martha Steward introducing Slipknot (this may not in fact have happened), then this will be right up your street.
  • Adobe Sucks Scrotum: Does anyone like Adobe? No, they do not (this is borne out by having known a few people who worked there who all hated the company just as much as the rest of us appear to ), which is why this little site is such a joy. Want to get all the benefits of Adobe products without giving any of your hard-earned cash to the bandits? Then use this link to find all of the open-source non-Adobe visual tools you could hope for, from video editing to image editing to post-production. Includes loads of tools you will have heard of – Blender, etc – and loads you won’t, and will hopefully mean that you will never have to pay money to those miserable bstards ever again. NO WE WILL NOT ACCEPT THAT PHOTOSHOP IS A TRADEMARK YOU FCUKS.
  • Hollywood Age Gap: It feels like this is getting better, but it’s fair to say that the history of cinema in the 20th Century (and some of the early-21st) was characterised by relationships in which there was often a…questionable age difference between the male and female party. This site collects the most egregious examples of this and sets them out quite baldly – I confess to never having really noticed most of these, partly due to not being a cinephile, but when you see them pointed out…well, wow. Woody Allen, as you’d expect, features heavily here, but did you know that there’s a 30 year agegap between Arnie and his love interest in Kindergarten Cop? Blimey, Arnold.
  • Cripple Media: This is GREAT. Cripple Media “is the first-ever media company where young disabled creatives can shift the lens disabled people are viewed — into something more honest, accurate, impactful, and youthful…At its heart, Cripple Media is striving to train and center young disabled media professionals to lead conversations in mainstream media. With that being said, Cripple is entirely self-funded, and it is our intention to continue on and expand for seasons to come. And most importantly, we believe that young disabled creatives deserve to get paid.”  Featuring articles by and for young people with disabilities, this is a pleasingly clear-eyed and unsentimental resource for information and lifestyle material aimed at people who are still not served as well by the mainstream as they might reasonably-hope – I am a big fan of the name, too, fwiw.
  • Kara Singer: Thanks Shardcore for sending this my way – Kara Singer is the name given to the ‘vocalist’ in this AI project, which is experimenting with the creation of AI-generated melodies for imagined voices. What that means in practice that the webpage here linked presents a selection of lines which are vocalised by AI and which attempt to ‘invent’ melodies for said lines – so you can hear the machine’s attempt to create a tune within which to fit the lyrics to ‘Don’t Stop Believing’, say. It’s INTENSELY odd – these are almost tunes but not quite, just nestled in an aural uncanny valley which I hadn’t ever really known existed before – and whilst they obviously don’t work at all as things you might actually want to listen to, they work very well as scary precursors to a time in which our songs are lyrically and sonically AI-determined; I give it…~3 years before an AI has a cowriting credit on a number one single.
  • Typographic Posters: Via Present & Correct (as I’ve said previously, the best social media account belonging to a stationery retailer IN THE WORLD), “typo/graphic posters is a platform for inspiration and promotion of good design through the poster culture. It focus exclusively on typographical and graphical posters, those that challenge type, colors and shapes to express a message. each poster is reviewed to meet a standard in visual qualities and functional efforts.” SUCH a great resource for designers looking for inspiration, and very much worth bookmarking if this is your sort of thing.
  • Seeing Pastoralism: A wonderful series of pieces of…what? Documentary journalism, I suppose, and ethnographic research, focused on the concept of ‘pastoralism’ in Europe and looking at how that concept is differently-characterised in various countries worldwide. So you can explore the links between people and land in Sardinia, Kenya, Tunisia, India and elsewhere, with photography and writing, all presented as a series of rich visual essays – this is SO nicely done, not only in terms of content but in terms of presentation, and is one of those fantastic projects that makes a hitherto-uninteresting (to me, at least) area of study suddenly fascinating. Another excellent example of how to present information in an exhibition-y way online with minimal fuss whilst still rendering it accessible and engaging.
  • Platoon Aviation: One of those occasional links that I include less because of the webwork and more because it offers a brief glimpse into a world that most of us are unlikely to ever experience (perhaps I’m getting my demographics wrong here, but i am reasonably confident that noone reading this is in a position whereby the renting of a private jet is a regular occurrence). Platoon Aviation offers private jet rental on a 24h basis, and this site sets out all the reasons why you might want to spend 5-6 figures on hiring your own personal leather-interiored pleasurevessel. What’s fascinating to me is what they consider to be the selling points – there’s a lot of stuff about cargo space and they mention ‘moving house’, and they REALLY want to make it clear that these jets are good at getting to ‘remote and hard-to-access airports worldwide’ and…this is absolutely a service for plutocrats looking to get their family out to the secret island bunker before the revolutionary mob arrives with the pitchforks and torches, isn’t it? Come on, seriously, click the link and tell me that this doesn’t sound IMMENSELY criminal (also, and I know that this is an opinion coloured by the fact that I have been living in Rome for 5 months now and that regional racism in Italy is very much A Thing, the fact that they have Naples as one of their homepage ‘we fly from…’ locations does rather scream ‘the provider of choice for organised crime!’ to my mind).
  • Here Comes The Sun: In anticipation of the heavily-trailed new Beatles doc that’s coming out imminently, have this lovely piece of creative coding by Brazilian developer Márcio Ribeiro, which algorithmically visualises the most lovable of all the Beatles’ songs (don’t @ me, it’s true – also, this was four-year-old me’s favourite piece of music IN THE WORLD) – this is very soothing indeed.
  • Wildlife Photographer of the Year: You know the drill by now – the Natural History Museum in London has once again announced the finalists and winners in each category in its annual contest to celebrate the best of the world’s wildlife photography, and once again the resulting imagery is fantastic. The bloodied lioness, the TERRIFYING BRAZILIAN UNDERBED SPIDER, the bat being nursed back to health…click and lose your heart to one of the many beautiful critters here displayed.
  • Cloud Index: One of two links this week lifted wholesale from Giuseppe Sollazzo’s weekly dataviz newsletter (which I have mentioned here before, but which really is worth subscribing to as it’s regularly filled with properly interesting stuff which I simply don’t see elsewhere), this is the Cloud Index, a project by one Jonas Fischer which self-describes as “a growing online archive that collects and presents cloud imagery of fossil fuel combustion sites. Since September 2020, I have been photographing the skies above power plants, industrial facilities and other greenhouse gas emitters. Even beyond the end of fossil fuel use, their consequences will continue to shape humanity and its environment for the unforeseeable future: While the clouds in the sky will have long since faded, the impact of emissions and the resulting damage will be far greater than we can imagine today…This visual contribution makes the supposedly invisible destruction visible, puts it in the context of facts and offers a new way of looking at clouds that sees ourselves as part of a global problem.” There’s something quite darkly-beautiful about the juxtaposition of the inherent loveliness of cloud formations and the industrial processes which are creating said formations in the first place – also, has any of the seemingly-infinite number of tedious tech companies currently peddling ‘cloud-based solutions’ done any environmentalCSR stuff around actual clouds? Seems like an easy win, no?
  • Hash AI: The second link from Mr Sollazzo this week is this service which is designed to let people build digital simulations of real-world systems and processes for modeling purposes (‘digital twins’, if you will) – this is free and seemingly rather powerful, but even if you don’t have need of it yourself the site presents a bunch of examples of how others have used the software which are honestly fascinating. I never thought I would be the sort of person who is interested in watching a digital simulation of rainfall, or of robots stacking shelves, and yet it appears that is exactly who I am become. If you want a quick way of understanding how digital twin technology works and what it can do, this is a useful place to start – and if you’re interested in modeling your own data, it seems properly useful.
  • The Checkmark Webcam: Proof that you can create pixels out of anything, this little webtoy uses your webcam to create images made out of checkboxes. You may not have thought when you woke up today that what you really wanted was a representation of your face rendered in low-res ‘pixels’ made from html checkboxes, but it turns out that past you was an idiot and knows NOTHING about your deepest desires. I think there’s a gimmick in here for a dating app – you get videochat access with anyone you match with, but until you’ve logged a certain number of minutes talking to each other your view of your interlocutor is pixelated in this fashion – it’s only by accruing time as ‘a good conversationalist’ that you get to heighten the resolution and see what the person you’re chatting to actually looks like. As a bonus, it would make it quite hard for anyone to flash their d1ck in any meaningful way, which as Chatroulette foretold is the main issue with any sort of online videochat between strangers.
  • Abduction: Not quite sure why this exists other than for its creator to demonstrate that they could, but here’s a little in-browser toygame which lets you imagine that you’re an alien spacecraft engaged in a little bit of light person-harvesting over the topography of an unnamed landmass. Move yourself around the landscape using your tractor beam to hoover up the unsuspecting hominids from the hills and valleys below – you can’t, sadly, then choose to rectally probe them, but I presume that that will be coming in release 2.0.
  • Papapal: Very much the sort of web project that is, I often think, born out of a fundamentally-positive but equally-misguided understanding of human nature, Papapal is an epistolary language-learning service which offers you the opportunity to hone your foriegn language writing skills by pairing you with another person who also wants to communicate in a specific language, the idea being that you will improve your skills by entering into penpal-ish correspondence. It’s a GREAT idea in theory, whose success rests entirely on a) everyone involved having the stamina to keep the correspondence going, not a given considering the likely-clunking nature of the prose you’ll be employing; b) it not being overtaken by men (it is always men) who think that everything online is, at heart, an opportunity for them to get laid. Still, it’s free and could be an interesting way of meeting new people to practice your Tagalog with – Web Curios as ever accepts no responsibility for the horrorshows of humanity you may end up encountering as a result of your desire for linguistic self-improvement.
  • Temp Mail: A super-easy way of getting a quick burner email address, which may be of use if you sign up to the service above and want to make sure that the sex language men can’t follow you around for the rest of your natural life.
  • The Walk of Life Project: The site’s hypothesis is simple – Dire Straits’ song ‘The Walk of Life’ is the perfect song to close any film, and this applies to every single movie ever made. It’s hard to argue looking at the assembled clips here – try telling me that ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ isn’t infinitely-improved by having Mark Knopfler noodling over the top of it and I will tell you you are WRONG, repeatedly.
  • What Does A Million Pennies Look Like?: Just in case you’ve ever been curious, this person has done the hard maths and visualisation. Beautifully, and for reasons known only to them, they have added some bonus content at the end which goes on to theorise about what a similar volume of cows would look like – if you’ve ever been curious as to the visual impact of a million-strong bovine horde appearing on the horizon then this website will answer a lot of questions for you.
  • A Very Long Baguette: Finally in the grab-bag of miscellania this week is this fun little game which sees you playing the part of a pair of bakers who need to move an unfeasibly-long baguette through an equally-unfeasibly mazelike restaurant. It’s simple, but the controls are rather fun – you control each of the bakers separately, making the whole thing abit like the game equivalent of patting your head and rubbing your tummy at the same time. Alternatively you can also play it as a two-player co-op, presuming you have someone nearby who you like enough to sit VERY CLOSE TOGETHER as you share a keyboard. Were we back in the olden days of working in an office, this is the sort of thing that could perhaps lead to a burgeoning workplace romance (“How did you meet?” “We shared a keyboard and one thing led to another” is definitely one of the more romantic relationship origin stories it’s possible to imagine, right? RIGHT???).

By Sayuri Ichida




  • Parker S Jackson: SPOOKY ART. Witches and apparitions and incubi and oh me oh my! Seeing as Hallowe’en’s coming up (not that you’d know here – Italy really doesn’t do Hallowe’en like the anglo nations, for which I lay blame squarely at the feet of those PRUDES at the Vatican) this feels appropriate.
  • Small Woodland Things: On the one hand, this is almost-unbearably twee – GOBLINCORE! COTTAGECORE! ALL THE ARBOREAL AESTHETICS! – but on the other, well, it is autumn and who doesn’t love some beautiful photos of mushrooms shot from above? NO FCUKER, that’s who!:


  • The Four Dirty C-Words of the Internet: I’ve long railed against the ubiquity of the word ‘content’ and the fact that referring to what we make as such does nothing but devalue and flatten creative output into one single monetisable layer of grey nothingness – this piece takes that idea and runs with it, adding another three terms to the Bad Lexicon of online existence. ‘Content’, ‘Community’, ‘Culture’ and ‘Creator’ are all here unpacked and examined and found wanting by Paul Jun in this excellent essay which explains why these terms are not only insufficient to describe the things we make, but why they are A Bad Thing in terms of said things being valued and how, in fact, by using them we’re complicit in the reduction of creative work to nothing but another cog in the infinitely-grinding capitalist machine. Er, comrades.
  • Amplified Propaganda: An interesting essay examining how the use of promoted narratives has shifted thanks to the advent of social media, and how we ought now to think of the concept; the author offers the concept of ‘ampliganda’ as a new term to distinguish from more traditional propaganda, which “presumes that governments, authority figures, institutions, and mass media are forcing ideas on regular people from the top down. But more and more, the opposite is happening. Far from being merely a target, the public has become an active participant in creating and selectively amplifying narratives that shape realities. Perhaps the best word for this emergent bottom-up dynamic is one that doesn’t exist quite yet: ampliganda, the shaping of perception through amplification. It can originate from an online nobody or an onscreen celebrity. No single person or organization bears responsibility for its transmission. And it is having a profound effect on democracy and society.” Leaving aside the slightly-hyperbolic final line there, this is a good piece of writing which neatly-articulates something which has long felt true but which I’ve not seen explained this cogently before.
  • Google and Big News: I’ve mentioned here before how Google’s evolution from ‘search engine’ to ‘platform which wants to know what you want to know before you know you want to know it’ has made its core product significantly worse than it use to be – a trend which is only going to continue as the company continues using AI to ‘better’ interpret our wants. This piece looks at Google’s plans to move into breaking news – “the proposed feature aims to spotlight and provide more historical context about important events, from health crises and terrorism to entertainment and sporting events, as they unfold. It would go beyond the types of news articles and tweets Google currently shows in its search results by highlighting the most authoritative facts about a specific event in real time, such as death and injury counts, and updating them as new information emerges.” This is hugely-significant for a number of reasons – first, it doesn’t sound like great news for publishers whose readers will have one less reason to click through when they can get all the relevant facts from Google directly; and secondly, there is a LOT of tricky stuff inherent in deciding on source validity, etc, when pulling this sort of info which feels very much like the sort of questions that digital businesses have traditionally struggled with (see Facebook’s multiple experiments with news for examples).
  • Substack: Now that Substack has been A Thing for a while, and now it’s starting to evolve its business model further by getting people like Salman Rushdie onboard to serialise novels through it, it’s time for the latest round of assessment pieces on the business, its model, and how it is CHANGING JOURNALISM AND PUBLISHING FOREVER. This article, in Fortune, is a reasonably level-headed assessment of how the company is doing and how it is serving the writers who use it – there’s a lot of quite bullish chat in here focusing on the people who are making a killing using a subscription model, but it also acknowledges that the vast majority of people attempting to monetise their writing using the platform are making the square root of fcuk all and that the CREATOR ECONOMY is perhaps not quite as equally-distributed as we might have been promised.
  • Amazon’s Six-Page Memo: One of the things that everyone seems to know about Amazon’s working culture is the insistence of making all ideas be presented in six-page written documents rather than on slides, the idea being that it forces people to think more about what they are proposing by demanding that they articulate it in longform. This article by Tim Carmody details the process and why it works, and whilst I couldn’t give two fcuks about Amazon per se, as someone with a natural aversion to slides and who still insists on writing everything out in Word this provided a wonderful degree of assurance as to why I AM RIGHT and everyone else who puts things into slides straight away is stupid and wrong.
  • Smooth Operator: Or ‘why are there all these touchscreen devices in airports and who uses them?’, or even ‘the semiotics of technology in liminal spaces’ (but probably not the latter as even I have limits) – this is a great piece of writing which captures something I had never really thought of before but which now I have read this piece seems self-evident. “The enduring presence of touchscreens in modern life is explained by their status as highly observable stand-ins for progress. Designers of spaces seeking to mark sophistication feel compelled to create some monument to technology — iPad stations, or interactive urban kiosks. These screens are vessels that manifest our connectivity to the immense technological competence of the era, and provide a sense of physicality — something to touch.” Well quite.
  • Feeling, In Situ: This is SO interesting – Elitsa Dermendzhiyska writes in Aeon about the commonly-held Western belief that emotions are in some way universally-experienced – that there is a universal concept of ‘happy’, say, or ‘sad’ that can be communicated via facial expressions – and how recent research has suggested that this in fact this isn’t the case and that emotions may well be culturally determined, and that as such much of the way in which we conceive of and use emotion in Western culture and thought has perhaps been ‘wrong’. There’s loads of truly fascinating stuff in here with adjacencies in AI and art and communication and EVERYTHING, and I felt slightly-dizzied by it, in the best possible way.
  • How Deep Mind Is Reinventing the Robot: This is a bit of a PR puff-piece for Deep Mind, fine, but it’s worth reading for the way it unpacks the limitations with much of current AI thinking and machine learning, and the ways in which the Alphabet-owned company is trying to overcome said limitations. The initial section is a bit technical, but I promise it gets more readable and clearer as it goes on (and I say this as someone whose practical knowledge when it comes to machine learning is next to nil), and the way it explains the concept of ‘catastrophic forgetting’ in ML is really helpful.
  • China’s Indiegame Market: A long, involved and comprehensive look at the independent games market in China, which is blossoming in no small part due to the odd, not-quite-censored nature of the Steam PC games marketplace behind the Great Firewall. This is a bit industry news-y, but it’s a really good read if you’re interested in the games industry, or indeed in the way in which Chinese cultural products are interestingly-distinct from their Western counterparts and the reasons why, or, more generally, the way in which art reflects the culture its born from and how that reflects through a relatively-new medium such as videogames.
  • Botched Plastic Surgery Vloggers: It’s hard not to look at headlines like this and go into some sort of weird doomspiral of OH GOD IT’S A RACE TO THE BOTTOM AND EVERYTHING 1980s SCIFI TAUGHT US ABOUT THE FUTURE IS COMING TRUE, but let’s see if we can hold it together. This piece in i-D looks at the ‘boom’ (it’s not a boom, but we might describe it as a microtrend) in influencers and aspirant influencers having plastic surgery go wrong and then documenting the outcome (AND THEIR FEELINGS ABOUT IT) in exquisite/excruciating detail (delete per your personal perspective) – is it part of the desire to be ‘relatable’, and a helpful shift in the way in which online famous relate to the procedures that give them the bodies and faces that make them stars? Or is it another gearshift in the race to the bottom of the content sump pit? YOU DECIDE? I bet you £100 that there are currently people looking at suspiciously-cheap brazilian bottom treatments, though, and thinking “if this goes well it’s a cheap ar$e; if it goes badly, it’s at least 3 months’ worth of highly-personal material which will do great numbers!”. Is that a good thing? Not sure.
  • People Are Getting QR Code Tattoos: I’m including this article solely in the hope that one of you will read this and think that, yes, THIS is the time to bring back the gonzo heyday of games PR in which publishers tempted members of the public to name their kids after videogame characters or get the game’s logo tattooed somewhere prominent in exchange for cash prizes. PLEASE can one of you pitch ‘challenge our brand’s superfans to get a QR code linking to our ICONIC ads’ activation, please? I reckon it could fly.
  • The Chatroulette Penis Moderation Problem: I mentioned Chatroulette and penises earlier on, and AS IF BY MAGIC I now bring you this article, an interview with the person who invented Chatroulette and who has spent the years since its creation wrestling with the thorny issue of Penises on the Web (specifically: there will always be more penises on the web than there are people who want to look at said penises) – this is super-interesting, not only as a potted history of a website which I can’t imagine that many of you have thought about since its heyday about 9 years ago, but also as a broader series of thoughts and considerations about what communities are for and how you make them work, and how you create systems that allow for open participation whilst incentivising good behaviour and minimising the presence of d1cks both literal and metaphorical).
  • VR Addiction: We are, I think, a comfortable distance away from VR addiction being A Thing that people have to worry about – still, the tech is readily-available and sophisticated enough that we’re starting to see edge cases where its immersive potential gets a bit too much, as in this story about a student in the UK who fell into a VRChat hole and struggled to get out. This is a really interesting piece – there’s no suggestion that this is anything other than one person’s experience, and there’s no attempt to create any sort of panic around a VR addiction CRISIS heading our way, and overall its pleasingly-unhysterical. There’s also a happy ending of sorts, with the subject’s shift from VR-obsessed recluse to ostensibly-confident dancer quite a pleasing narrative arc (although I get the feeling there’s probably some quite complicated stuff going on under the surface here) – bookmark this, though, for that inevitable period in about 24m or so’s time when the Mail decides that ‘Save Our Children From Their VR Sex Prisons’ is a sensible campaign to run and you want to remember where it all began.
  • True Crime Is Rotting Our Brains: Or, ‘how TikTok and parasociality are creating a weird situation whereby an increasingly large subset of people online are obsessed with analysing every single thing they see with a degree of forensic detail ordinarily reserved for CSI and which isn’t doing anyone any favours’ (their title is snappier, tbf). This is something that a lot of the smarter internet culture commenters have been acknowledging for a while now, and which Ryan Broderick has been particularly good on – how current trends in online storytelling have caused us to increasingly believe that BAD THINGS ARE HAPPENING EVERYWHERE, and that we need to be alert to signs of abuse and danger and incipient violence at all times, and that EVERYTHING IS A POTENTIAL CLUE FOR THE INEVITABLE FORTHCOMING MURDER ENQUIRY. “This is the message that young women are internalizing, that hypervigilance will keep you safe, that being in a constant state of anxiety is simply a fact of life and not something to work on with your therapist.” Doesn’t sound healthy.
  • Castaway Cuisine: I don’t know if it’s quite that they don’t make eccentrics like they used to, or simply that the web has opened our eyes to the fact that everyone’s eccentric and so we’ve become a little dulled to it, but you simply don’t get stories like this in 2021, I find. Alain Bombard was a French physician from the mid-20th Century who refused to believe that it was impossible to survive adrift at sea for an extended period of time, and decided to prove this by, er, spending two months adrift in a small boat, subsisting only on what he was able to source himself to eat and drink (there was also a small package of emergency rations, but apparently Bombard didn’t need to use it). An astonishing commitment to scientific research and the sort of thing which you probably wouldn’t want to replicate yourself – the concept of subsisting on what the piece euphemistically describes as ‘fish juice’ for 43 of the 60 days sounds…bleak.
  • I Hate My Dogs I Love My Dogs: I am not a dog person, but I appreciate that I am in a minority here and that most people adore the furry morons. Regardless of my own personal indifference to canines, I enjoyed this article by Claire Messud about her relationship with hers – in particular there’s a certain sort of brutal bloodymindedness to the affection which I associate exclusively with a certain type of the English upper-middle classes and which came through wonderfully here. It feels like it’s wearing a barbour jacket, this piece, which may or may not endear it to you – the writing’s great, though, regardless.
  • Tongue Stuck: After 5 months in Rome my Italian is pretty good again – it gets rusty through lack of use most of the time, but I feel like I’ve gotten it back again and have even caught myself thinking in Italian every now and again which is a pleasant-if-odd experience. This essay by Irina Dumitrescu speaks of her experiences with English and Romanian, and articulates with a skill I rarely encounter the unique oddity of differentially-skilled bilingualism. “To them, I sounded like a stranger who had learned Romanian very well; I spoke the English language but with Romanian words” – I can’t tell you how much this struck me as I read it. Any of you who speak multiple languages will feel this very deeply, I think.
  • What Is Internet Criticism?: SUCH a good essay, this, by Daisy Alioto, about ‘the internet’ and the internet, and the new aesthetic which isn’t so new anymore, and the new terms and forms and expressions of thought we need to be able to characterise our relationship with the web now that it is not just a thing but the thing and that we can now no longer disentangle ourselves from it as both concept and reality. I know I have just made it sounds appallingly-pretentious, but I promise you it is SO much better than that and you will find it thought-provoking and fascinating.
  • A Decent Death: An excellent article in the latest LRB, in which Steven Sedley sets out current thinking on assisted dying and the difficulties in creating a legal position which allows for it based on our existing structures and frameworks, and the legacy of theological thought in our conceptions of a ‘good’ life and ‘good’ death. This deals with a lot of the legalese around assisted dying debates, but it’s as light-touch as you can be when talking about this sort of stuff and I promise you it’s knotty rather than impenetrable and an excellent example of presenting difficult arguments in comprehensible style.
  • The Nobel Prize Speech Draft of Paul Winterhoeven, With Notes: Finally in this week’s longreads, this is a very funny short story written from the perspective of a man about to, rather bitterly, accept the Nobel Prize for Science. I won’t spoil it by giving away the premise, but it’s vaguely-scifi – more importantly, though, this is a near-perfect example of elegant comic writing, storytelling and scene-setting, and of a narrator who is not so much unreliable as…blinkered, let’s say. Absolutely superb.

By Abraham Lule


Webcurios 08/10/21

Reading Time: 33 minutes

Did you enjoy the scenes from Tory Party Conference this week? Back in the day when I used to have to attend those things annually because of work, the Tories was always in many respects the least-awful of the lot – the politics and people stank, fine, but this was in the New Labour era when you could at least laugh at their awfulness safe in the knowledge that they weren’t getting elected anytime soon. Labour, by contrast, was characterised by the sort of smug backslapping that hindsight shows us was one of the main identifying features of the Blair era, and which resulted in me having a proper Damascene moment at around 3am in a conference bar when, alone and misanthropic, I saw a bunch of then-’rising stars’ from the party doing ‘Things Can Only Get Better’ at karaoke and vowed that I was never, ever going to find myself in that position again.

(In case you were wondering, by the way, Lib Dem conference was always the best, because noone cared and you could spend literally 3 days in the pub playing pool and getting slaughtered if you could persuade the landlord to put the conference on TV so you could pretend you’d seen the speeches)

Other than the worst people in British politics having their annual self-congratulatory orgy, the week’s other big news was Facebook falling over – it’s been a bad few weeks for the Big Blue Misery Factory, prompting some slightly overheated chat about whether this is THE BEGINNING OF THE END. A small note on that point – I think anything that demonstrates quite how central the company and its platforms are to the running of huge swathes of global communication and commerce is probably not going to be the thing that presages its demise. You may want to do a quick Google for past news articles trumpeting the death of Facebook and check the timestamps to see just how right everyone was about this in 2013/4/5/7/8, is all I’m saying.

Anyway, you don’t kindly splay your inbox for me to fill it with my editorialising – you do so for the LINKS. Links which you are mere SECONDS away from being able to enjoy – gird yourselves however you best see fit, for THEY ARE A’COMING!

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and I would still prefer you not to read this if you voted  for Boris Johnson.

By Basseck Mankabu



  • Badvertising: The second week in a row in which I lead on a link dedicated to pointing out the advermarketingpr industry’s possible complicity in the climate crisis – I’ve long thought that the best way to ensure Web Curios remains an unloved, niche concern is to constantly attempt to alienate my readership at every turn (and also, er, to make it overlong and impenetrable and stylistically…idiosyncratic – never let it be said that I’m not dedicated). Anyway, this is Badvertising, ‘a campaign to stop advertising fueling the climate emergency’, being organised by Think Tank the New Weather Institute. The argument is simple – that those of us working in and around the edges of advermarketingpr should, if we really believe that our work causes shifts in behaviour and opinion (and this is the bit where I maybe demur because, reader, very little of what I do on a day to day basis in my working life does anything other than cause the movement of money from one largely-pointless seeming branch of an organisation to another), perhaps spend a bit more time thinking about what behaviour we’re changing and what opinions we’re supporting. This website explains the campaign and provides a bunch of tools and guidelines on what you can do to help stop the spread of ads which, I don’t know, trumpet BP’s environmental credentials whilst conveniently ignoring the fact that it and companies like it are responsible in large part for fcuking the planet with knives.
  • Gawds: It’s been a great week for people who enjoy laughing at NFTs, with the news that another selection of projects have – and you might be shocked by this – been revealed to have been nothing but elaborate scams designed to induce greedy morons to part with their cash. Now I don’t doubt there are some token projects out there which really do believe in ‘the magical power of community’ to heal of society’s ills (even when the community exists solely to juice the market for pixelated portraits of, I don’t know, management consultants or something), but, equally, lots of them quite evidently don’t and instead are just a way of parting fools with their money. Where Gawks sits on this spectrum I have no idea, but I very much like the vibe that the whole thing is giving off. While other NFT projects sell you piddling little avatars, Gawds has ratcheted up the hubristic absurdity several levels by creating a whole pantheistic ecosystem into which your markov-generated digital gewgaws will ‘exist’. The website talks about POWER LEVELS and ‘uniquely-generated beings’ and THE ABILITY TO EMBED YOUR NFT IN HOLOGRAPHIC GLASS! Honestly, I can’t see how this could be anything other than a massive success that will inevitably take your investment TO THE MOON!!!1111eleventy. Fair play to these people for leaning into the culty (no, I said culty) elements of this hard – I can almost respect the grift. Almost.
  • Ether Canvas: Long-term readers will be aware of the special place that Reddit’s The Place holds in my heart as an example of a web project that distilled most of the lovely things about online communities (diversity, collaboration, creativity) into one surprising package. Now, though, it’s 2021 and The Place is but a distant memory, and instead of thinking ‘what fun things can we build, what experimental playgrounds can we create?’ we are apparently all thinking ‘how can I persuade people to buy into my apocalypse-token Ponzi scheme?’ That, seemingly, is the idea behind Ether Canvas, a project which is literally ‘what if The Place or even Million Dollar Homepage, but crypto?’ – and a project so phoned-in that I want to bookmark it to wave at anyone who attempts to tell me that NFTs are all about ART AND CREATIVITY. Are they? Are they really? WHERE IS THE ART HERE? Anyway, if you want to spend 15 quid to put a TINY, TINY JPEG onto a website that noone in their right mind will ever visit again (BECOME PART OF THE COMMUNITY!!!) then here’s your chance.
  • SadGrl Online: What did YOU do during The Great Facebook Outage of 2021? Did you rediscover your love for the odd and unheralded corners of the internet and go paddling in their tentacular shallows? Did you take the opportunity to detach yourself from the content hose and go outside? As we limp towards the finishing line of 2021 (lol! It’s not a finishing line! KEEP FCUKING GOING, SISYPHUS!), one of the few ‘this is a thing wot I have observed this year’ statements I feel comfortable making is that the past 12m or so really have seen a small resurgence in the homespun web – Curios has seen an uptick in interesting ‘portals to the small web’-type sites, and SadGrl Online is another such project. It’s weird really – this is the sort of thing that a couple of decades ago wouldn’t have been noteworthy at all, seeing as this is the sort of presence that seemingly every teenager cultivated for themselves prior to the all-consuming advent of VIDEO EVERYWHERE, and yet now feels fun and retro-fresh. SadGrl Online is a personal website very much in the GeoCities mould which presents links to stuff its owner finds interesting, little ‘shrines’ to their hobbies, some articles…it’s just some kid’s website, to be clear, but given the ubiquitous homogeneity of Insta and The Toks (there isn’t just one TikTok, is there, so characterising them as multiples seems somehow right), and Tumblr’s odd zombie limbo state, it’s really nice to see something so personalised and homespun cropping up. Plus, there are some excellent interesting links on there which are definitely worth checking out.
  • NeoCities: The above site is made using NeoCities, “a social network of 394,700 web sites that are bringing back the lost individual creativity of the web” offering “free static web hosting and tools that allow you to create your own web site.” So basically GeoCities but NEW and MODERN (whilst still looking old!) – what’s nice about this is the slightly webring-style nature of the project which makes it easy to find and browse and enjoy everyone else’s projects on the network. If you want a project now the nights are drawing in, why not make yourself the website you always wanted when you were 14 but never had the time or inclination to produce? Or, alternatively, you may want to take up a hobby that doesn’t require the use of electricity given How Things Currently Are on sovereignty isle.
  • The Internet is Sh1t: It’s not, obviously – the internet is great and I love it, despite my constant carping and whinging about the stuff I find on there (the internet is great; it’s the people that ruin it) – but it’s not hard to see what people might have a bit of a problem with it. Speaking of trends, another I’ve seen this year is the increasing realisation amongst even your less-terminally-online web user that the general experience of being online doesn’t seem to be getting much better. Google is increasingly awful, people are trapped on a limited number of platforms whose entire raison d’etre is to keep them there and not let them out, thereby limiting discovery and serendipity (beyond the algo-controlled simulacrum of serendipity we’re increasingly being peddled as the real thing) and making us miserable(r). This in particular resonated with me in no small way: “The internet is not the sole basis upon which you can determine existence. It sounds simple but people are starting to forget. If it doesn’t have a website, that doesn’t make something low quality. If you can’t Google your blind date, that doesn’t make them a freak. If one website says something about anything, it’s more than likely pure invention and shouldn’t be taken seriously. Checking your sources does not mean finding another website that says the same. Fiction is self-perpetuating.” Well quite. STOP THE INTERNET! Or at least this version of it.
  • Low Tech Magazine: This is not a wholly original idea – it’s reminiscent of The Solar Protocol which I featured in here a few years back – but it’s SUCH a clever one and a HUGELY stealable idea which is perfect for our ECO CONSCIOUS (but not so much as to actually change our behaviours in any significant way!) times. Low Tech Magazine has a solar-powered website – it is powered by solar panels, and as such the website will go offline when there’s not enough natural energy to run it. Simple, but hugely clever and a great way of reminding users that the web is powered by actual, physical stuff that require actual energy to run, and that that energy needs to come from somewhere. There are SO many potential applications for this (although if you’re reading this in the UK, probably not until next year which gives you LOADS of time to persuade your idiot clients to do something interesting for a change rather than just throwing £100k at some influencers and some ASPIRATIONAL VIDEO CONTENT).
  • BioLiquidator: This is included solely because I find the whole thing morbidly-fascinating and not a little scary – BioLiquidator is a company which deals with what it semi-euphemistically terms ‘mortality management’ in livestock. Basically, if you have animals that you need to dispose of, these are your people. How do they do it? Well as far as I can tell you basically pack your dead animals into some sort of vat and in 18-20h they have turned into slurry. Honestly, this is FASCINATING (if a little bleak) and the sort of thing I am 100% convinced we are going to have uncomfortable conversations about using on people in a few decades’ time. There’s also something quite odd about all the images of very alive animals all over their website – I know that disposal of dead animals is part and parcel of the agricultural process and animal husbandry in general, but, well, don’t present me with images of cute calves when what you’re in fact doing is providing me with a facility with which to compost them (after I have shoved their corpses into a metal box with a pitchfork).
  • Pizza Pranks: Not in fact anything to do with pizza! Pizza Pranks ihome to Indiepocalypse, a project which is basically a regular zine-type-thing, bringing together independent game makers to sell their projects in bundles for about $15 a pop: “Indiepocalypse is a curated monthly collection looking to highlight the very best of the DIY indie game scene. Each month will feature games by 10 different developers, including newly commissioned game exclusive to the bundle-zine. The games cover a wide variety of styles, genres, and themes as they fight against any definition of “indie game” as a genre.Also, and this part is very important to me and should truly be taken as given, each contributor is paid and developers are paid royalties on all future sales.” If you fancy taking a monthly punt on some small-but-perfectly-formed independently-created games this is an EXCELLENT way of doing so – titles run the gamut from platformers to artgames to shoot-em-ups to interactive fiction, and the bundle I downloaded contained at least 2 titles which I would have been happy to pay the £$15 for alone.
  • BondGifs: Bond occupies a weird place in the cultural landscape at present – obviously super-popular but with whom? Is there anyone who is a Bond fan anymore? Other of course than the world’s luxury brands, which are very much fans of spending millions for product placement in what are the most lavish pieces of branded content ever created. Still, a NEW BOND is here, and to celebrate there is also a Bond collection of gifs, available for you to abuse in every single message conversation for the next few weeks. Why not endear yourself to friends and family by insisting on accompanying your every utterance with a shot of Daniel Craig having his testes lightly-flagellated with a thick piece of rope?? Actually I’m not sure they have that specific clip in there, but there are 430 of the damn things, from Connerty to Lazenby to Dalton to Craig – there are some that are obviously designed in the hope they’ll attain status as part of the reactive lingua franca of the web, and others chosen for reasons known only to the curators (maybe they’re there as warning signs – after all, anyone who uses a ‘The name’s Bond…James Bond’ gif in conversation is quite obviously an irredeemable cnut), but if you fancy communicating via a short videoclip of Rutger Hauer taking a punch to the stomach then HERE YOU GO!
  • Google Newsletters: Or as the company has unforgivably styled them, ‘Museletters’ (no, exactly). This was probably inevitable, but the product looks like it might be useful (should you be one of the seven people worldwide who are yet to launch their own newsletter in 2021). It effectively creates a publication and distribution layer for Google Drive: “Create a public profile for your Google Drive and publish any Google Drive file directly to it. You can also publish to an email list. Just open Museletter, choose a Drive file, and publish.” Which seems sensible! No idea if this is any good or not in practice, and it’s not like Google as a company is significantly better than, say, Substack, and it definitely has a somewhat iffy record when it comes to supporting these sorts of experimental initiatives, but it could be worth a look – just don’t come crying to me when Google decides to kill the service in a year or so’s time.
  • Somi-1: This is really interesting – over the past few years I’ve seen several attempts to reinvent the musical instrument crop up on Kickstarter and assorted other platforms, and to date none of them have seemingly ushered in the seismic change in musical creativity their inventors had promise, and this is the latest to catch my attention. Somi-1 is basically a bunch of sensors and associated kit that will, if it does what it promises, allow you to transform your movements into sound. You strap sensors to yourself, and said sensors use the data they pick up from your movements (direction, acceleration) and convert that into music – multiple sensors can be combined to capture data from several sources simultaneously, whether on one person or on a group, and you can plug the output into any MIDI controller of your choosing. This looks like it could be really rather fun, though the quality of the output will depend on the sensitivity of the sensors which obviously is a bit unknowable til it launches – still, if you like the idea of turning your morning Qi Gong session into a beautiful ambient soundscape then this could well be one for you. The Kickstarter is about 60% there with 11 days to go, so it’s not certain it will make it, but it could be worth a punt for the more experimental musos among you.
  • The Ellis Island Database: This is wonderful – a searchable database of US immigration records, collecting data on 65million passengers (THAT IS A HUGE NUMBER OF PEOPLE) that arrived by boat in New York between 1820 and 1957. You have to register to do a proper deep-dive into the records, but it’s a light-touch signup process and I promise it’s worth it – there’s a proper genealogical buzz to plugging in a surname and seeing all the people who over 130 years disembarked in hope and then got swallowed up by the city, for better or ill. I personally want to know the story of Angelo Muir, who arrived from Modena in 1913 – what was a Muir doing in Modena in the early-20th Century? WHO WERE YOU, UNCLE ANGELO???
  • The Accessible Games Database: A really useful resource for people looking for games suitable for those with physical impairments – you can filter by the type of game, or the accessibility features, you’re looking for, so if you want to find a first-person shooter with settings suitable for people with slight motor control issues, say, or games that are colour-blind friendly, this will help.
  • Stravart: This may well have existed for ages, but I was hugely cheered to find it this week – there’s a website dedicated to collecting examples of people who’ve used Strava to ‘draw’ creative running or cycling routes, and some of these are AMAZING. Fine, there’s a reasonable number of crap squiggles, but then there is stuff like the quite incredible portrait of Christ (complete with thorny crown and beatific expression and three crosses in the background, along with the legend “A Holy and Happy Easter to All” – sadly the site doesn’t allow for linking to individual images, but I urge you to go and check that one out. It’s filed under ‘fiction’, which is a ballsy move from whoever’s curating this) which makes you really admire the dedication of those involved. Special shout out to the person who drew Medusa and subjected themselves to what look like a series of very unsatisfying short runs to make the hair-snakes.
  • The Stripe Press: I can’t work out if this feels like a proper thing or just an example of slightly-silly tech company hubris – perhaps it’s both! Stripe, the payments company, has started publishing books – the Stripe Press is its new(ish) publishing imprint, through which you can buy a bunch of titles (some new, some revised editions, some reprints) in nice hardback editions, all for around $20 and all promoting a very Valley-ish ideology of GROWTH and CRUSHING IT (and, er, a book chronicling the history of classic videogame Prince of Persia, for some reason). Why? Well, partly, why not? I imagine Stripe isn’t exactly short of a quid or two at present. Equally, though, this is a clear way of signalling both status (WE ARE A TECH COMPANY BUT WE ARE ALSO BOOKSMART PEOPLE!!!) and also of marking out the ideological territory that the business inhabits (increasingly important in this sort of techspace). I would fcuking LOVE Nando’s to copy this. Or, I don’t know, Pot Noodle.
  • The Encyclopaedia of Pulp Heroes: A wonderful resources, exploring the magical world of classic pulp novels from the early-to-mid-20th Century, “an attempt at providing a panoptical view of the characters of genre culture from across media and around the world, spanning the years from 1902 to 1945”. This is SUCH a labour of love and there is so much interesting stuff in here – from a glossary explaining some of the popular terms and tropes of the time, a history of the genre, and notes on the characters and authors that constituted the pulp scene. If nothing else, this is a wonderful resource for anyone interested in storytelling convention and the different types and styles of narrative that can be explored within the pulp genre (which I know is what you were all hoping to get from today – you’re welcome!).

By Desiree Patterson



  • 12ft: I feel slightly conflicted about including this link, I must admit. The older I get, the more I feel that taking stuff for free online feels a bit, well, wrong – not taking stuff that’s freely given, you understand, but circumventing payment systems to get free access to stuff that people want you to pay for. I may be skeptical about the promise of the creator economy, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t think people should get paid for their work (which perhaps explains why my monthly outlay on subscriptions and newsletters is quite so punishing). Of course, I also appreciate that I am lucky enough to be able to afford to consume (mostly) whatever I fancy without it screwing over my ability to, I don’t know, eat or leave the house, or pay rent, and that not everyone is that lucky, and that it feels fundamentally wrong for access to information to be linked to material income in 2021. That’s a longwinded way of saying that I appreciate that this link is by some standards a bit problematic, being as it promises to let you get behind the paywall of a whole bunch of sites that ordinarily require a login (Medium, NYT, the Economist, etc etc) and therefore deprives those outlets of income – can we all agree that if you can afford to pay subscriptions you will continue doing so, and that if you can’t you will use this? We can? GREAT, my conscience is therefore clear.
  • 20th Century Audio: If you make music, this stuff looks like it could be LOADS of fun. The link takes you to the website of one Giorgio Sancristofero who sells a BUNCH of audio software (each version around $25) which lets you make music replicating the sounds available to engineers using a variety of 20th Century production and recording techniques. From electro-acoustic modelling to the ability to recreate the sound and feel of stuff recorded reel-to-reel, this is a modern audiophile’s dream (or at least I am guessing it is – I’m not really a modern audiophile, but it feels like the sort of thing that one of those might enjoy). Want to imbue your oh-so-modern TikTok banger with the analogue soul of Delia Berbyshire? OF COURSE YOU DO!
  • Montfor: I’m unsure as to whether I find this funny or depressing – maybe both! Oh the duality of modern life! Montfor asks the question ‘why shouldn’t I get some sort of academic credit for the fact that I spend literally hundreds of hours a week watching stuff on YouTube? Surely that should count for something?’ and answers it with ‘there is no reason whatsoever! Why SHOULDN’T self-directed YouTubeing be elevated to the same pantheon of academic consideration as, say, postgraduate study?’. “We analyse the pages you go to, and run them through our custom AI models to figure out what they’re about. Then we reward you with relevant XP based on time spent, activity, and other metrics. You get a dashboard with insights on your learning and a shareable profile” So, er, you can get data about the fact that you’ve spent 200 hours since June ‘learning about crypto’ and share it with people to…to what? To win online arguments? To convince them to give you a job? It feels very much like the people behind this think that their metrics ought to become a valid means of judging expertise (“well Tony, your CV’s unusual but it says here you’ve clocked the equivalent of three months watching medical procedure videos so, well, I guess you are doing the trepanning this afternoon!”). I am sure the people behind this mean well, but I can’t stress enough what a bad idea it is (this is inevitably going to become part of the fabric of society, isn’t it, and I’m going to lose my employment prospects to a bunch of 19 year olds who’ve clocked the equivalent of 4 years watching ‘marketing 101’ tutorials on TikTok? GREAT).
  • The Fart Pedal: Are you a guitarist? Have you ever considered how much better your axework would be if you had an effects pedal that turned the output from your Gibson into a selection of farts? No, of course you haven’t, and yet still this exists. The sort of idea that you can imagine having when very stoned aged 14 in your mate Nev’s bedroom and which has now become (nearly) reality thanks to this Kickstarter. With nearly 3 weeks to go this has already met its target, so we can all look forward to a future in which any guitarist in the world can choose to add dynamic ‘wet fart’ effects to their solo with the flick of a mere switch. Progress.
  • Adventure Snack: I presume that you are like me and can’t physically fit any more newsletters into your life right now, but on the offchance that you have a fee slot in your inbox for some occasional ludic distraction you might find this pleasing. Adventure Snack sends you a tiny interactive story every now and again, a bite-size pseudogame to distract you for 5 minutes and hopefully amuse. They’re basically small vignettes which present you with a bunch of choices – you’re a wrestler! You’re an astronaut! You’re a…er…bear! – which play out as tiny stories, and they are silly and whimsical and a really nice little exercise in creative storytelling, and generally pleasantly cute. Lovely, and pleasantly creative.
  • Blue Fever: Another new social network! Except this isn’t a social network, oh no, this is an emotional network! What that means in practice is that Blue Fever presents an environment in which anyone can post anonymously about whatever they are feeling at present – posts are nameless, meaning anyone in theory should feel free to post whatever they like without fear ofjudgement, and the idea is that it creates a supportive community in which people can discuss their fears and hopes and stuff without the worry that comes from SHOWING ONE’S WHOLE SELF (is that the commonly=accepted parlance these days? It’s so hard to keep track, honestly). I am desperately miserable and cynical and as such am inclined to scoff at this sort of thing, but the idea behind the app is generally a positive one and thus it’s hard to get too angry about the slightly-self-helpy nature of the vibe here. If you feel like you might have some STUFF you want to get off your chest in front of a nameless community of other people then perhaps this will provide the succour you need.
  • The Map Projection Playground: I had NO IDEA that the world of maps was so fragmented – I mean, we all remember the Mercator projection (you know, the one that presents the world as it ‘actually’ is rather than the Europe-centric conceptualisation of the planet which persisted in the early days of cartography which tended to underplay the sheer mind-fcuking size of Africa because it didn’t make whitey look important enough), but who knew that there were apparently dozens of different ways in which scientitsist and cartographers have attempted to present our geography? NO FUCKER (well, not me at least), and yet here we are. I’ve been staring at the Peirce Quincuncial projection for 5 minutes now and can’t make head nor tail of it – there’s something magical about how alien an otherwise-familiar geography can look when perspective-shifted in this fashion, and you can probably derive all sorts of metaphors for knowledge and learning here if you’re that way inclined. Otherwise, though, cool maps!
  • The Nature Conservancy Photos of the Year 2021: I think we can all agree we have perhaps reached Peak Photo Contest – are there any subcategories of photo that don’t have their own annual competition anymore? I am yet to see the ‘Colorectal Imaging of the Year’ contest, but other than that I’m not sure there are any universes left to explore. Still, this collection – compiled by The Nature Conservancy – contains some cracking pictures of the natural world (and man’s interaction with it); if you can look at the orangutan photo without feeling some complex maternal/paternal (delete as applicable) feelings then, well, you’re a monster, frankly.
  • Social Justice Kittens 2022: Another long-term Web Curios favourite makes a welcome return – the Social Justice Kittens! For those of you unfamiliar, the project has for several years been producing and selling calendars featuring pictures of impossibly cute kittens juxtaposed with some of the best (read: most ridiculous) examples of extreme social justice-y tweets, reasonable liberal positions taken to slightly-wild extremes – so, for example, August 2022 is represented by a kitten next to a stack of books with the legend “Maths, history, technology, science and history are all inherently-racist. Most schoolbooks should be burned”. These make me laugh LOTS, and I am reasonably-certain that these are mocking from A Good Place and so it’s totally ok to laugh.
  • Vonnegut’s Story Shapes: Kurt Vonnegut famous theorised that ‘stories have shapes’ – this is a lovely little visualisation project that presents a series of story shapes and shows how they play out over the course of a narrative. As a tool for understanding how stories are constructed and how narratives build tension, it’s super-useful and the sort of thing which if you’re a strategist you might find a helpful tool in terms of visualising your thinking and teaching people how to communicate better. If one of you isn’t already working out how to turn this into something about ‘THE 10 ARCHETYPAL SHAPES OF CAMPAIGNS’ for a bit of sweet LinkedIn traction then I am VERY disappointed.
  • WowSwiss: Via Nag on the Lake, this is a Twitter account which shares nothing but pretty images of Switzerland, which is a nice counter to the prevailing belief that the country is nothing but overpriced watches, pointy chocolate and merciful release through death.
  • Flippory: A neat little image-manipulation toy which lets you upload any picture you fancy and flip and mirror it in various ways so as to create something new and, if you choose the right source image, utterly terrifying. Seriously, take a photo of your own face and have a play with it in this – you will quickly fund yourself transformed into a multi-eyed horror, perfect for your new avatar or as a pleasing counterpoint to all the otherwise-perfect pouty representations of yourself adorning your ‘gram. Go on, FCUK WITH YOUR FACE (or, erm, anything you like – I’ll stop shouting now).
  • Repeeted:Wordclouds, we can all agree, are mostly stupid and pointless and useful for nothing other than presenting the illusion of meaning to people who don’t really care or understand. Still, with that caveat in mind, this site lets you do something moderately-fun with them – to whit, produce a wordcloud of the most-used lyrics by any artist you care to mention. Which, to be clear, won’t tell you much that’s useful about anything, but can be used as an EXCELLENT stick with which to beat rabid superfans of a particular musician – even the most lyrically-adept songwriter will look banal when they’re output is rendered a series of stark single-words arranged by popularity. With this you can PROVE that Dylan was a miserable depressive (his most-used word is ‘down’, you see!) or that Billie Eilish is the premiere love-chanteuse of here generation (she uses ‘love’ more than any other word!), or that worldclouds are almost entirely useless in terms of providing meaningful analysis of anything at all! Hours of fun.
  • Fat Ronald Koeman: “For every 25 likes I’ll make Ronald Koeman fatter” wrote Twitter user FootballFax at the end of September. They were true to their word, and the resulting Twitter thread is one of the funniest things I have seen all year. Fine, you need a bit of an interest in football to get all the jokes but, honestly, as it progresses there is some honest-to-goodness surreal genius evident in the photoshopping and accompanying text. This feels like the sort of thing that could be ripped off and ruined by a brand, so, er, please don’t!
  • Crewdle: Are you running out of ways in which you can claim to be making a positive difference to the environmental health of the planet without actually changing anything significant about your behaviour? AREN’T WE ALL? Help is at hand thanks to Crewdle, a videocalling platform which promises that it is less energy-intensive than other offerings due to its use of peer-to-peer technology which eliminates the need for (and environmental cost associated with) servers. My snark aside, this seems like a smart idea and, if the tech works well, a reasonable lower-energy alternative to your Zooms and your Teams.
  • Less Whiny, More Fixy: If you only do one thing as a result of reading this week’s Curios, please make it bookmarking this url and sending it to each and every person at work over the next week who emails you with a complaint without proferring any sort of suggested solution. I guarantee it will have a positive impact on your career (even if you may not see ‘being sacked’ as positive now, the benefits will, I am sure, become increasingly obvious).
  • ISS Docking: No, Lisa Stansfield! I said ISS Docking (that is a very obscure and slightly-disgusting gag which only people who used to read Popbitch a decade or so ago are likely to get – never let it be said that Web Curios is needlessly obscurantist in its references!)! This is a rather zen little browser game, produced by SpaceX (presumably to show us how AMAZINGLY COOL it is) which lets you attempt to dock the SpaceXDragon2 spacecraft with the International Space Station – it is VERY SLOW and you need to be VERY GENTLE with your clicks, but it’s oddly-calming to spend 5 minutes attempting to interface your Muskian space-dong (all billionaire-funded space explorattion vehicles must, post-Bezos, be referred to as space-dongs, it is now law) with the ISS. Put Also Sprach Zarathustra on in the background while you play this for maximum effect.
  • Triangular: You may not think that a game that effectively asks you to triangulate between two points would capture your attention for longer than about 10s, but I promise you that this is FAR more addictive than you think it’s going to be. I spent a good 15m on this attempting to get a perfect score until I was forced to log off to preserve my sanity – see how you get on!
  • Flesh, Blood and Concrete: Finally this week, an honest-to-goodness adventure game in your browser! Flesh, Blood and Concrete is a beautiful little game which casts you as someone exploring a slightly Silent Hill-esque little town (creepy mist, sinister abandoned buildings, mysterious residents, pervasive sense of dread…you get the idea) in classic point-and-click fashion. It looks like it’s made in RPG Maker or similar, and is obviously less-than-AAA in its production values, but the story is really nicely-told and deals with sensitive themes…er…sensitively, and it’s a perfect thing to play while you wait for the clock to tick down on another day of ‘fiddling with pointless words on pointless slides’. Grab a mug of tea and get stuck in, this is really rather good.

By Dos Diablos



  • Daanpark Chichi FanFan: This is all in Japanese so I’m not 100% certain what’s going on here, but as far as I can tell it’s an Insta account devoted to the geese that live in a particular park. Just a bunch of photos of geese from somewhere in Japan. Why? WHY THE FCUK NOT?
  • Dasha Plesen: Ms Plesen creates truly beautiful art from mould – the spores in her petri dishes are quite the thing, and the sort of thing which you feel could serve as ‘inspiration’ (ahem) for, I don’t know, a domestic cleaning brand wanting to highlight all the gross stuff knocking around your house that you could eliminate with Cillit Bang (I have never bought Cillit Bang, but man was Barry Scott some effective advertising) – imagine an exhibition and photoseries like this, based on bacterial samples from the average home. GREAT IDEA, RIGHT? Or, er, you could just enjoy these images for their aesthetic and scientific value and not attempt to bastardise the concept for corporate gain. Your choice.


  • Eric Schmidt on AI: An interesting interview with former Google CEO Eric Schmidt about what he sees as the current state of play in AI, and the things we might need to think or worry about as we continue on our inevitable path towards machine-enabled post-scarcity luxury-Communism (that’s…that’s definitely what’s going to happen, right? Oh good). There’s lots of fascinating stuff in here, but what struck me most was how…cautious Schmidt is through much of this, and also how absurd-and-yet-miserable his ‘racist bear’ thought experiment is. Basically what we can look forward to before we get to the post-scarcity luxury-Communism is a brief-yet-terrifying interregnum in which awful people teach their smart fridges to be racist, was my main takeaway from this – along with the fact that we don’t at present know what we might do to stop that from happening, or what will happen when we inevitably don’t. Good stuff!
  • How The Facebook Outage Happened: This is Cloudflare’s very technical explainer about their best-guess as to what went down (EVERYTHING LOL!) earlier in the week – this is very much ‘how the web works 101’-type stuff, though, and as such is worth attempting to get your head round, if only because it feels important that we all have at least some rudimentary understanding of how exactly the world works (I possibly feel this particularly strongly given that I have basically no practical understanding of how anything functions at a practical level (cars? MAGIC! WiFi? ALMOST CERTAINLY THE WORK OF THE WOOKEY HOLE WITCH! Etc etc). The piece doesn’t examine what we might want to do to ensure that huge swathes of what is effectively at this point global infrastructure can’t just fall over like that, but I’m sure someone somewhere is working on that. Er, someone is, right?
  • The Defector Annual Report: This is probably only of interest to those of you interested in the economics of digital publishing (and who isn’t? NO FCUKER, that’s who!), but it’s an unusually-transparent piece of comms when it comes to annual reporting. Defector is the US sports website which spun out of the ashes of Deadspin – it’s been alive for a year, and this post goes through their performance and results in surprising detail. The explanation of the site’s revenue model, its approach to advertising and marketing, its use of sponsorship…all are discussed here with a degree of openness that’s rare to see.
  • The Internet of Grift: Another excellent post by Ed Zitron, this time neatly-encapsulating everything I think and feel about the current state of play in crypto/NFTworld. It’s worth reading the whole piece as it’s a distillation of everything I have been trying to say in fragmented fashion over the past 6m here in Curios, but, well, better-written. “It is an oligarchy masquerading as a meritocracy (or a utopia), where the rich have built mechanisms to increase the value of their assets, drumming the desperate into a frenzy of people looking to become one of the rich months (or years) after that was possible. Celebrities like Lindsey Lohan aren’t joining because they care about art or NFTs or crypto – they are intentionally capitalizing on a frothy market that’s purpose-built to screw over the investor. It is built to overvalue assets that come from a famous person, just as the regular art investment world is, but with even less tangible goods and more chances to get utterly, irreversibly screwed.” What Ed said, basically. Oh, and if you’re in the market for some more NFT skepticism, this is an excellent article which explains the parallels between the existing NFT scene and multi-level marketing scams – worth reading before you decide to spunk your kids’ savings on a crap cartoon picture of a psychedelically-coloured ocelot.
  • Is It Time To Hire A Chief Metaverse Officer?: A classic example of Betteridge’s Law, this, but worth reading to have a quick laugh at the desperate flailing for relevance and position that is currently going on in brand and agencyland. “WHAT IS THIS THING WE DO NOT UNDERSTAND, WHICH DOESN’T HAVE AN ACCEPTED DEFINITION AND WHICH DOESN’T YET EXIST IN ANY MEANINGFUL SENSE?” ask the brands, “AND SHOULD WE HIRE SOMEONE ON A SIX-FIGURE SALARY TO SPEAK ABOUT IT AT CONFERENCES?” If you want any additional proof that this is all moronic – not ‘the metaverse’ as a concept, to be clear, but the desperation at play in attempting to be FIRST to it – then please read this paragraph, where the individual in question appears to  think that they have reinvented the concept of the ‘project manager’: ““I didn’t realise how much time is spent on emails,” says Samuel Jordan, a digital fashion pioneer and Roblox creator who has partnered with brands such as Stella McCartney to create digital assets, when he started working with fashion brands to create assets for Roblox, and he is working on multiple undisclosed projects. “Every team wants to know they’ve been involved, and usually the core team in charge of brand representation wants the final sign-off. Building a chief metaverse officer is so useful. There are so many people to coordinate, so it’s about understanding the company they work for and who needs to be involved and who doesn’t.”” Intellectual giants, these people.
  • The Ozy Story: An excellent bit of tech journalism by Ryan Borderick, looking into the story of digital publishing business Ozy which was in the news recently when one of its principles was unmasked attempting to pass themselves off as someone from Google on a sales call. There’s some really good base-level reporting happening here, looking into the business model of the company and how fundamentally fcuked it was, but the main takeaway I got from this was how utterly and deeply screwed the ‘content’ economy is – people making content noone cares about, paying to promote it to eyeballs that may not exist, to sell ad space that noone may see…it’s INVISIBLE TURTLES, all the way down!
  • Mobile Gaming in Turkey: I had no idea that the gaming industry was such a big deal in Turkey, but according to this piece it’s growing at a massive rate and has produced the country’s first unicorn. Rest of World looks at the industry’s growth, it’s financial heft, how it works and how it’s (inevitably) leading to issues for the developers who are coding the seemingly-infinite stream of casual titles for the ever-hungry global market. I don’t mean to be endlessly-negative (I CAN’T HELP IT), but there’s a core truth here about the mechanics of the creative industries at scale which doesn’t feel much like the proposed sunlit uplands of the creator economy we were all promised.
  • TikTokTranscription: One of the core realities of The Now which is yet to be fully accepted or codified seems to be something like ‘every magical technological advance (often with AI at its heart) has a significant degree of (often very cheap) human labour underpinning it which you’re encouraged to ignore or not think about’ – this is another wonderful example, this time focusing on TikTok and its translation software, and how said software is being trained and calibrated by the less-than-minimum-wage labour of all sorts of people in the developing and second world. The piece looks specifically at workers in Brazil, transcribing the audio from TikToks to help assess the quality of the company’s own automated translation and transcription services, and getting paid as little as $0.70 per hour for the work. This is less a story about TikTok and more one about modern economics and labour practices, and the way in which technology companies often have a very vested interest in making us think that they’re all tech all the way, whereas in fact a lot of the time they are meat and gristle and exploitation.
  • Libertarian Honduras: Another Rest of World article, this one looking at Silicon Valley’s latest attempt to create a self-governing utopian libertarian paradise (words that, despite the best efforts of Randian supermen, continue to appear to not work at all in conjunction with each other), this time in Honduras. There is SO MUCH in here to boggle/gawp at, but the overall theme – that some of the richest people that have ever existed continue to firmly believe that they should be able to exist in market-driven societies free of the petty governmental dictats that constrain more ordinary mortals – is a slightly-miserable one. It may not surprise you to learn that the project in question doesn’t appear to have been a…vast success for the Honduran people who live in proximity to it.
  • Pandemic Nostalgia: When I was young – cue wavy-lined flashbacks to an era in which you could smoke anywhere and noone cared about anything and you could still buy speed for £5 a gram and OH THE MEMORIES – it felt very much like there was an accepted 20-year nostalgia cycle; the kids of the 80s rediscovered the 60s, my generation spent a not-inconsiderable part of the mid-90s seemingly in thrall to the disco era of the 70s (if I could be bothered I would attempt to draw some sort of throughline between this and the boom in modern cocaine usage, but, well, I can’t)…now, of course, we are already nostalgic for this morning (things were just BETTER then, ok), which is why you see articles like this, seeking to explain the fact that people are already exhibiting nostalgic symptoms for a year ago. Whether or not you believe pandemic nostalgia is a thing is up to you, but I do sort-of buy the central thesis here that the sudden contraction of opportunity has meant that people are reacting oddly to its sudden reintroduction (albeit opportunities that may now look slightly different to those that existed 18m ago) and perhaps feel somewhat overwhelmed by it and have a slight desire to go back to the safe, warm, cocoonlike state when you had to stay indoors and so didn’t have the chance to have to choose.
  • Social Media and Mental Health: Or, as my notes put it, “Mental health, categories and the modern web” – this piece discusses the need for categorisation and self-diagnosis extending to the field of mental health, and the self-pathologisation that occurs as a result, when everyone sees everything as indicative of some sort of emotional or psychological condition, and each condition is a badge of belonging to a specific community or subculture. “Take, for instance, generalized anxiety disorder, which hinges on what a patient or doctor decides is an “excessive” amount of a fundamental human emotion. Diagnoses like this are left relatively vague to account for individuals’ ability to function in society and the amount of suffering their anxiety causes, but online, they can sometimes be used as throwaway terms. “For some people, especially when you’re young, there is a bit of a pull to join a group. And the group of people with social anxiety or depression feels like one you can easily join,”” I give it approximately ~3m before a savvy social media strategy takes advantage of this for a brand, like Steak Umms dialed up to 17.
  • 15-Minute Groceries: THE frothy category in VC at the moment (joke! They are all frothy categories in VC at the moment! Should any bored investors fancy dumping a spare million into the Web Curios project – INFORMATION AS A SERVICE!!! – then I am open to offers) is localised, ultrafast delivery services, promising to bring fags, skins and 24 cans of cornershop lager to your door at 5am in 15m flat because your jaws are all working like tumbledryers and you can’t possibly face the nice man at the cornershop in that state. This article looks at the business model that underpins these businesses and asks whether they can in fact work at scale when the VC money finally runs out (spoiler: they can’t) – aside from the economics of these services, there’s an interesting argument running through the article about what services such as these would do to the experience of living in densely-populated urban areas were they to take off (nothing good, basically).
  • A Week in Lagos: I am fascinated by megacities, and Lagos may be the most fascinating of all – this article in De Spiegel is a photoessay focusing on how water plays a central role in the city’s geography and the lives of its residents, and once again paints a picture of what sounds like the most scifi-adjacent place in the world right now (I mean ‘scifi’ in the Gibsonian sense rather than in the space operatic sense, fwiw).
  • FicTok: Or, fictional TikTok – that peculiar section of the app which features people performing as characters, so embodying, I don’t know, ‘boujie home counties girl’, or ‘sports lad’ or ‘rich person’s butler’, as part of their schtick on the app – and the weird side-effect of the apps complete lack of any sort of context for the content it serves you meaning that it’s increasingly hard to tell who’s doing a ‘bit’ vs who’s actually being themselves (and one might argue that the central conceit of TikTok is that it’s all a ‘bit’, but then that raises its own questions). There’s going to be a properly good fiction delivered through TikTok before too long – in fact it’s probably already happening in a corner of the app I’m not aware of – but whether anyone knows that that’s what it is will be interesting to see. LonelyGirl15, anyone?
  • Dwarf Fortress: Dwarf Fortress is one of the most astonishing videogame projects currently happening – an incredible self-produced labour of love game which lets you simulate the lives (and civilisation, and history, and mythology) of a group of Dwarves, across generations and dynasties, struggling to stay alive in a harsh and brutal fantasy world. Oh, and it’s all presented via a largely-impenetrable system of ASCII characters and super-complex menus. Much like Eve Online it’s a game I will almost certainly never play but which I could read about endlessly because of the fascinating way in which its systems work for the development of emergent narratives – I promise you that if you read this you too will become fascinated by a game in which it is entirely possible to lose an entire generation of characters because of one minor Dwarf’s longstanding genetic antipathy towards coriander (I am only slightly exaggerating).
  • Salt Bae: Making fun of Nusret Gökçe is simultaneously very easy and very pointless – like he cares what I think of him, he’s a tiny Instaplutocrat and has the world’s famous queueing up to demonstrate their lack of culinary discernment and incredibly-deep pockets. Still, this short profile in the generally-execrable AirMail is a beautifully-measured takedown, with the sort of lightly-arched eyebrow that marks the very best stiletto-to-the-ribs written bodying.
  • The TV Translator: You are, I presume, watching the Korean murder game show (is it good? It doesn’t matter, I don’t have Netflix so it’s a moot point), and you may have seen the Tweet this week suggesting that if you’re not watching it in Korean you’re basically watching a different show due to infelicities in the translation. This piece, written by a translator who does the job of writing the subtitles and the dubbing scripts for adaptations such as Squid Game, offers a fascinating window into the process – the need to ensure that dubs match as closely as possible the mouth movements of actors, the difficulty in translating culturally-specific references in a way that make sense for a local audience whilst retaining the spirit of the original… this is really interesting and will give you an enhanced level of respect for the people making the latest international megasmash consumable across language barriers.
  • The Bad Art Friend: Yes, it’s the kidney story. You’ve seen the discourse, but have you read the article? It’s actually a far more interesting story than you’d glean from reading the endless streams of recycled analysis currently clogging up Twitter – the basic question at the heart of it is the same as was central to the Cat Person expose’ earlier this year (to whit, to what extent can authors take from real life in pursuit of their writing, and if they do how ought they deal with the real lives they are using as inspiration?), but this is FAR juicier insofar as everyone in this story comes across reasonably-badly. Noone, though, quite as badly as the person who pitched the story to the NYT in the first place – this, in Gawker, is quite the kicker.
  • Rain Falling In The Pines: We finish the longreads this week with a couple of pieces of short fiction. The first is by Lavie Tidhar, one of the most interesting genre authors writing in English today imho – Tidhar’s scifi is WEIRD and literary and experimental and has lots of big ideas and also some utterly mad ones (‘A Man Lies Dreaming’ is quite the thing, for example), and always lots of fun. This short is a noir-ish, slightly hardboiled story about smuggling tech, in a future in which homosapiens exist alongside the genetically reengineered neanderthal community – so imaginative, and so tightly-written, this is really very good.
  • The Every: This is an excerpt from David Eggers’ sequel to The Circle (a book which is I think better than history seems to remember it as being, if that makes any sense), about a company which is basically Google and Amazon rolled into one. You may not think you want to read another piece about how TECH IS SCARY and BIG CORPORATIONS ARE BAD (after all, uh, you’re coming to the end of a Curios and so it’s not like those themes aren’t a bit front-of-mind right now), but this is charmingly horrible, in an appallingly-recognisable sort of way, and will give you pleasing little frissons of future-but-actually-nowhorror every few words or so.

By Samantha Schneider


Webcurios 01/10/21

Reading Time: 34 minutes

It has been a long week, and a touch on the emotionally draining side. I’m wrung out from the horrors of coping with Italian bureaucracy – who knew that ‘incorrectly stapled documents’ could be a potentially insurmountable barrier to a citizenship application? NO FCUKER! – and, honestly, it’s all I can do to pen a few cursory words up-top here to introduce you to this week’s (slighly malodorous, poorly-presented, cut-price) smorgasbord of clicky delights.

AND YET! There are as per usual some gems in here – equally typically, though, they’re all presented in such a way so as to make it really hard for you to work out what’s good and what’s just ‘a bit niche’. Still, this is the Dark Bargain that you make with Web Curios (or at least one of the Dark Bargains – I don’t like to talk about the other one, but trust me that you’ll know when the time comes), so I presume you’ve come to terms with it by now.

Happy Friday to all of you – I hope that the weekend brings at least a bit of respite from all of the things that are happening.

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and you are still very, very welcome.

By Lenz Geerk



  • Pyramid4Ever: There has been a limited amount of good gags and satire about NFTs (that I’ve seen, at least), mainly because anything which involves people punting 4/5/+ figures on increasingly-shonky-looking avatars (Look! Here’s a Lindsay Lohan fursona! Bidding starts at £1500! It’s…really badly drawn!) is pretty far down the line towards self-parody already. Pyramid4Ever did make me laugh, though, mainly as it nails the breathlessly-utopian style (and somewhat nebulous relationship with any conceivable reality) of much of the best (worst) NFTwank. “Welcome to Pyramid NFT, the world-first platform unlocking digital eternal life by turning its members into NFTs. Entirely powered by human energy, Pyramid offers a one-time opportunity to enable your immortal virtual avatar, living 4 ever in the lockchain. Its members will also unlock exclusive access to an ambitious collection of post-reality content & benefits to be released on a regular basis.” Now, you read that and you think ‘yes, haha, how silly!’, but close readers of Curios (oh God, I am writing to myself again, aren’t I?) will remember the various projects featured here this year with similarly grandiose claims, including the one that offered to MAKE AN NFT OUT OF YOUR PERSONALITY FOR POST-MORTEM NON-FUNGIBLE LOLS, and this starts to look more an more on-the-nose.
  • The Etsy House: It’s CHRISTMAS! Or at least it is in retail-land and has been since about July, and we’re just starting to catch up with capitalism. In an attempt to get us to spend money we possibly don’t have on domestic tat we don’t need, cutesy eBay (AKA Etsy) has launched this VIRTUAL HOUSE, which lets you walk through a tastefully-appointed home in classic Google StreetView style, with everything on display being clickable and shoppable (from Etsy, obvs) – so you too can replicate the impeccable aesthetic of what appears to be a house from a reality TV show. I understand what they’re attempting to do here, but some light criticism if I may (it’s my newsletterblogtypething, and I absolutely SHALL!) – firstly, in an era of streaming shopping and the daily evolution of on-platform sales on TikTok, Insta et al, this feels a little bit like something from 5 years ago, a bit like the continual (and continually ineffectual) attempts to Make Virtual Art Galleries Happen; secondly, I thought Etsy was all craft and and artisans and stuff, and if that’s the case why in the name of Christ have they used a house that looks almost exactly like the sort of venue where reality TV gets filmed? You can absolutely imagine a dozen or so tanned, veneered people sitting in that garden, flexing tits and pecs and teeth at each other whilst nervously-imagining the brief halcyon period of sponcon deals and nightclub appearances that await them. Still, if you want your Christmas to look like, I don’t know, ‘The Ex on the Beach Xmas Reunion SPECIAL!’ then this might work for you.
  • Proxi: I don’t normally feature videogame-type stuff up top here, least of all stuff about real, actual videogames that cost money, but this is so baffling that it’s worth a look. Proxi is a recently-announced title by Will Wright, who’s a proper visionary designer and the person who created Sim City, The Sims (and, less-excitingly, Spore), and which sounds equal parts fascinating, baffling and nonsensical. Proxi is being billed as “a game of self-discovery, a game where we actually uncover the hidden you – your subconscious, your inner ID, and bring it to the surface, bring it to life so you can interact with it, you can play with it, you can learn from it and it can learn about you.” Seemingly the ‘game’ involves building a sort of digital memory palace representation of yourself, your memories and…your personality(?), which you can then let loose in the virtual world to interact with the memories and personalities of other people (on the website there is a reference to ‘finding out who Karl Marx’s best friend was’ which is possibly the most grandiose pull-quote I have ever seen about a videogame). Honestly, this makes VERY little sense at present, but I am including it in part because it sounds fascinating-if-abstract, and the idea of creating some sort of unique…representation of the self? from in-game assets is intriguing (if somewhat daunting – HOW AM I MEANT TO CAPTURE THE MAGNIFICENCE OF ALL THIS IN MERE PIXELS?? Ahem). Oh, and, er, IT WILL ALL BE ON THE BLOCKCHAIN! Yes, sadly, amongst all of this slightly-abstract and rather fun-sounding gamechat is also the promise that this will exist…ON THE BLOCKCHAIN! Actually, NFT-skepticism aside, there’s something interesting about the idea of keeping a permanent record of such personal digital creations but, well, also I don’t trust anyone screaming about NFTs at the moment and so I am a bit wary. Anyway, this may well disappear forever in a puff of smoke, but it’s worth keeping an eye on as it could be a fascinating project. We said that about Spore, though, and look how that turned out.
  • Mr Goxx: This, though, is the acceptable face of crypto. What could be cuter than a hamster who’s trading ETH? NOTHING! To quote the project owner, “Mr. Goxx is a hamster living in a loving and caring environment. Unlike other hamsters, he owns a fully automated high-tech trading office, directly connected to his normal hamster-friendly home (he can enter and leave it whenever he wants). By running in the wheel, Mr. Goxx is able to select certain assets and by entering one of the tunnels, he decides whether to place a buy or sell order, which is then sent over to a real trading platform via API (yes, real money involved).” This is not, it’s fair to say, hugely compelling entertainment, at least not in the conventional sense – at most you’ll get to see a hamster rootling about in its cage while some numbers go up or down, but I love the fact that this is possible. At the time of writing, Mr Goxx is slightly up on his initial stake, suggesting (as we all know deep down) that most trading is literally luck – I do hope all the people in the chat asking questions like ‘when is Mr Goxx minting his own coin?’ are joking, though, as otherwise I feel they’re missing the joke somewhat. I would like to see a brand take this as inspiration and then go BIG on it – why not scale up? Get a cow representing Anchor to trade on the FTSE based on its bowel movements! Get an actual bulldog to make punts on derivatives for Churchill, picking buys based on whichever chew-toy it savages at any given moment! Come on, this is all GOLDEN.
  • Plantlife: Yeah, we’re definitely in a slightly odd period where people have decided that new social platforms have a vague chance of succeeding – witness this BRAND NEW app, currently iOS-only, called Plantlife, a social network for plant enthusiasts. Did you get into horticulture over the past 18m? Are you now closer to your plants that any of the ‘colleagues’ you’ve barely seen since March 2020? Are they starting to talk back? Plantlife lets you create a profile for yourself and your plants, post photos and connect with other green-fingered people from around the world to discuss all things horticultural – to connect with other ‘Gardenistas’, as the app would have it (a strong contender for the worst word I have heard all year, so thanks for that, Plantlife!). Interestingly there seems to be an attempt to create some sort of celebrity aura around, er, ‘Plant Coaches’ who the app is seemingly trying to set up as some sort of Peloton-adjacent personality cult leaders – not quite sure that the same sort of devotional obsession is going to spring up around someone who reminds you to water your Gardenias as someone who gives you rock-hard glutes, but what do I know (rhetorical)? Anyway, if you like plants and want to make friends with OTHER people who like plants, then ENJOY!
  • Text Files: Oh wow, PROPER internet history, this. Text Files is a repository of old, er, text files, culled from bulletin boards in the VERY early years of the web (we’re talking 80s and early-90s here), covering an incredible range of topics (there’s a lot of sex, obvs, but also phone hacking – phreaking, in the parlance of THE PAST – and religion and UFOs and survivalist stuff and and and and). The age and the breadth of this means that I can’t guarantee that there won’t be some awful stuff in there, but, well, that’s the internet, innit. There’s an interesting general point here about the web and how it has scaled – I wonder whether at the time a non-online observer might have looked at this and thought ‘yes, fine, this is all VERY fringe content being posted by some pretty marginal weirdos, but when this ‘internet’ thing takes off and more normal people start using it then the general tenor of the whole thing will calm down slightly and become a little less swivel-eyed’. HOW NAIVE! Anyway, this is like a time machine into a past which is simultaneously weird and awful and strangely appealing – classic Curios, really.
  • Richard Herring Bot: Comedian Richard Herring does a podcast thing where he has a ‘thing’ whereby he has a list of ‘emergency questions’ he asks guests if the chat’s stagnating; Rob Manuel, of B3ta and Fesshole fame, has made a bot which takes that idea and those emergency questions and engages in light conversation with people on Twitter around them. This is in-part moderately funny – a bot asking the world whether anyone has met Brian Blessed is the sort of thing I find gently-amusing, not sure why – but also quite interesting psychologically; people actually reply to the questions, despite knowing full well they are being asked by a bot, which makes the whole thing significantly more engaging and also makes me fascinated as to what what prompts people to have a conversation about the meaning of love with a few lines of code.
  • Gucci Burst: A quick break, now, for some BRANDED GAMEPLAY EXPERIENCE! You play as, er, a shoe, travelling down a tunnel, trying to avoid stuff for as long as possible by swiping up or down on your phone. That’s literally it – very much the ‘will this do? I can’t be bothered any more’ of modern gamedesign, this, but the visual style is rather lovely with its bold block colours. A pleasing way of passing a couple of minutes while you try and guess how much money whichever agency it was who made this charged Gucci for the privilege.
  • Datafruits: An internet radio station! Just like it’s 15 years ago! As far as I can tell this is all programmed by ACTUAL people, and I have been listening to it intermittently this week with growing pleasure – they play some QUITE ODD stuff, but it’s all the better for it, and there’s (I think) a record label attached to it, and basically this is the sort of bedroom-y enterprise I can absolutely get behind (please don’t let it be a front for a major label or something, I would be tremendously upset).
  • The Old Web Curios Image Archive: I was fiddling around with somethingin Google this week and came across the photos which are associated with my Google account – there are fcuk all (I don’t really do photography), but, for reasons I still don’t quite understand, there was a whole folder filled with 800+ images which I had used in Curios over a…4 year period back in the day? I honestly have no idea when these are from, but I think probably between about 2013 and 2015/6 judging by some of the themes. This is, I have to say, very weird indeed – when I put the images I don’t really give much (if any – CURATION!!) thought to what they are or how they fit together, but seeing this many in one place really does make clear that there are certain…themes and…styles that I obviously had some sort of affinity with over that period of my life and, er, I’m not sure that these say anything great about me, if I’m totally honest. Mouths and pale, slightly corpselike flesh and obscured faces and what was that Dr Freud? Anyway, have a bit of a wander through a visual representation of my psyche from the mid-teens! Please don’t think less of me.
  • Telfar TV: Fashion label Telfar is apparently VERY HYPEY right now – this is an interesting bit of marketing from them, which is in part MEDIA EMPIRE stuff and in part a smart way of stopping bots from snapping up new stock for the resale market. Telfar TV is an online stream of…stuff, the gimmick being that it’s like public access cable insofar as anyone can submit video to be featured on the platform. Among the UGC stuff (I have only seen a couple of things and they are…I mean, look, let’s just say there was a STRONG AESTHETIC and if I were more inclined to look at video art then maybe I would have appreciated it more) will be scattered occasional QR codes which act as gateways to buy limited merch drops, in smart, bot-proof style. This is a super-interesting idea, which will almost certainly die a death based on a lack of people submitting content – still, a nice PR stunt if nothing else.
  • Brave: Brave is an app which self-describes as ‘by drug users, for drug users’ – it’s a US initiative which is designed to enable drug users to find people to talk to about what they are going through, putting them in touch with others who will understand what they are going through at any given moment. Specifically, the app “connects app users with someone who can send help while using drugs alone. Users set up an overdose plan that puts them in control, detailing how, when, and who is sent for help; supporters activate the plan if an overdose is detected.” Bleak but also practically useful – the idea of peer-to-peer support networks like this is a smart one, I think, regardless of the specific area around which that support is provided.
  • AI Monsters: This is a quite remarkable Twitter thread of 3d monster models generated from text prompts by AI. Want to see what a machine imagines when you tell it to create a textured model of a “giant demon devil, its head is a horned skull with burning evil red eyes”? OF COURSE YOU DO! This is very fun (and not actually scary, don’t worry!) and whilst the outputs here all look like something made by a not-particularly-skilled Quake modder, you can quickly get an idea of the sort of amazing results that will be possible in a few years’ time when game designers can spin up a whole world of NPCs with a few well-chosen phrases like this. IMAGINE GTA6, when you will be able to spawn an entire Los Santos full of, say, ‘COVID-denying Tommy Robinson fans’ and gun them all down. Who says the future is colossal and jagged and terrifying?
  • Topia: Now that we’re over a year on from The Big Lockdown and we can all look back with a degree of objectivity, what do we think has really changed? Aside, of course, from several generations being slapped in the face with the concept of their own fundamental mortality and fragility, obvs. It’s still slightly hard to gauge the extent to which the shift to online socialising will stick, if at all – the move towards less presenteeism in the workplace looks like it’s thankfully here to stay, but I am not convinced that any non-game experiments in digital socialising really succeeded in a way that will cause them to persist. Which is all by way of long preamble to introducing Topia, which is a free-to-use platform offering all that sort of ‘have an avatar! Wander around a customisable virtual world! Talk to people with videochat and spatial audio! Cowork, share ideas, collaborate, CREATE!’-type stuff that was very much in vogue 12m ago. Whether you need or want this or whether you will get on with the software depends very much on the sort of person, people or team you are – I can’t help but think that appetite for this sort of stuff is necessarily a bit niche, and that until we get to the point whereby the Fortnite generation is all working then most people won’t quite ‘get’ this sort of virtual world interaction – by which point there will be vastly more sophisticated solutions than this for us to play in. Still, if you are the sort of person whose friends or colleagues might actually enjoy running your jellybean-looking avatars around a virtual meadow while you have your morning catch-up meeting then this might be of interest.
  • Patera: Have you ever looked at a Word document and thought ‘man, I wished that worked more like Excel!’? No, I can’t for a second imagine that you have – still, if you’re interesting in exploring your appetite for exactly such a thing then you might want to check out Patera, which basically lets you make all the numbers in a document dynamic, supported by Excel-like formulas running somewhere in the background which effectively mean that you can insert figures into documents which will then be live and interactive – so, for example, you could include some financial modelling and allow users to see how results change based on input volumes, for example. It’s easier to understand if you click the website, honest – but if you’re working on documentation which might benefit from the inclusion of live data and a degree of interactivity then take a look.
  • Descript: This is not the first software like this I have seen or featured in here, but it’s absolutely the version with the best intro videos – seriously, these are really nicely made, and if you take nothing else from this link it should be ‘how to make a pleasing pitch video for your product that makes the viewer – specifically, me – warm to you’. That said, the product is pretty cool too (and has a free tier) – Descript lets you upload video or audio, creates a transcript of said video or audio using AI, and edit said video or audio by editing the text. So imagine that this paragraph was me talking at you, and you could excise huge swathes of my annoying chat from the recording by just deleting a line here or there – clever, right? Obviously the problem with this is that the transcription is NEVER as good as the pitch vids make out, which makes the whole process significantly-less seamless than they would like you to think, but it’s still VERY COOL and certainly a plausible version of how all this sort of stuff will one day work when the tech catches up with the ambition.
  • Graphic Design History Resources: This is such a great resource compiled by Alistair Hall, a lecturer at London Metropolitan University (amongst other things) – to quote, “One of the things I’ve noticed each year…is that students often struggle when it comes to finding useful places to look for inspiration when they search online. If you’re new to design, it can be hard to filter, to work out what you should really be looking at. The problem seems to be the massive gravity of Google Image Search and Pinterest, which exerts a pull that students find hard to escape. Of course, you can find good stuff on both those platforms, but you can also find a lot of bad stuff (and an increasing amount of ‘promoted’ paid for stuff). And you’re more likely to be looking at contemporary work rather than historical – which is a bit like studying Fine Art and only being aware of work by contemporary artists. With that in mind, I thought it might be useful to pull together a list of some really great graphic design archives and resources – mainly historical, but some contemporary.” SO INTERESTING, so many great links to so many great archives – honestly, if you have any interest in design and its history and evolution, this is a wonderful resource and timesink.
  • The Walkman Archive: You want a website compiling and celebrating the history of the Walkman? YES YOU DO! This is GREAT, featuring photography, links to other Walkman-philic websites, images of the Walkman in films (Baby Driver is the last one cited), articles about the Walkman, links to Walkman enthusiast forums (STILL ACTIVE, god I love niche internet communities so much) and much more besides. It is possibly unlikely that you are sufficiently interested in Walkmen to ever get to the bottom of this site, but I hope that perhaps there is one of you for whom this is like home.
  • Enbiggen: My current favourite TikTok account. You will have seen the ‘Jurassic Park with rubber chickens’ video, but every single thing on here is a work of creative and audio and CG genius. So so so so clever.

By Mark Harris



  • The Faith In Humanity Score: Society seems pretty much divided on the question of ‘how things are going right now’ – half of us subscribe to the Pinker-ish utopianism that suggest that all the stats suggest things are GETTING BETTER ALL THE TIME BY EVERY MEASURABLE METRIC and that as such we all ought to just get on enjoying the fruits of late-period capitalism (electronic gewgaws! The web! Soylent!) and quit our whinging, and half of us more inclined to look out the window and then batten down the hatches in preparation for what looks like the coming apocalypse. WHO TO BELIEVE? If you’re struggling to work out whether the general trend is upwards or downwards (Web Curios suggest you might want to trust your emotional inner ear here), though, you may find the Faith In Humanity Score a useful barometer – this is a website which lets visitors simply click up or click down to indicate whether they feel positively about *gestures* all this and the way it’s heading. You can vote once per day – at the time of writing, the counter is pretty heavily skewed towards the positive with a whopping +11,083 score which indicates everything is going JUST SWIMMINGLY! So that’s ok then! Feel free to use this next time someone tries to suggest that things are maybe less than peachy – FIE ON YOU, DOOMSAYERS!
  • The Worst Tweet Ever Championship: Of course, you may be motivated to recalibrate your opinion of The World once you’ve read through these. Scriptwriter Mike Benner has this week been running a series of Twitter polls to get a definitive answer to the burning question ‘what’s the worst thing anyone has ever said on Twitter, ever?’ – at the time of writing we’re coming to the end, but this thread takes you through all of the voting and is a wonderful time capsule of the very oddest and most unhinged things that have ever been posted on what users affectionately term ‘the hellsite’. Benner acknowledges that a few of these were probably jokes to start off with (Kevin Smith’s infamous ‘taint’ tweet being the ur-example), but there are enough that were obviously meant sincerely to make this whole thing worth reading, specifically for examples of the very particular style of centrist cringe that Twitter so often embodies. If anything beats the ‘Ruthkanda’ tweet I will eat my hat, but I think my personal favourite might be Keemstar’s ‘Israel and Palestine just need to listen to more John Lennon’ number which, honestly, is perhaps the pinnacle of human thought to this juncture.
  • The Miniature Walling Festival: Dry-stone walling isn’t the sort of thing that tends to cop up that often in Web Curios, which is a shame as it’s sort-of fascinating (HOW DO THE STONES STAY IN PLACE???) – the Dry Stone Walling Association of Ireland (there is such an organisation, I learned this week) is currently running a contest inviting people to submit photographs of their miniature efforts to build TINY WALLS out of stone, and this is a gallery of submissions to last year’s contest and dear God these are SO CUTE and so incredibly impressive. My personal favourite picture is of Karl, who has inexplicably decided to craft a pair of dry-stone walls to encompass what look like a pair of Madeira cakes – God knows why, but the dedication to the craft here is admirable.
  • The Sporting Fashion Guide: This is the catalogue for an exhibition of sporting fashion for women from the 19th and 20th century, published by the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in California – if you have ever wanted to see what was considered the height of fashion for female tennis players in the 1880s, say, or for the well-dressed ice-skating woman in the 1870s then this is the collection for YOU. So much wonderful fashion design here, although the main question in my mind as I scrolled through the outfits was ‘how the fcuk did these people still have time to practice the sport in question given the fact that putting one of these costumes on would have taken the best part of 6 hours?’. My personal favourite is the rider on p23 – such a natty check! – but please pick your own (and ideally consider adopting it as daywear).
  • Murder She Bet: Given that True Crime podcasts and TikTok have seemingly turned everyone into amateur detectives in 2021, what better way to celebrate that than by introducing an element of light competition into your viewing of murder mystery-based films or TV shows? Murder She Bet is a little website that lets you create competitive games around a shared watching of, say, Murder She Wrote (DO YOU SEE?) – players each sign in, add suspects to the ‘board’ as the show progresses, place bets on who they think the murderer is, and then get rewarded with PRIZES (totally imaginary prizes of fake internet money) at the end. You could, of course, spice this up by using this as a way of playing with actual cash and rinsing your family based on your ability to predict which cardigan-wearing village dweller is in fact a secret eviscerator – I rather like the idea of starting a competitive Midsomer Murders league using this.
  • Borogrove: This is a platform for hosting and playing interactive fiction games, made in a variety of languages including Twine and the rest of the popular ones – there are only a few on here at the moment, but it’s worth bookmarking if you’re interested in the medium as it looks like it could become an interesting repository of this sort of work.
  • The Furry Archive: The arc of popular online opinion about Furries and the general world of Furry Fandom is a fascinating one – starting out as a punchline, featured on CSI, and then slowly but surely becoming a reasonably-accepted part of online culture with a growing reputation for being inclusive, accepting and perhaps unexpectedly-progressive (aside from the occasional nazi). This is the Internet Archive record of ‘furry’ tagged content, which is a really interesting selection of content (videos, podcasts, photos, convention texts, etc) which chart some of the ways in which furry culture has presented itself over the years. Genuinely curious stuff, and pleasingly light on the yiffing (yes, yes, I know, not all furries want spaff all over their plush coats, but, well, it’s the yiffing that people think of, isn’t it?).
  • Earth Eclipsed: Earth Eclipsed is a podcast series which isn’t really a podcast series – in the sense that when I think ‘podcast’ I think ‘two or three university-educated people having poorly-edited conversations that are significantly less funny or interesting than they seem to believe’, whereas this is basically a radio play, being released episodically in podcast form. The setup is a scifi mystery, but I can’t tell you much more than that as there’s only one episode currently available to stream – there looks to be money behind this, though, so I am reasonably confident that it won’t disappear halfway through – the voice acting is…ok (look, I am someone who occasionally listens to the afternoon play on Radio4, so it’s not like my standards are super-high) and the audio production is generally far better than you’d expect from a podcast, and I’m intrigued with what they are trying to do in terms of the pseudo-high-end nature of the product. Worth a look, either for those of you who want some episodic audio scifi in your lives or simply for anyone curious as to what people are trying to do with the medium.
  • The Flower Letters: Thanks Rina for sending me this, which is a lovely idea and a really interesting storytelling project. The Flower Letters sells itself thusly: “Have you ever wanted to be a fly on the wall during a significant event in history? Ever had the pleasure of hearing the first-hand account of someone’s mysterious adventure? Have you ever indulged in the guilty pleasure of eavesdropping (accidentally, of course) on the conversation between two lovers? We have! And there’s definitely nothing more interesting and personal than getting to experience all of the above through a handwritten letter.” You sign up for a 12m story, which gets you 24 letters, delivered monthly, that tell you the story of a love affair or adventure in epistolary correspondence – I can’t vouch for the quality of the stories or the writing, but I adore the fact that this exists and the commitment it takes to produce. Unfortunately it’s a US project and so therefore you have to trust the international postal system to deliver if you’re not an American resident, but this feels like something that could make a perfect present for a friend or loved one who’s of a romantic bent. I would love to see this repurposed for a big fictional property – this feels like the sort of thing that would be a wonderful fandom-rewarding promo for a new series of some 80s-set Netflix series, for example (and yes, I am aware how miserable it is that that is where my brain immediately took this).
  • Openmoji: Open source emoji. Thousands of the bstard things! Want a massive variety of emoji covering every single possible emotion that you can conceive of, every animal or food or drink under the sun (I exaggerate for effect, but not that much)? GREAT! HERE YOU ARE!
  • The Flickr Foundation: Flickr is an interesting oddity in modern web culture – longstanding and hugely-significant in terms of the way in which we have come to think of images and photography and the visual commons online, but also strangely marginalised in the current digital image ecosystem with the primacy of Insta and Pinterest’s seemingly-unbreakable stranglehold over Google Images. The Flickr Foundation is a new initiative by the company established for the following purpose: “We believe the establishment of a non-profit Flickr Foundation will combine with Flickr to properly preserve and care for the Flickr Commons archive, support Commons members to collaborate in a true 21st-century Commons, and plan for the very long-term health and longevity of the entire Flickr collection. We’re also in the early stages of imagining other educational and curatorial initiatives to highlight and share the power of photography for decades to come.” If you have any interest in the ways in which we preserve photographic culture online in a manner that is both useful and culturally sensitive, or if you’re curious about long-term strategies for better digital archiving and curation, this is worth a look.
  • The Submarine Cable Map: Does anyone else find it frankly mind-bending that the internet is in part powered by massive thick fibreoptic cables that sit on the ocean floor being occasionally bothered by odd, eyeless fish with unpleasantly-gelatinous skeletons? No? Just me then, which is perhaps why I found this map of where all the undersea internet and telecommunications infrastructure cabling sits so interesting. I wonder how long it is before there’s an incident of physical digital terrorism, whereby some rogue actor or bellicose state sends a sub down with a big pair of shears and an order to ‘fcuk some sh1t up’?
  • American Prison Newspapers: Wonderful social history here, in this archive or newspapers produced by prisoners at US correctional facilities since 1800. These are all PDFs and so a bit clunky to browse, but it’s worth a bit of patience because honestly there is some truly wonderful stuff in here; reviews of prison concerts, chaplain’s letters, correspondence pages from lags in other jails across the county…as a piece of social history tracking the changing nature of the US penal system, this is unparalleled.
  • A Wide World Of Sad Songs: Facebook is awful, I know, I know. Still, it does have some uses – such as this EXCELLENT Group, which exists to share sad songs with its members. Not only are these songs INCREDIBLY MISERABLE, they are also often very obscure – I had never heard of the 1929 weepy masterpiece ‘Painting The Clouds With Sunshine’ (lol) before, for example, but am now thrilled that I know of its existence (he says, typing through the tears). If you’re of a miserablist bent and fancy a bit of a tearful singalong, or want to get new gems for your next ‘romantic’ mixtape (DON’T DO IT), then this could be your new ‘happy’ place on the internet. This is a VERY active community, so if you join I’d suggest turning off the alerts unless you want to be pinged at 4am with the news that someone in Jakarta has linked to some classic weepy angklung bangers.
  • Party Is Such Sweet Sorrow: Taking this week’s coveted ‘the game that closes out the miscellaneous links’ slot is this WONDERFUL point-and-click adventure made by VICE for…reasons (do they still have VC money to burn through? Maybe that’s it), which channels the spirit of classic 90s adventure games along with some honestly fiendish puzzles. You are at a party. There is no visible door or window. How do you get out? Talk to everyone, play with the clock, enjoy the writing and the very tightly-plotted mindtwisters, and don’t be ashamed to google for hints when you get stuck (it is quite hard). If you ever played Maniac Mansion or similar then you’ll find yourself slipping back into that mindset reasonably quickly. More fun than whatever it is that your job is currently requiring of you, GUARANTEED.

By Thomas Lerooy



  • Fossil Brains: NOT ACTUALLY A TUMBLR! Still, it feels like one – this is the blog of someone who recreates ancient furnishings in the modern world – so if you’ve ever wanted to read about how exactly you go about recreating a several thousand year old stool using modern tools and techniques (and who doesn’t? NO FCUKER, that’s who!) then this will very much be your jam.
  • The Museum of Marketing Madness: Examples of the stupid things that result from (adver)marketing(pr) being an actual profession. Mainly US examples, but if you want a selection of terrible copy, bad three-word taglines (my current bete noir is ‘start your impossible’, fyi) and awful graphic design then this will very much satisfy you.
  • The Tumblr Sexypedia Wiki: There’s no question that Tumblr is very much THE platform when it comes to ‘people across the web exploring their sexuality, specifically when it comes to weirdly fetishising things that you never necessarily thought worth of fetishism’ – this is a Wiki which neatly proves that, being as it is ‘A crowdsourced project attempting to document, categorize, and explain characters that fall into the archetype of “tumblr sexyman”. “Cringe” is dead here. This wiki comes from a community that loves these characters, often coming from their respective fanbases. We study this phenomenon because it’s fun, to relive and share our experiences as people having fun on the internet.’ So, if you want a pretty exhaustive rundown of all the reasons why people want to bone the main character from ‘Castlevania’, or to read discussions with titles such as ‘literally any fnaf character would be keter’ (WHAT DOES THAT MEAN??? I am honestly too scared to click) then please, enjoy!


  •  Adnan Lotia: Album covers recreated in LEGO. Yes, I know, you have seen this sort of thing a million times before, but Lotia’s work is really impressive and has a pleasing sense of humour. Also, they have done ‘Joyride’ by Roxette which elevates this to God tier in my eyes.
  • Rozy.gram: Another virtual influencer, which came across my field of vision this week because its creators claim that the avatar has booked over $1m in sponsorship deals since its creation under a year ago, which, honestly, is an astonishing sum considering how long ago Lil Miquela came out, and how little mainstream traction these things still have. It’s worth taking a look – the tech is getting LOTS better, and while there’s still a significant whiff of ‘uncanny valley’ about the whole thing, these weird CG mannequins are getting better and less-creepy by the day (still a bit creepy, though).


  • Notes From The Metaverse: I heard a rumour yesterday that there are conversations happening within Channel 4 about a HOLLYOAKS METAVERSE which, honestly, I don’t actually think is being seriously discussed but which is such a beautiful illustration of where exactly we are on the hypebeast cycle at the moment. This is a series of observations on the current state of discussion around what a metaverse might be, how it might work, what it might look like and how it might intersect with modern media and markets – the central argument here (which I am summarising rather baldly, but which I would encourage you to engage with in full via the essay as, honestly, I am flattening it quite hard) is that the current conception of ‘the metaverse’ as defined by the main actors seeking to make it A Thing is heavily geared to words the commercialisation and commodification of EVERYTHING, and whilst that oughtn’t be a surprise exactly (hi, this is modernity, and have you met capitalism?) it’s worth a brief pause for thought. If the vision we are being sold of a virtual space in which we can embody ourselves in any way we see fit, with the possibility to interact with each other and the things we create in infinitely-elastic ways unfettered by the tedious bonds of ‘physicality’ is one in which the primary draw is (per this interview with Epic Games’ CEO Tim Sweeney) “an expansive, digitized communal space where users can mingle freely with brands and one another in ways that permit self-expression and spark joy”, shouldn’t we be asking ourselves whether a) that is something that any actual human being would desire (more joy-sparking brand interactions! demanded no human ever!); and b) whether we shouldn’t be asking for something more.
  • Regulating the Algorithm: As the fallout from the Facebook stuff continues and the company gets raked over the coals again by the US Senate (a gentle raking, performed by people who don’t really understand the concept of ‘burning’ or ‘fire’, seemingly), so inevitably we’re going to see a lot of chat from people about the need to REGULATE THE PLATFORMS, which, inevitably, also leads to a lot of chat about the need to REGULATE THE ALGORITHMS! Exactly what that might mean in practice is often ill-understood by the people doing the chatting, so it’s instructive to look at what China is currently attempting to do in terms of limiting the power of the private sector internet. This is a truly fascinating overview of the proposed measures the state apparatus is hoping to enact against private tech companies, including those designed to prevent apps from ‘engrossing or addicting their users’ (slight business model issues ahead, lads!) – the article offers a variety of opinions from various tech and China experts as to the likely success of the proposed legislation and the extent to which this sort of stuff will become the blueprint for future attempts to limit the effects of algorithmic manipulation on consumers. It’s worth bearing in mind, of course, that the Chinese proposals only apply to private actors – the state can, of course, use algorithms any damn way it wants.
  • Algorithm Magazine: Speaking of algorithms…This is Algorithm, a UK government publication designed to promote and showcase the latest thinking on algorithms and AI and all that jazz. Even if this isn’t usually your thing, I strongly advise you to click the link and if nothing else enjoy the frankly-schizophrenic visual design that’s on display here. How many fonts? ALL THE FONTS? What does ‘digital excellence’ look like? FCUK KNOWS BUT LET’S USE 95 DIFFERENT PAGE LAYOUTS! I feel mean mocking this, but, well, this smacks of being EXACTLY the sort of thing that I would produce were I asked to write a magazine about algoAIstuff by the UK Government and which I knew in my heart of hearts would be read by a grand total of about 200 people, tops.
  • The Meme Message: This is so impressive. What were YOU handing in when you were at University? If you were anything like me, the occasional poorly-plagiarised essay typed out between the hours of about 11-4am whilst using up the dregs of last week’s speed – kids today, though, do things differently. Taraneh Azar is ‘a fourth-year journalism and political science combined major at Northeastern University with an emphasis on viral content and online communities’ – this is a project of theirs on memes and meme culture, and they have made A WHOLE FCUKING WEBSITE and there are videos and pop-ups and dear God I am going to have to get rich quickly before the comparison between my ability and that of the coming generation becomes so stark as to render me unemployable. This is interesting, well-written and well-presented, and offers a decent overview of the role of memes and memetics in contemporary youth culture and media. If you’re a strategist-type person, this is the sort of thing that you can usefully lift citations from for WEEKS.
  • On The Internet We’re Always Famous: This has done the rounds a bit this week, but if you’ve not read it yet then it’s very much worth your time. Chris Hayes writes in the New Yorker about the way in which the modern internet panopticon and how it has basically transformed everyone into ‘stars’ and ‘stans’, and that the author has  ‘come to believe that, in the Internet age, the psychologically destabilizing experience of fame is coming for everyone. Everyone is losing their minds online because the combination of mass fame and mass surveillance increasingly channels our most basic impulses—toward loving and being loved, caring for and being cared for, getting the people we know to laugh at our jokes—into the project of impressing strangers, a project that cannot, by definition, sate our desires but feels close enough to real human connection that we cannot but pursue it in ever more compulsive ways.’ If any of you remember the piece from about 18m ago by Venkatesh Rao about ‘The Internet of Beefs’ in which everyone is either a ‘mook’ or a ‘knight’, this is an interesting parallel argument.
  • How To Deal With Criticism: I am not, it may not surprise you to learn, one for lists of tips and advice, platitudinous bromides detailing how to ‘find your calm’ or that jazz – and yet this, which is literally a list of 10 tips on how to deal with criticism, struck me as very much worth sharing. It’s by Ted Gioia, whose newsletter I have linked to in here before and who really is worth reading on almost anything to do with music, and it is, honestly, really sensible. It’s written for musicians, about criticism of their art, but it contains enough that’s general to make it useful for even those like me whose ears are tinny in the extreme. This in particular is something I probably ought to have tattooed on my arm for future reference: “you pay attention to the criticism, not because it defines you (it doesn’t), but because as a professional you responsibly deal with the consequences of your actions, whether deserved or not.”
  • Something Weird is Happening on Facebook: I don’t know if I believe this or not – and even if I do, I don’t know the extent to which it matters, insofar as I still believe that psychogeographic profiling is total magic beans – but it’s an interesting theory. Chris Ladd writes about how it’s entirely possible that the current trend towards open questions on high-engagement junk Facebook pages – you know, the ones that you’re half convinced are designed to trick you into revealing your password security questions – might in fact be a mass-scale attempt to create the same sort of vast datadump of personal information that was used by Cambridge Analytica to (let’s remember, not actually very usefully or effectively) attempt to influence elections around the world. So next time you see a FB post asking what sort of autumnal drink you prefer, know that it might well be a covert operation designed to make you vote Tory in 3 years’ time. Or something.
  • Working In VR: Now that Facebook has announced its miserable vision of the future of work (like being in an office…BUT IN VR!!!!), we can all start to look forward to this being part of our quotidian reality. What, though, is it like to experience the tedium of white collar employment in the exciting, futuristic medium of virtual reality? Well fortunately Paul Tomlinson has been working almost exclusively in VR for a few years, and has penned this exhaustive post explaining how it works and why it’s something that he feels positive about. It’s interesting, though personally at no point did I read any of this and think ‘yep, I definitely think that that would make the fundamentally pointless exercise of advising stupid people on their useless ‘communications strategies’ any less painfully awful’ – but maybe the problem’s not really with the kit so much as ME.
  • How The El Salvador Bitcoin Experiment Is Going: I don’t want to spoil this for you, but I think it’s safe to say that the jury is still out as to whether it was in fact a good idea for an entire small nation to pivot to crypto overnight.
  • Digitising Small Retailers In Indonesia: No, wait, come back! This is interesting, I promise you! Indonesia, as per much of East Asia, is home to a staggering number of small local shops which basically constitute a large part of the local urban economy – these shops are usually one-person concerns, and very much offline. Except, obviously, where there is a massive part of the economy there are also people looking to DISRUPT IT WITH DIGITAL! So to this article, which details some of the startups that are attempting to take a slice of the multimillion-size cornershop (not in any way an exact comparison, but you get what I mean) market in Indonesia via apps which enable the sellers to digitise their supplychains and offer additional digital-only services to customers. I love stuff like this – proper Gibsonian collisions between old world and new technology, all grubby and bitty and human.
  • The Tesla Beta Tester Army: Despite Elon’s promises, Tesla doesn’t appear to be significantly closer to the promised reality of FULLY SELF-DRIVING CARS than it was a couple of years ago. Still, that doesn’t stop the Muskian fan army widely proclaiming the vehicles to be on the cusp of practical sentience – this piece in VICE looks at how the Tesla testers, often recruited from the fandom, serve a dual purpose for the company, both as willing guineapigs for its nascent tech and as PR buffers against the online pushback that comes whenever some footage emerges of, I don’t know, one of their cars suddenly deciding that the pavement is in fact another traffic lane and a viable option for overtaking, never mind the pedestrians. Tesla=CULT, remember?
  • TikTok vs Science: I love this story – what happens when an ordinarily-niche platform for recruiting participants in behavioural studies research goes moderately viral on TikTok? A lovely little anecdote about the unintended consequences of virality.
  • A Pudenda By Any Other Name: Ok, that’s not the article’s actual title, but I prefer mine. A look at why the language that we use for things matters, and why the meaning of words is important – specifically with reference to the way in which certain parts of the female sexual apparatus carry legacy names which say a lot more about attitudes towards female sexuality back when they were named than they do about the thing that they are naming. The question at the heart of this is whether terms such as ‘pudenda’ ought to be retired – to which the obvious answer would seem to be to be ‘why the fcuk not?’, but which obviously are the subject of much debate because a) academia; and b) Twitter.
  • The Deepfake Cheerleader: I was really glad to be reminded of this one – remember earlier this year (was it this year? Honestly, time has still not returned to normal; it could literally be any point right now between about 2018 and 2027 as far as I’m concerned) when there was that story about the cheerleader’s mother who’d mounted a deepfake harassment campaign about her daughter’s squadmates? Of course you do! It made headlines around the world, which makes sense when you consider the insane collision between petty smalltown feuding (BEEF IN THE CHEERLEADING SQUAD!), mad parenting and scary tech. Except, of course, the story that did the rounds wasn’t perhaps entirely accurate, and there probably wasn’t a deepfake of anything at all. This is fascinating, not least because it accurately shows that the real danger of deepfakes is not in their ability to fool people (at least not yet) so much as their ability to make people question reality.
  • Radicalised Normal: The first of two pieces this week by Clive Martin, this is in The Face and is all about the odd and peculiarly-British nature of the current protest scene across the UK, and the very weird cross-section of society that seems to have congregated nationwide around…well, everything, really. Martin’s an astute observer of the strangeness of Englishness, and it’s quite hard to argue with the general theme of the piece, to whit: “There is a gamut of hysteria in this country that encompasses everything from village hall spiritualists to dressing your children up as Captain Tom, recreating a scene from the Battle of Passchendaele in your front garden, weeping and waving an EU flag in Parliament Square or ripping your shirt off and defending some long-ignored bronze bust of an East India Company trader. You don’t have to grow – or shave – your hair to be a weirdo anymore. Some of the hardest ideologies and maddest schools of thought are there, just waiting for you to come along and pick up a placard.”
  • Dan Savage: When I lived in Washington DC two decades ago (fcuk) I first discovered Dan Savage and his ‘Savage Love’ column in the local alternative freesheet in which it was syndicated, and it was amazing – I had never read anyone writing so frankly and humorously and scathingly about sexual practices and mores, and in a way so far removed from what was still a slightly schoolroomish vibe to so much sex writing in the UK. Over the course of the past 20 years, Savage has continued to be a popular voice in sex writing, but, as this interview makes clear, there’s a lot of what he wrote and advised in the past which doesn’t quite vibe with modern sensibilities. Savage isn’t as repentant as it’s clear large swathes of the web and certain elements of the queer community in particular would like him to be – regardless of your position on the specifics, this is a great interview with a complicated subject that does a good job of painting in quite specific strokes the general difficulty (never more keenly felt than now) of reconciling the person you were with the person you are and the person it is acceptable, currently, to be.
  • This Town Has Become A Museum: Andres Octavio is a Mexican American emigre’ to Italy, who writes here about the experience of living in a small, dying town which is just about clinging on. A small-but-beautiful essay, and a microcosmic evocation of what I feel living in a part of town full of old people in a city full of old people in a country full of old people.
  • What Does Fluffy Think?: I’m sure I have mentioned this on here before, but when I was at university I went through a stage of wasting time whilst avoiding study by trying to find and read the oddest and most-upsettingly-titled academic texts in the library. So it was that I checked out and read Manchester’s only copy of ‘Dearest Pet’, an academic treatise on the history of bestiality and the book which gave me what is still one of my favourite-ever literary quotes (“A man who is renowned as a chicken violator will never get far in life”). This essay by Amia Srinivasan in the London Review of Books is a review of a new tome on the subject by Joanna Bourke, called ‘Loving Animals’ – it is, fine, about the idea of people having sex with animals which is obviously a bit weird and conceptually quite upsetting, but it’s also SO interesting, not only on the ethical questions involved but also because it contains some unexpectedly-hilarious moments. I challenge you not to laugh at the anecdote about the dolphin that tops itself, for example, or about the definition of ‘anolingis’ (it’s not what you think, I promise).
  • Balkanisation of the Soul: Finally this week, the second piece by Clive Martin, about THE SESH in your 30s and the balkans and being a ‘grown up’ and modernity and and and. I love this immoderately, and I hope you do too. Read with a cold can of tinned lager for the full effect.

By Anna Weyant


Webcurios 24/09/21

Reading Time: 36 minutes

A NEW TUBE LINE! Or at least there is for those of you in London; in Rome, the tube doesn’t get to where I live because of the trifling matter of there being 2,000 year-old pottery fragments everywhere which tend to slow the development of the underground network somewhat.

Still, I’m happy for you! No, really, I am! Hopefully it will go some way towards compensating for the Winter of Discontent 2.0 which looks like it’s going to be heading for Sovreignty Isle sometime in the next few months, unless the combined intellectual might of the new Cabinet can somehow contrive to sort everything out. My breath, as they say, is bated.

Except obviously it’s not, as I don’t currently live in the UK and none of this is my problem anymore. Instead I am looking forward to the frankly-staggering lineup for Italian ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ which features none other than ex-reality-TV doyenne Bianca Gascoigne as one of the contestants! No, really! Someone who I honestly thought had given up the InstaLife and retired to the country to raise hogs or something but who it transpires has once again plumped their lips for another go on the reality TV merrygoround. I do hope Bianca’s agent knows what they are doing – whilst on the one hand it’s a great booking, on the other it was immediately clear from yesterday’s announcement that there are certain contestants who have been very much included just because they might fcuk one another, and I get the impression Ms Gascoigne is firmly in that camp. More news as and when from what I think you’ll agree is the hottest TV ticket of the year.

Anyway, none of you care about that – and if I’m honest, neither do I! – and you probably don’t care about what comes next either. Still, Web Curios continues to exist regardless of whether or not you give a sh1t about it – it’s one of its key skills. See if you can identify any others – linguistic imprecision? Laziness? A fundamental sense of coming to the end of it all? – as you rake through the messy detritus of my prose in search of some – any! – small nuggets of goodness. They’re there, I promise, but you’ll really need to get down in there with your teeth to pull them out.

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and the pace of everything is still dizzying to the point of nausea.

By Shardcore



  • The F-List: This first link is a bit ‘inside baseball’, fine, and unlikely to be of much interest to you unless you have a vague degree of connection with the murky and unpleasant world of advermarketingpr, but, well, I know what most of you do for a living (I don’t, to be clear, I’m just making an educated guess based on out-of-office replies). The F-List is a newly-published rundown, by campaign organisation Clean Creatives, detailing exactly which advermarketingpr agencies in Europe, North America and Australia are employed by the big oil and gas companies (information which, surprisingly, they don’t seem overly keen on making publicly available – whodathunkit?!). To be clear, I’m not attempting to take a position of moral superiority here – whilst I don’t work for any of the people here listed at present, I have taken money from several of these agencies in the past and am not trying to judge anyone working at any of them now. This is more about the fact that I think it’s important that people be given the information to make their own decisions about who they do and don’t want to work for based on the clientbase the agencies in question have – there are jobs I have taken in the past that I wouldn’t have done had I known the agency’s client roster in advance of joining (*cough*Edelman*cough*). If you’ve a spare few minutes, I advise you to find those companies that represent the largest number of these companies and then go and read their corporate sustainability statements, and perhaps take a moment to reflect on exactly how meaningful said statements are when you consider exactly whose reputations said agencies are burnishing.
  • Probable Futures: More climate-related ‘fun’! This is an excellent piece of website-y communications by campaign organisation Probable Futures, which presents a huge amount of useful information about the climate crisis in clear, simple, easy to follow fashion, starting from the probable impact on the planet and our lives should things continue as they are, and then moving through the science behind why what is happening is happening, all presented clearly and with an emphasis on simple design and language. If you’re relatively clued-up on all this it won’t tell you anything new, but in a field where so much of the information available is either a bit technically dense or dressed up in sustainability-woo, this is admirably simple and effective.
  • Evian: Another pointlessly-overengineered consumer-facing website that I struggle to imagine anyone ever visiting – this time, for water! Sorry, sorry, it’s not a ‘website’, it’s an ‘experience’ – important to clear that up. This ‘experience’ lets you, the thirsty user, track the journey of Evian from the glaciers of France, with three distinct stages that you can, er, ‘enjoy’ – basically what this means is that there are three little animated vignettes that the website takes you through, each representing a different point in the journey the H20 takes from mountain to bottle, each with its own vaguely-inspirational voice-over and each taking you on a flythrough of a different alpine-type landscape. Which, to be clear, is largely pointless – WHY??? THE WHOLE THING TAKES 6 MINUTES!! WHY??? – but it’s also, if I’m honest, SO PRETTY – the art style is painterly in a way you don’t often see on websites, and replicates the visual style of the Evian logo with visible brushstrokes on all the detail of mountains and trees that you swoop through as the disembodied voice intones something about, I don’t know, the effect of glacial moraine on water purity (I wasn’t really listening, sorry). You can even send a virtual postcard of the scenery to a friend, just like it’s 2009! This is a very silly website which serves no discernible purpose (I haven’t even been retargeted with ads ffs! COME ON!) and yet which is really nicely made and so gets a tentative thumbs up from me (the hope of which, let’s be clear, was I’m sure one of the main motivating factors in making it in the first place).
  • All Vulvas Are Beautiful: Not only a statement of fact, but the URL of a website made to accompany the latest series of Sex Education, the Netflix show about fingering (I have never seen it, but I’m fairly confident that’s broadly right). Apparently one of the characters in the show has some insecurities around their vulva’s appearance and goes on what I imagine is something of a JOURNEY OF ACCEPTANCE around how all bodies are lovely or somesuch – this site is a resource to reinforce the positive messages about self-acceptance presented by the programme. I can’t stress how much I love this – it’s made in conjunction with The Vulva Gallery, a long-running project along similar lines by Dutch artist Hilde Atalanta, and I love the fact that not only did they buy the url, but also a bunch of the translated versions – being in Italy, this redirects me to, which pleases me no end. A really well-made piece of supplementary content to a TV show, something you don’t see anywhere near often enough imho.
  • Loot Watcher: You recall a few weeks back when I introduced you to Loot, one of the seemingly-infinite NFT drops which was special insofar as the ‘product’ you were purchasing an NFT of was a randomly-generated list of objects such as you might have in your inventory were you playing an RPG? The thing where you got objects you might one day use in a game, but where, er, there is currently no game? Well, this website tracks the spin-off projects that are being created around Loot to flesh out the possible game that may one day exist around the concept (but which, to be clear, currently very much doesn’t). You can now get involved with (read: spend money on) NFT drops that offer, say, menus for in-game banquets! 8-bit character portraits! Quest lists! All for a game that doesn’t exist! THERE IS NO GAME MECHANIC! I read something earlier this week that said that NFTs and the associated frothy ‘ecosystem’ around them was in fact A Good Thing Actually because they were fostering an unprecedented boom in creativity, as evidenced by stuff like this – I mean, look, if you take ‘creativity’ to mean ‘innovative ways of parting fools with money’ then I am wholeheartedly in accordance, but if you are trying to tell me that ‘creating a bunch of ripoffs of an idea that was just ‘generate a list of stuff at random off a Google Sheet’ in the first place’ counts as ‘creativity’ then, look, my magic beans are very reasonably priced. And this isn’t the only listing for Loot-adjacent projects – here’s another one, which features (amongst other things) a project that lets you buy generated penile statistics for your fantasy warrior in a game which does not exist. ART! IT’S ART I TELL YOU! Jesus fcuking Christ.
  • NFT As Access Rights: This was pointed out to me as a potentially more-interesting-than-usual application of the NFT thing – Shaan Puri is…I have no idea who they are actually, but they seem to be some sort of appalling digital business guru, advising people on how to make their first $10m via the medium of thinly-disguised Ponzi schemes. Anyway, they are selling an NFT which grants its owner the right to 5 minutes of airtime on a 1million+ monthly-download podcast – the idea being that the Token can accrue in value based on the performance of the podcast, which performance will create the future market for its trading, leading to PROFIT FOR ALL! On the one hand, the idea strikes me as halfway-interesting – on the other, though, and as is ALWAYS THE FCUKING CASE with this stuff, I am incapable of seeing any reason why this need be an NFT rather than, say, an adult human male’s femur with the words ‘A TOKEN FOR A PODCAST’ daubed onto it in blood. Seriously, can ANYONE explain to me why this needs the blockchain to work as an idea? Anyone?
  • XTingles: Someone’s now doing ASMR as NFTs – a statement which I suppose I should be grateful will mean less than nothing to a comfortable 99% of the world’s population. Still, it saddens me – I like ASMR and the famous purity of its community, and am slightly upset that it’s been polluted by the Vaynerchuck-scented NFT bros. Still, if you’ve ever desperately wanted to spend actual cash money to buy a link to an audio file ON THE BLOCKCHAIN then your dreams will all soon come true. Or, you know, you could just pay the creators you like directly and not pay the gas fees, or contribute to the slow-but-increasingly-inevitable fcuking of the planet by cryptoprogress. Your call really.
  • Wowcube: I feel I ought to caveat this link with the fact that I am fairly sure that this will turn out to be vapourware and will never see the light of day (I also want to caveat that caveat by saying that my record of predicting the future about anything is generally appalling and therefore you probably shouldn’t listen to anything I say). All that aside, Wowcube is a really fun-looking prototype…digital toy? Games console? Educational aid? As far as the website is concerned, all three! Imagine a Rubik’s Cube, except each face only has 4 sections, and each section is a digital screen – make sense? No, I didn’t think so – click the link ffs, I’ll wait. NOW do you see? Looks fun, doesn’t it? The idea is that the twisty-turny Rubik’s-ness of the device will be integrated into the way that gameplay works, which you can imagine being hugely interesting for puzzle design and the like – but you can also use the device as a small multimedia portal, or as something to try out your own game designs on. If this thing turns out to do all the things that it says that it is going to be able to do, it will be incredible; I can’t quite shake the feeling of cynicism about it, but that’s almost certainly a result of the deep soul-sickness that afflicts me rather than anything to do with the kit in question.
  • MaykIt: This isn’t quite live yet, but I got a beta code a few weeks back – it’s iOS-only, but according to my friend who played with it it’s ‘quite fun’. MaykIt is designed to be a music creation app for people who can’t play any instruments and who don’t have any discernible musical ability whatsoever. You choose moods, beats, effects and whatever poor-quality vocals you’ve burbled into your phone’s mic and HEY PRESTO, the software magically turns your rubbish into something halfway-listenable. The sign-up screen lets you hear various examples of the stuff made in-app (click on the spinning hotel above the form fields), or alternatively you can get an EXCLUSIVE LISTEN to new track ‘Matt Muir’ made by my mate in approximately 6s. It’s obviously terrible, but also I can 100% imagine there being some TikTok famous tracks being produced by this – see what you think.
  • Coso Contraception: I want to point out here before I begin that I am 100% in favour of better male contraception and the idea that the burden of making sure you don’t accidentally have a kid should be made more equal, and that every advance that can be made towards a point whereby men can take responsibility for their own fertility in a simple and easy way that doesn’t negatively impact the sexual experience is A Good Thing. With that out of the way, I honestly don’t think that there’s a link in here that has made me laugh more this week. Coso is a really interesting piece of kit which uses ultrasound to temporarily…stun(?) sperm, thereby rendering men temporarily infertile, a condition which reverts back to normality a few hours later. Or at least that’s the idea – this is very much prototypical, and has only been tested on animals so far. “But Matt!”, I hear you cry, “I don’t understand what is funny about this?” That, my friends, is because you have yet to click on the link. How do you think you administer the ultrasound? YOU DUNK YOUR BALLS INTO A LITTLE BUCKET! Yes, that’s right, the design as it stands requires the testicle owner to lower said testicles into a very small plastic container which then blasts said testes with ultrasound and renders the sperm temporarily indolent and useless – YOU DUNK YOUR BALLS! Look, I appreciate that this is a bit silly and a bit childish, but the idea of preparing for a romantic session of no-pregnancy coitus by spending 3 minutes with my testes resting in a little 3d-printed cup being blasted with ultrasound is so, so wonderful that I can’t help but smile at the picture. Please let this become a reality. Also the semi-abstract testicular illustration on the site is quite something.
  • Orangutan Trading Co: Facebook advertising WORKS. For reasons I can’t quite fathom, this site has been following me around for the past week and that ad campaign has worked well enough for me to feature it here so, well, SUCCESS! If what they wanted was for their url to be exposed to a bunch of bored advermarketingprdrones then they will be thrilled. The Orangutan Trading Co is a business which sells mushroom spores. NOT MUSHROOMS. And the spores are for analysis NOT GROWING. However, these are the sorts of mushrooms which if you were to grow and ingest them would induce hallucinations and the like – so, er, make of that what you will. This strikes me as a really nice service – all the reviews are hugely positive, and I am fond of the style in which the site is written, and as far as I can tell it’s basically just one bloke, so if you fancy some amateur mycological microscopy then, well, go for your lives.
  • Met Gala In 3D: Did you enjoy the FROCKS? Vogue certainly did, which is why they partnered with tech company Altava to create these 3d scans of some of the famous and their outfits, which you can see embedded on this page on the Vogue website. This is interesting less because of the outfits – sorry, I am a sartorial Helen Keller and there’s no helping me – but because of how well these 3d scans of said outfits work as in-page embeds; this is one of the first times this sort of thing makes sense to me as a means of photography/promotion, and I can imagine that, as soon as the tech gets good enough to not require a massive specialised rig to create the shots, we’ll see this sort of thing all over the place.
  • Marginalia: I LOVE THIS. Marginalia “is a search engine, designed to help you find what you didn’t even know you were looking for. If you search for “Plato”, you might for example end up at the Canterbury Tales. Go looking for the Canterbury Tales, and you may stumble upon Neil Gaiman’s blog. If you are looking for fact, this is almost certainly the wrong tool. If you are looking for serendipity, you’re on the right track. When was the last time you just stumbled onto something interesting, by the way?” Such an interesting project – the code at its heart privileges text-heavy sites over those with more modern design, and whilst it’s borderline-useless for practical purposes it is SO MUCH FUN for finding rabbitholes and investigating them. Possibly my favourite site of the week.
  • Fat Bear Week: One of my favourite recurring online things, Fat Bear week returns again for another year. For those of you unaware, Fat Bear Week is a longstanding tradition whereby denizens of the internet vote on the fattest (or more accurately their favourite fat) bear – from the site: “Choose the fattest bear of the year! Some of the largest brown bears on Earth make their home at Brooks River in Katmai National Park, Alaska. Fat Bear Week is an annual tournament celebrating their success in preparation for winter hibernation. Fat Bear Week is a single elimination tournament. From September 29th to October 5th, your vote decides who is the fattest of the fat.” The bears look very cute (but would kill you in seconds and eat your face in a heartbeat), and if you look at the selection in this year’s bracket you can see how quickly they pile on the pounds over the summer – the biology here is amazing. Also, though, CHONK.
  • Street Complete: This is a GREAT way of exploring a city or town, particularly one you’re not familiar with. Street Complete is an app linked to OpenStreetMap and which tasks you with completing information about your local area to help complete the OpenStreetMap dataset. Let the app access your location and it will bring up a bunch of different datapoints that are at present incomplete – is the pavement here wide or thin, is this shop wheelchair-accessible, can cyclists use this road without being turned into lumpy jam, etc etc. You will contribute to the development of a genuinely useful global dataset, and you can end up finding yourself in parts of your town or city you wouldn’t ordinarily explore (which on reflection, depending on where you live, may or may not be a good thing, so, er, caveat emptor, as ever).
  • Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2021: These are always incredible – if you have the chance, do go and see the exhibition that they hold at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, which is always worth a look – but this year’s winner is one of the most sci-fi pieces of photographic art I have ever seen, and the sort of thing which ought to be on a film poster. The link takes you to the category winners, but it’s worth clicking through and seeing the highly-commended entries in each category – it will make you slightly jealous that awful people like Musk and Bezos get to go to space and you (presumably) don’t.

By Bruno Pontiroli



  • Hot Singles NYC: This link is of no personal interest to me – I am neither single, nor am I in NYC, nor indeed am I ‘hot’, at least not by any ordinarily accepted definition of the word – but I am pleased that it exists. Hot Singles NYC is a newsletter project which in each edition profiles a different single person in New York and presents them as a potential dating partner, with a little profile of them and some stories about them and, honestly, as a little project to show the wonderful diversity of people looking for love in a big city is just beautiful. All of human life is here (or at least ‘all of human life’ as defined by ‘people looking to get laid in a Western urban metropolis’), and it’s rather nice to go through the archive and read the stories of all the people they’ve featured over the 10 or so months the project has been active. Someone should do this for other cities – if nothing else I would be fascinated to see what the different demographics were like across the world.
  • Readwise: This is an interesting idea – Readwise is designed to make all the notes and highlights from your various reader apps a little more useful. Taking as its starting point the ‘insight’ that noone ever looks back at all the things they highlight on their Kindle (it’s true, it’s nearly impossible to find the fcuking things within the impenetrable Amazon interface), the service packages up a selection of notes and highlights from across a range of platforms (Kindle, Instapaper, Pocket, etc) and sends them to you via daily emails or in-app notifications, the idea being that by seeing them again you are more likely to recall them, and that the annotations will form links and connections in your mind and therefore become more useful as time goes on. My Kindle highlights tend to be vaguely-miserable existential snippets from whichever depressing contemporary fiction I am currently staining with my tears, but if you’re more inclined to read improving literature than I am you might find this of significant use.
  • Podchaser: Podcast discovery continues to be a total nightmare, made worse by the seemingly-incessant cavalcade of new audio content being vomited out on a second-by-second basis. Podchaser attempts to help with this by offering the opportunity to search podcasts by theme, title, creator and guest – which is super0useful both for people looking for new content around certain themes and for anyone looking to do research around an individual or topic. As a way of finding, say, recent-ish podcast appearances by specific individuals this is really helpful.
  • The US Wind Turbine Database: I love me a data map, and whilst there’s nothing ostensibly-exciting about this one – which shows the location of wind turbines across North America – it’s interesting to see just how few there actually are across the States. One might argue that it presents a reasonable argument as to why we might be a little bit fcuked, energy-wise – I mean, I refuse to believe that there’s nowhere else in the vast expanse of land that is the US that couldn’t usefully benefit from a few more of the tall, spindly lads bestriding the landscape like so many four-armed colossi.
  • Surf: Every few years over the past decade or so a new attempt to ‘make browsing the web pay!’ crops up, none of which have ever amounted to anything. Still, perhaps this latest iteration will be the thing that finally makes my longstanding ambition of ‘earning a living through being a webmong’ reality! Surf effectively offers you ‘points’ in exchange for you giving up your browsing data to advertisers – your browsing habits get collated (anonymously, or at least so they claim – obviously I don’t doubt their sincerity, but, well, we’ve all been here before, haven’t we?) and advertisers pay for REAL, HIGH-QUALITY DATA about the browsing habits of (in my case) middle-aged men sitting sadly in Rome and wishing they were somewhere else. Users get points which can be exchanged for actual real-world products from the partner companies, including such lovable brands as Amazon, Uber, Spotify and others. I can see the benefit here to an extent – the data should be of better quality than most anonymised ‘this is what people REALLY do on the web!’ stuff, and the companies are large enough that there’s a pull here for the user – but the success of these sorts of things depends entirely on them reaching a critical mass of users to make the dataset large and broad enough to be valuable, and there’s no way of telling whether that is (or indeed will ever become) the case. Still, I’ll watch with interest – this is sadly US-only at present, but if anyone fancies paying me in book tokens for a full weekly rundown of my browsing history I am all ears.
  • Tilde: I know, I know, virtual meeting spaces are SO LAST YEAR. Still, Tilde is FREE, and if you’re looking for a quick and easy way to spin up a multiperson videocall slash brainstorm board slash digital coworking space then it could be of interest.
  • Thames TV Archive: For the non-English, or the children, amongst you, “Thames Television, commonly simplified to just Thames, was a franchise holder for a region of the British ITV television network serving London and surrounding areas from 30 July 1968 until the night of 31 December 1992.” This is the YouTube channel on which the Thames TV archive is hosted, and if you want some top-quality retro-Britain nostalgia then there is no finer link in this week’s Curios. Want to see some footage of Mary Berry baking cakes before anyone knew who Mary Berry was? GREAT! Want playlists from THE PAST all about Christmas, or the punk movement, or the horror that was British public transport in the 1970s? OH GOOD! Terrible cooking show recreations of wartime food? POTENTIALLY USEFUL GIVEN HOW THINGS ARE LOOKING AT THE MOMENT! Such a wonderful timetunnel, this, and a reminder that the UK was a really, really rubbish place 50 years ago (so, er, why were 52% of the population so keen to recreate it?).
  • Orbital Marine Power: I am not an engineer (I realise, by the way, that I spend an inordinate amount of time in Curios writing caveat-y statements about stuff along the lines of “I am not an expert in compost mulching, but…” or “I have never engaged in sweaty congress with a professional wrestler, but…”, which does rather beg the question of what I in fact am and what I in fact do – a good question, to which I continue to search for an answer), and I know literally nothing about the (presumably fascinating) world of underwater turbines, but I do know an impressive website when I see one, and this – the website of Orbital Marine Power, a company which makes tidal turbines which I presume use the tidal movement of water to generate energy – is SO IMPRESSIVE. Not because of the website, which does normal website things, but because of how incredibly cool it makes the tech look. I have no personal use for an underwater turbine (and probably couldn’t afford one even if I did), but based on the insanely scifi vibes I get from this I now really, really want one.
  • Faykdoors: An infinite selection of what I presume are procedurally-generated doors, none of which open but which you can click on if you want to produce a small sound effect. There is literally no point to this at all, that I can discern, which as regular readers will know makes it practically perfect to my addled mind.
  • Bespoke Synth: I occasionally feature sites in here which act as in-browser synthtoys, for the creation of simple, looping beats and layered audio tracks – this is very much not one of those. Instead Bespoke Synth is a proper, serious looking bit of software for the production of actual music – its creator describes it thusly: “Bespoke is like if I smashed Ableton to bits with a baseball bat, and asked you to put it back together.” If you’re the sort of person who grew up on FruityLoops and who thinks nothing of plugging together a bunch of different instruments and sequencers and justs having a play around, then this could be perfect for you – it’s free, and judging by the explainer video looks like you can do quite a lot of very cool stuff with it. If you do music, this is worth a look I think.
  • Nature Track: “Nature Track is a podcast that opens a window on the beautiful sounds of the Australian wilderness. These long, uninterrupted soundscapes are the perfect relaxing soundtrack for your work, exercise, meditation or sleep. Each unique track is carefully recorded on location in a different part of Australia by the ABC’s nature specialist Ann Jones.” If you’re an Aussie expat who is feeling the nostalgic pull of the Kookaburra (sorry, but that was the first noisy Australian animal that came to mind – I know it’s a cliche, but, well, most of the other animals native to Australia are silent ones that murder you, so I was clutching at straws slightly here) or simply the sort of person who likes to attempt to escape from your urban prison by listening to nature sounds and imagining yourself free and far away, then this could be a pleasing balm to your troubled soul.
  • Ozzilate: Many years ago – I’m talking 200…10ish? – there was an app that had a brief vogue-y moment which allowed users to send files to each other from phone to phone as an audio encode. I have long thought that there was something cool about the tech that could be applied in interesting and creative ways, whilst at the same time not being creative enough to actually think of any (story of my fcuking life, lads) – this website reminded me of that, and of my continued failure to find a reason to use it. Ozzilate lets you take any file, turn it into sound, and then lets anyone else download said file by logging onto the site and listening to said sound, which gets converted into bits and downloaded onto your device. It’s not the best-explained site in the world, and obviously its utility is limited by the fact that you need to be at the url for it to work, but it’s not hard to imagine ways in which you could bake this sort of thing into apps, etc, as a novel way or sharing information – or, more interestingly, as a way of transmitting clues in secret, or allowing for secure downloads without an internet connection, or any number of different things. This is really clever, is what I’m basically saying, and I want someone to use this in a semi-mainstream way. Go on. Please?
  • Football Stickers: A selection of completed, scanned football sticker albums from the 1980s, from the 77-78 season to 92-93 (there are also a couple from the past two seasons of the Premier League, but they’re less interesting). Great nostalgia, obviously, for anyone who spend a large proportion of their playground time at the age of 6-10 shouting “GOT GOT GOT NEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEED!” with varying degrees of desperation, but also as a cultural record of the evolution of professional footballer aesthetics over the past 40-odd years. I suppose it was inevitable that a profession whereby, at the highest level, you are followed around wherever you go by an array of ultra-HD cameras would lead to people taking more care over their personal appearance, but it’s fair to say that today’s footballers look like a totally different species to those from the 70s and 80s. WHY WERE THEY ALL SO UGLY IN THE PAST??? There’s also some small joy to be found in the player descriptions, which are far more editorial than I imagine they are now and contain lots of indignant references to why, say, Steve Clark isn’t being picked regularly for Scotland in the early 90s.
  • The Cookout Club: This is a really interesting take on building online community. The Cookout Club is an invitation-only social media platform, designed by black people for black people (and which therefore I obviously have only seen the landing page of rather than the app itself). The stringent vetting procedure the platform owners apply before allowing people in has by all accounts created a community which is supportive and pleasant, with (as they say on their homepage) only seven reported posts in total since the platform’s inception. The approvals process means that scale is impossible, but that’s very much not the point here – the app is designed for quality connections rather than mass participation, and its creators are fine with that. I very much like this idea, and wonder whether this is A (not The, just A) future of social media; the best and most useful Groups I belong to are all characterised by their selective nature and strong moderation, stuff that I am not convinced its possible to make work beyond a certain size and scale and a well-defined sense of who your audience isn’t as much as who it is.
  • Mubert: Another week, another AI-led music creation tool which promises to spit out royalty-free, machine-imagined tunes for you to use in all your appalling, tedious corporate video content (which in 99% of cases will be viewed with the sound off, in any case, so it’s not like it matters what the audio track is) – select a ‘vibe’, select a style of music and tell it how long you need the track to be and VWALLAH! A seemingly-infinite selection of sounds for you to use as the bed for whatever stock footage Frankenstein’s monster you’re churning out this week. This should offer some small succour to t he jobbing musicians out there – I just asked it for 45s of ‘chill’ music with the theme ‘Zen Meditation’ and it gave me what I can only describe as the sort of droning horror I can imagine soundtracking grainy snuff footage taken from CCTV. Which may well be the vibe you’re going for, fine, but I don’t think Hans Zimmer need lose sleep just yet.
  • The Lost Media Wiki: OH WOW. “This wiki is a community passion project where we detail and attempt to track down (at least, in most cases) pieces of lost or hard to find media; whether it be video, audio or otherwise (of either a fictional or non-fictional nature), if it’s completely lost or simply inaccessible to the general public, it belongs here.” Cartoons, comics, idents, ads…there is a whole world of stuff on here, searched for and found by the community and uploaded to YouTube but with the Wiki providing a convenient entrypoint into the archives. Presuming you’re all advermarketingpr-adjacent, you may want to start with the ‘Lost Advertising’ section, which has so far tracked down such gems as Aardman’s Lurpak ads, some promos for Bryant and May matches, and a quite-indescribable video which is both an advert for World Peace (their capitals, not mine) and an exhortation for South Americans to reject the allure of the international narcotics trade. A true timesink, and a wonderful resource for anyone searching through the dusty, half-remembered archives of their childhood media memories.
  • Always Judge A Book By Its Cover: I have long been of the belief that we need to retire the old canard ‘never judge a book by its cover’ – after all, you know exactly what you’re going to get if you purchase a fat novel where the surname of the author is slightly longer than their forename, and both are embossed on the cover in gold or red (you know), or where the cover art involves a muscular man, often shirtless, holding some sort of weapon – and this site, which collects real books with improbable covers and titles which are all currently available to buy, rather supports that notion. There are some internet classics on here (“Crafting With Cat Hair”, which my girlfriend not only owns but threatens repeatedly to make use of for present ideas, and the omnipresent “Cooking With Semen”), but also some gems that I have never seen before – I would be fascinated to learn what the tips included in ‘A Beginner’s Guide To Sex in the Afterlife’ are, for example.
  • Playable Quotes: This is SO interesting, and such a clever idea (which I found via Andy Baio) – the tech basically lets you share moments from games (‘quotes’) which can be embedded in websites to let people experience a specific element of gameplay. This is the same sort of thing which is included in the latest-gen console hardware, I think, but lo-fi and made for ROMs – it currently works with Gameboy emulation files, but the idea behind the tech is super-smart from a conceptual point of view and I would be fascinated to see where this sort of idea crops up next.
  • Thatcher’s Techbase: Would you like to play a version of classic first-person shooter Doom that has been modded to take place in 80s Britain and where the ultimate baddie that you’re facing up against is a terrifying mecha-Thatcher? OF COURSE YOU WOULD! This project looks ACE – it’s meant to launch today, though at the time of typing it’s not yet available for download – and it could be an excellent way of preparing for the onslaught of Party Conference season, the very worst time of the year, and wondering whether or not the IRA should have had another go at her (NB WEB CURIOS DOES NOT SUPPORT OR CONDONE POLITICAL VIOLENCE OF ANY FORM EXCEPT AGAINST NAZIS AND OBVIOUSLY DOES NOT REALLY WISH THAT THE IRA HAD DONE MORE BOMBINGS, EVEN AGAINST TORIES).
  • Space Huggers: Last miscellaneous link of the week is this, another TINY game from the 13kb challenge – Space Huggers is a little side-scrolling jumpy/shooty game where your sole task is to find an eliminate the baddies on each level – what makes this fun is the destructible environments and the light physics involved, which makes every single time you play pleasantly different and unpredictable. An excellent way of p1ssing away 20m or so while you wait for it to become socially acceptable to go to the pub.

By Rami Avar Zupa




  • The Feed: If you work in advermarketingpr, this Insta feed (powered by We Are Social, who are not paying me for this endorsement) could be worth a follow. The Feed presents trend-type stuff from around the web and the world, and a cursory look through the posts over the past few weeks suggests that it’s pleasingly-international in its outlook and features a slightly-broader selection of work for inspiration than you usually get with this sort of agency-led tripe.
  • The Witching Museum: Objects, pictures and prints associated with WITCHES AND WITCHING. There is no evidence that this account will hex you if you follow it, but there’s equally no evidence that it won’t hex you so, well, you be careful.
  • Looney Tunes Backgrounds: Literally that – an account that posts nothing but background images from Looney Tunes cartoons, which are literally BEGGING to be used as backdrops for your own cartoon/comicstrips featuring whoever it is that you and your groupchat are secretly laughing at this week.


  •  The Algorithm Tweaks Won’t Save Us: It’s fair to say Facebook hasn’t had a great few weeks, what with the Wall Street Journal ‘Facebook Files’ investigation revealing a bunch of stuff that we all sort-of assumed but didn’t previously know to be definitively true. The question of ‘what do we do about it, though?’ is an interesting one – there’s been a noticeable quality in all the coverage of the WSJ’s investigations of just sort of vaguely burbling words like ‘regulation!’ and ‘stop using Facebook!’ without presenting any meaningful suggestions about what you do when you finally have proof that the world’s largest mass-communications platform is knowingly acting against human interest. This piece, by Charlie Warzel, suggests that perhaps the issue is that we are past the point of saving – not that everything is doomed (it is, obviously, just for different reasons), but that there is nothing that can be done to Facebook (the platform and the business) that would ameliorate the problems it has caused. “I’ve come to believe that arguments weighing Facebook’s good and bad outcomes are probably a dead end. What seems rather indisputable is that as currently designed (to optimize scale, engagement, profit) there is no way to tweak the platform in a way that doesn’t ultimately make people miserable or that destabilizes big areas of culture and society. The platform is simply too big. Leave it alone and it turns into a dangerous cesspool; play around with the knobs and risk inadvertently censoring or heaping world historic amounts of attention onto people or movements you never anticipated, creating yet more unanticipated outcomes. If there’s any shred of sympathy I have for the company, it’s that there don’t seem to be any great options.” It’s quite hard to argue against this line, which is a slightly chilling admission.
  • The Gospel of DAO: I read this piece twice to try and understand whether there was any critical heart to it – there isn’t, to be clear, but it’s still worth reading as I think that lack of critical heart gets to the, er, ‘heart’ of the problem I have with NFTs et al. In theory, the idea of Decentralised Autonomous Organisations is an interesting one with multiple potential avenues of positive impact – and yet this essay, which seeks to make that point and garland it with real-world examples of why this is a good thing and why it could be useful and beneficial (even transformative), simply ends up by burbling vague things about ‘community’ and ‘creativity’ and ‘artists’, without ever sounding like anything other than a bunch of people who in another era would have been wearing fedoras and paying Neil Strauss for dating tips discussing how they are going to unlock their full potential brah. On a similar theme, there’s also this piece in which the author explicitly states that they are trying to be open-minded and positive about the movement but by the end seemingly sort of throws their hands up in the air in exasperation at the fact that, any way you look at this, the current web3 hype is built on several layers of neatly-stacked confidence – any of which might fall over at any given moment.
  • Pakistan’s Great Game: An interesting look at Pakistan’s current role in the geopolitical rollercoaster, specifically in relation to the recent Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and the country’s status as an increasingly-close ally of China. A useful reminder of a) how incredibly complicated international diplomacy is at present; and b) exactly where the balance of power lies globally at present (clue: not, in any way, on a small island in the North sea).
  • AIssassination: Sorry about the title, but I couldn’t help myself. This is a startling report of exactly how the Israeli government killed Iran’s top nuclear scientist, using an AI-operated gun mounted on a flatbed truck which used machine vision identify, target and shoot the individual in question while he was driving with his wife. If you look at this entirely objectively, it’s an incredible feat of robotics and AI and engineering; if you look at it in any way other than entirely-objectively, it’s absolutely terrifying and seems to finally usher in the long-discussed era of fully autonomous intra-state warfare which is…not a good thing? I am also slightly confused by the NYT’s reporting of this – I’m in no way an expert on what is and isn’t allowed in terms of assassinations, and how the international community looks on this sort of thing, but I’m not sure that the state-sanctioned murder of another nation’s scientists should be reported this…blandly?
  • Peter Thiel: There have been a bunch of Thiel profiles published this week ahead of the publication of a new biography of everyone’s favourite terrifyingly-amoral eminence gris, but this one was my pick of the lot. Thiel is of course a very smart person, but it’s hard not to read this (and indeed anything about him) without coming away with the impression that his influence on the way the world has developed over the past two decades or so is A Bad Thing; the stories in here about his cast-iron will and determination to become staggeringly powerful and wealthy are EXACTLY the sort of ‘founder myths’ about ‘unique, driven, often difficult individuals who will CHANGE THE WORLD’ which an entire suite of VC-led industries now take as gospel, much to the detriment of the world that these people are seeking to change. More fuel to my growing belief that the geeks inheriting the earth has not been the unalloyed positive that films such as ‘Revenge of the Nerds’ taught me it would be.
  • Socialist Cyborgs: This is a great read, all about how Bulgaria implemented a widespread programme of computer education in the 1980s, and how that, combined with the fall of communism in the early-90s, led to the creation of some of the first large-scale global computer viruses which caused panic in the early digital age. Not only a fascinating historical account of the growth of modern computing, but also a really interesting look at how policy decisions can play out in unexpected ways over the medium-term.
  • Cancelling Universities: I know, I know, CANCEL CULTURE ISN’T A REAL THING. That said, the attempt to make it a thing very much is real, and this article gives a slightly-terrifying overview of one of the sides currently doing a pretty good job of pretending that right-wing voices are being silenced on campuses by the ‘tyranny of the woke’. This is worth reading – it’s very US-centric, but if you think that there aren’t large-scale financial interests doing in the UK and Europe what the Koch brothers have successfully been doing for years (to whit, spending an awful lot of money to promote ideologies that will serve to cement their interests) then you might want to perhaps pay a bit more attention to How Things Work. Who DOES pay Darren Grimes to exist, for example?
  • The Offensive Language Summary 2021: Each year, UK media regulator OFCOM publishes research into attitudes into offensive language in the UK – this year’s report is part-fascinating sociological study, charting the shifting social mores of a nation as it undergoes generation and demographic changes, and part-snigger-inducing lolfest – I’m sorry, but there will NEVER be a situation in which official government documentation containing the word ‘clunge’ isn’t funny. More seriously, though, this offers a picture of a country that is far more respectful and tolerant than we might sometimes think, where people understand that certain terms are offensive and wrong and shouldn’t be used, and where there seems to be a growing appreciation that language, how it’s used, and who it’s used by, matters. If someone wants to quietly explain the term ‘Yoon’ to me, though, I am all ears.
  • The Greenwashing Guide: I have mentioned on here a few times now that I find the term ‘sustainability’ to be so overused and ill-defined as to be entirely useless, in the main – this short post by VICE does a good job of explaining exactly what a lot of other terms involved in the ‘sustainability’ conversation mean, and why it is that a large number of them are in fact broadly meaningless when it comes to making a significant difference to our environmental impact. Worth a read, and maybe bookmarking for the next time your client comes to you and tells you about the AMAZING new carbon offsetting scheme they have set up which they would like you to PR please.
  • FinanceTok: This week’s edition of ‘there’s a TikTok for everything!’ comes in the form of this piece, profiling FinanceTok – the odd world in which people who are practically children peddle investment tips and tricks to the desperate FIRE-seeking generation desperate to make enough on speculative stocks to never have to go back to the Deliveroo bike again. The main takeaways, to my mind, are: a) the people making the videos always seem to be doing well, whereas you never seem to hear of anyone following their advice making bank – why is that, do you think?; b) this feels like the sort of thing which probably ought to be regulated in some way but which I cannot for the life of me imagine how one might go about regulating (hi, welcome to the modern web!).
  • The Digital Death of Collecting: This is ostensibly a complaint about the way in which we don’t really ‘own’ anything digitally any more, and our status as digital renters means that our ‘collections’ are forever at the mercy of the platform owners, who through (to their mind) small tweaks to UX or UI can radically reconfigure our experience of the media we want to consume – to my mind, though, the piece functions as quite an effective explainer as to the currently boom in digital collectibles and NFTs, as a sort of corrective to the other-governed ephemerality of modern content. Interesting, and made me think differently and (marginally) more positively about NFTs than I did prior to reading it (whether or not this is a good thing is a matter for debate).
  • File Not Found: SUCH an interesting essay, about how younger generations have experienced digital information in such a radically-different way to older people (ie people like me, chiz chiz) that the current accepted language of file storage and retrieval means literally nothing to them. But then again, why would it? If you’re entire digital life has been borrowed content on demand, served by platforms whose primary in-point is search, why would you think of ‘files’ as individual things that need to ‘live’ somewhere, or the taxonomy that would allow for their easy storage and retrieval? One of those brilliant articles which makes you realise that everything digital is just a representation of our minds, and that when our minds and ways of thinking change, so those representations will necessarily also need to evolve. The symbiotic relationship between devices and the way we conceive of the information accessed via said devices, and how a change in the former engenders a change in the latter, is mind-screwing in a good way.
  • Trump’s Florida: I know he doesn’t matter any more – isn’t it nice? A genuine small ray of sunshine in what I can honestly say has been a truly sh1tty year, football aside – but that doesn’t make this portrait of his base in Florida any less entertaining. It features a revolving cast of truly awful people – Roger Stone! Ann Coulter! – saying stupid and awful things, and being skewered whilst so doing by a writeup that is just the right side of openly sneering; I know that laughing at stupid right wing nutters is a bit low and a bit easy, but sometimes that’s just what you need. I will of course be laughing on the other side of my face should That Awful Man somehow secure the GOP nomination in a few years’ time, but let’s not think about that right now.
  • The D’Amelios and Money: I thought this was an interesting portrait of the D’Amelio family, two of whom are TikTok megastars and all of whom are now subject of a reality show in the US which follows Charlie, Dixie and their parents as they navigate the world of being really, really famous for no discernible reason whatsoever. The piece contains all the standard handwringing about now noone here looks happy, etc, but then pivots towards the end to asking why it is that noone involved in this sort of life ever admits that they are doing it for the cash – this is an EXCELLENT point, and one that people don’t mention often enough. There is no way in hell anyone would be TikTok, YouTube or Insta famous if it wasn’t for the cash you might accrue – and yet this is never explicitly mentioned. It’s not about the fans, the art or the ‘community’ – it’s about the fact that you can potentially trouser millions, and they all know it, and we know it, and the sooner we acknowledge this rather than dressing it up in the socially-acceptable clothing of ‘being a creator’ the better it will be imho.
  • TikTok and Gabby Petito: I believe that at the time of writing Petito’s body has been found, which is a sad-if-predictable development; this piece was published a few days ago, but is a good look at the frenzy that built up around the investigation on TikTok and the weird sense of involvement that people seek when engaged in this sort of amateur sleuthing. What could be more main character energy than helping solve a murder, after all?!! We are all ill.
  • The Trials of Diet Prada: I think I first featured Diet Prada in Curios in…2017? Anyway, it was already big but not quite as big as it has now become – this article details the case being brought against the Insta handle (an amazing sentence to write, even in 2021) by Dolce & Gabbana who are claiming that Diet Prada’s part in reporting Stefano Gabbana’s racist and inflammatory comments about China and Chinese culture cost the brand tens of millions. It’s partly a sobering example of how law and big business works – the idea that a man who wrote things like “China Ignorant Dirty Smelling Mafia” in Insta messages can blame someone else for the brand tanking in China is sort-of astonishing, as is the fact that he is able to sue and quite possibly win the case – and partly about how the line between individual and media brand is increasingly blurred. It’s also an interesting example of quite how broken the Italian legal system is, in case you should care. Here’s hoping D&G get their a$ses handed to them, legally-speaking.
  • Compost Yourself: I’ve been thinking a lot about death recently – in the absence of eros, thanatos fills the available space – and this article, all about post-mortem body disposal company Recompose, which is the first to offer human composting, fascinated me. It’s a surprisingly warm article despite the subject matter, and has made me very much want to be turned into garden mulch when I die (presuming my long-held dream of a zoroastrian sky burial comes to naught).
  • Tell Me, Do You Intend To Fcuk It?: Full disclosure – Jay Owens, who wrote this piece, is a friend of mine – but I would have included it anyway, as Jay is one of the smartest people I know when it comes to culture and society and modernity and ALL THAT STUFF. Here she discusses the ‘sexiness’ of the iPhone – how it’s sold, how it’s marketing, how it’s designed, and how this ‘sexiness’ presents it as an object of desire, both for ourselves and to the world. It will make you think of your phone and your relationship to it slightly differently, which is something which ought to happen more often than it probably does (though I am personally disappointed that Jay at no points explores the world of phone-linked teledildonics, perhaps because they are the antithesis of ‘sexy’).
  • Freediver: A wonderful profile of Alexey Molchanov, apparently the world’s greatest freediver – freediving being that weird ‘sport’ where people compete to go as deep as they can on one lungful of air without suffering the bends, or a blackout, of pink frothing bloodfoam on the lips or death. Why you would want to do such a thing is honestly a mystery to me – also, I imagine the learning curve is quite steep – but this is a lovely profile of a singular man and a singular sport. There’s also a lovely detail in here about Molchanov’s ‘meaty a$s’ (a quote from the piece), which suggests that the web’s obsession with THICCNESS and CHONK has now bled comfortably out into real life and we are all now bottom-obsessives whether we like it or not.
  • Benzo Mama: Eaton Hamilton writes about their childhood, their gender and their relationship with their mother, a depressive addict whose moodswings defined their upbringing. This isn’t what you might call an ‘uplifting’ read, but it’s beautifully-written and the authorial voice elevates it above the level of your standard pity memoir.
  • Pull Off My Head: Finally in the longreads this week, this is by Patricial Lockwood in the LRB and whilst it’s ostensibly a review of ‘Bear’, a 70s novel by Canadian author Marian Engle (which sounds SO bizarre that I am going to read a copy as soon as I have a space in the stack) it’s more than anything a chance to glory in Lockwood’s writing – I would read her shopping lists, she’s that good. There are gens of sentences in here, scattered throughout, along with trenchant literary criticism and lightly-worn erudition in every paragraph. She is so, so, so good, and I want to read everything she has ever written.

By  Sarah Maxwell


Webcurios 17/09/21

Reading Time: 31 minutes

Gah! I am late! Not with Curios, you understand, but for a train – I need to be showered and dressed and OUT and here I am still writing the intro O WOE IS ME!

So anyway, while I scrabble about and attempt to pack an overnight bag why don’t YOU make yourself comfortable and settle down to enjoy this weeks links’n’words in my absence? DON’T BREAK ANYTHING YOU WILL PAY FOR IT.

I am still Matt, this is still Curios, and everything continues to trend towards entropy as is the natural way of the universe.

By Titus Poplawski



  • Skin Caviar: We kick this week off with a return to the fabulous world of luxury cosmetics web development – a world in which I presume all the account handlers are borne aloft on shields like conquering heroes and constantly pelted with a stream of low-denomination coins and notes whilst harps are played in tribute to their uncanny ability to persuade rich clients to build stupid websites that make literally no sense. This particular example is here to sell you a facecream by Swiss beauty outfit La Prairie, and BOY is it keen to convince you of its magical properties. “La Prairie discovered a unique property of caviar”, the website begins…”It only exists in obscurity”. Er, what? “It only thrives at night”. Hang on, caviar…thrives? Does it? Well, you now have an opportunity to ‘unlock’ four caviar-based experiences to discover more! Amazingly, there is apparently a parallel ‘art experience’ which is going to launch at Art Basel later this year and which is made by a PROPER ARTIST (who has a quote on the site reading “I would not define myself as an artist, but as an achiever of dreams” – yes mate, of course you are, and I am definitely 100% certain that it’s dreams that motivated you to collaborate on a fish egg skincream-themed installation and not the 6 figures thrown at you by a marketing department gone wild on cocaine. This is, I promise you, one of the most preposterous product website I have ever seen and will cheer you right up – as the site itself exhorts you, “Indulge in the line-smoothing potency of caviar, tonight and beyond” – SEXY, EH? I wonder if it makes your face smell faintly of sturgeon.
  • Are You You?: I have over the past few years featured a number of sites in Curios which are designed to educate users about the technology they interact with each day, how it works, and how they might want to consider their relationship with it in terms of privacy and rights – this is another one, which uses your webcam to highlight quite how good facial recognition software is getting, and how it’s increasingly hard to throw it off the scent when it has a reasonable idea of what you look like. It’s simple, clear, silly, and will do a decent job of scaring/impressing (delete as applicable, based on your own personal perspective on the growing techpanopticon) you as to the quality of the tech you can now just run in-browser – I also wonder, though, who the fcuk is seeing this stuff and how it’s being distributed, and why I keep on stumbling across it despite being pretty far down the list of ‘the sorts of people who need educating about the fact that they are being watched by machines more often than they may realise’. Anyway, have a play with this and realise that there’s no way in hell the machine vision death machines won’t be able to track you down come the Second Great Machine Uprising of 2117.
  • Buy The First Smiley: I think you can all guess what the missing words in that short description are. Go on, all together now…”…AS AN NFT!!!” That’s right, the ‘let’s monetise literally everything; seriously, there’s probably some soiled tissue paper knocking around that we can claim holds the mucal emissions of Steve Jobs!” bandwagon rolls on, and this week brings us the opportunity to buy an NFT of the first recorded use of an emoji in human communication – specifically, Scott E. Fahlman’s 1982 ARPANET message suggesting the use of 🙂 to connote humour in a response and 🙁 to connote its opposite. Except obviously you can’t actually ‘buy’ that message – instead, though, you get, er, a link to an image of the message! And “two essays Fahlman wrote about the creation of the emoticon: one penned in 2002, upon its 20th anniversary, and another written specifically for this auction reflecting on the creation; as well as a signed and framed certificate from Fahlman”. Look, there’s just under a week left on this at the time of writing, and bidding’s currently sitting around £11k – part of me thinks this is very, very silly, but another (smaller, and likely to feel very sheepish in a few years’ time should it ever look back and read) wonders whether this is the GREATEST INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITY EVER and should be snapped up. It probably isn’t, but, well, you never know.
  • Untitled Frontier: I probably ought to chuck the NFT stuff in its own little section so that people can just skip it wholesale if they find the topic tedious beyond belief, but that would feel a little bit too much like I was legitimising it. Anyway, this is the latest thing to make me sputter “but…well…why?” in largely blank incomprehension – Untitled Frontier is “a permissively licensed shared-story universe about the future of simulations, our collective records, and our humanity”…on the blockchain!!! Each story comes with memorabilia attached to it which is sold as an NFT (OF COURSE IT IS) – so you can buy the cover art, for example, or digital representations of some of the things featured in the narratives. There’s some vague guff on the site about a ‘plan’ – there’s a DAO behind the whole thing, obvs, and the whole setup claims that it supports storytellers with a new revenue model (ok, fine, I get that bit), helps ‘connect with the stories in new digitally-native ways’ (by…buying merch? Digital merch? I suppose I get that), will build a community (CULT! CULT!) and will eventually (and in ways that are not even vaguely guessed at) ‘allow fans to more directly participate in the creation process’ (so you’ll give superfans who buy into the ponzi scheme…what, artistic license? Votes on narrative progression? You’ll let them buy into your artistic vision so they can then bend it to their will? This…doesn’t sound great for the artists, if I’m honest). Of course, the crucial test of this is WHAT IS THE WORK LIKE? Are the stories currently available through Untitled Frontier the sorts of things that could only have been conceived of thanks to this exciting new crypto-based Web3.0 model? No, they are bilge. Thanks, NFTworld!
  • Artifly: One of the nicest things about the modern web is the ability it gives us to find artists from around the world whose work we admire and who we can support through the purchase of said work (this does not require NFTs! We can do this using existing systems!) – still, though, those works need to be made by people, and people are slow and inefficient and can be expensive, and have a finite production capacity and need things like food and sleep and water and love and, frankly, are a massive pain in the ar$se to administer. Thank GOD, then, for new services like Artifly, which remove the tedious and unpredictable ‘human’ element from art creation and leaves it all in the digital ‘hands’ of the machines. Artifly is a bleakly-brilliant service – it presents you with a succession of images of machine-generated images from which you select your ‘favourites’, which the software uses to ‘learn’ your tastes. At the end of this triage process, you get presented with a seemingly-infinite selection of machine-generated canvases which you can tweak based on your palette preferences or whether you prefer abstract or landscape art – everything churned out by the site is printed on demand and purchasable at very low prices (£29 is the entry-level cost of a small stretched canvas) with free shipping, and is ‘guaranteed unique’ and why does this make me so sad? Still, there is literally no excuse for anyone to have generic IKEA prints on their wall anymore. Artists, form an orderly queue for the JobCentre and STOP CRYING.
  • Treedom: Not, sadly, an arboreal network of stern dominatrices, this is instead a lot more like Trees as a Service – Treedom is a company that basically promises to do your green work for you, letting individuals or companies pay to have trees planted on their behalf, whether as a salve to one’s guilt for going on another holiday abroad despite what you know it’s doing to the planet (“but it’s been SO LONG, and, honestly, after the Summer we’ve had it’s so important for my mental health!”) or as a bandage on the axewound of corporate impact on the environment. As the website cheerfully burbles, “Are you looking for the right partner to help your business have a positive impact on the environment and people? With Treedom you can give life to your company forest and communicate your commitment to sustainability in an engaging, powerful way, which benefits your bottom line.” Even better, you can follow your tree online (although no word from the site as to whether your sapling will send you increasingly-desultory letters of obligation each year thanking you for your support and telling you how well it’s doing at school)! Will this make a difference to the state of the planet? Not a bit! Still, trees are good, right?
  • Audiostrip: Another tool that lets you extract both vocals and instrumentals from either an MP3 or a YouTube link – this works surprisingly well (though I’ve only tried it on a couple of songs) and is a useful shortcut if you want some quick and dirty audiowork done.
  • The Infinite Corpse: In many (well, maybe one) respects the web itself is like a gigantic, human-wide game of Exquisite Corpse, in which we’re all constantly riffing off the stimuli passed onto us through digital channels by the myriad other people that make up our online world (sorry, that was needlessly and pointlessly pretentious, I’ll try and dial it down a bit). The Infinite Corpse is a rather more traditional rendering of the famous Surrealist parlour game, in which one participant starts a drawing or narrative and then hands it on to another player to continue, without the second player being aware of what the first has drawn or written – here, a bunch of comic artists are drawing/writing an infinite pass-the-parcel of three-panel comics, the one unifying thread being that the central character is a(n incredibly put-upon) skeleton. I love this – part of the beauty is that you can just spin up a random panel and see where you end up. The site accepts submissions, but to preserve quality they are all reviewed by a Chicago collective of comics artists to make sure each entry is up to snuff; I could quite happily sack off writing this right now (but I won’t, just to spite you) and spend a few hours going through this, the work is uniformly-excellent and occasionally very funny indeed.
  • The Human Body: You need to create an account to access this, or sign in with Google or whatever, but I promise you that it’s worth it (and as yet they don’t appear to have done anything awful with my details). This lets you explore an incredibly detailed, zoomable, spinnable 3d model of the human anatomy (male or female models are available), which you can PEEL LIKE AN ONION to reveal all the layers of nerve and muscle and bone beneath the dermis. Honestly, this is SO compelling – I know nothing of biology (regular readers may be aware that I am not hugely comfortable with the realities of the fleshiness of corporeality, at least not as they apply to me) and so as a gaping know-nothing this was a fascinating opportunity to do some learning about exactly what lurks under my increasingly-loose skin. Also, the model’s face looks absolutely TERRIFIED once you peel back the skin – though perhaps that’s to be expected given what it’s going through.
  • The Mammoth: Or rather, ‘the company that this week announced that it was going to try and clone the mammoth’ – the company is called ‘Colossal’ and you will doubtless all of have read about their plans to bring back everyone’s favourite hairy pachyderm thanks to the magic of DNA sequencing and MODERN SCIENCE. It’s worth having a look at the project website – partly because you get a sense for the people behind this (oh HELLO tech-solutionist Valley man! Hello! – also, interesting to see a glowing endorsement of this ground-breaking, never-before-attempted genetics work from noted expert in the field…er…life coach (and person about whom there are a LOT of very iffy allegations) Tony Robbins, a man whose presence definitely adds legitimacy to the venture), and partly because the copy made me wonder whether we weren’t maybe placing something of an excessive burden of expectation on the poor beast. “Earth’s old friend and new hero!”, the website breathlessly exclaims – if this were a film, I would file that line under ‘obvious foreshadowing’ and start to expect something suspicious and dark to start bubbling under around the end of the first act. Also, I properly lol’ed at the email signup form – “Let’s make a better world together – send me newsletter updates!’, yes mate that is exactly what we’re all doing with our newsletters, honest.
  • The 2021 Drone Photography Awards: I expect that in a year or so there will be a separate category for ‘photos taken autonomously by said drones’, but for the moment these are all snapped on the command of their fleshy operators. The most impressive of these, to my mind, are those where the photographer eschews the slightly-cliché ‘shot directly from above’ framing and does something more interesting with depth – still, as is increasingly common with these sorts of contests (and as I think I have been moaning about for several years, suggesting I really ought to get a new hobby horse) the dominant style continues to be ‘TURN ALL THE LEVELS UP REALLY HIGH’ and ‘WOW ISN’T HDR AMAZING’ and frankly it all seems a bit much if you know what I mean.
  • The Lamest Edit Wars: Wikipedia once again goes all meta, with this entry documenting what the platform itself considers to be the ‘lamest’ (their designation) wars between editors currently occupying the platform. You may think that you know ‘petty’ – you may think that your workplace is a seething pit of small, daily squabbles which have long-since stopped being about anything other than not letting that bstard win, and you may believe that your family is unsurpassable in its ability to keep long-running feuds simmering, but you have seen nothing until you’ve seen the incredible dedication to beef that the people contesting whether or not obscure band ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ should be designated metal, metalcore or Christian metalcore. Honestly, I will never mock Wikipedians because they do valuable work but, well, this is all just silly, isn’t it?
  • China Ghost Cities: One of the truly mind-flaying things about China is those occasional moments when you read a news story about the country and it cites a particular city that you have never heard of and you Google it and it’s literally bigger than London and it’s just AN Other ‘second tier’ city which is considered ‘largely unremarkable’. This site is less about that, and more about the side effects of that sort of urbanisation – all the places that didn’t quite work, the ghost cities that sit abandoned because political whims changed, or business shifted, or the money vanished. The photos it collects are eerie and wonderful, and part of that very specific sort of China-related content you find online which tells you a little bit about the country whilst at the same time reinforcing the image of it as vast and utterly-unknowable and slightly more ‘future’ than is probably good for us.
  • Waterbear: “The first video on demand platform dedicated to the future of our planet” – so states the homepage, and who am I to argue. Waterbear is a video platform backed by all sorts of charities and which hosts documentaries, free to view, all about the environment and how fcuked it is. Given that the site hosts lots of programmes about animals and the natural world, clearer-headed copywriters might reasonably have wondered whether ‘dedicated to our planet’s fast-vanishing past’ might have been a more appropriate strapline, but should you wish to watch a lot of docs about grizzly bears and how to save the planet (lol! Too late!) then this is a great place to start.
  • DeepFace Live: We’ve had a few years of deepfakes now, and it’s fair to say that they haven’t yet brought about the collapse of trust in filmed reality that we had feared (amusingly (ha! SO FUNNY), trust in pretty much everything appears to have collapsed entirely without their aid) – still, early days! This is an interesting Github repo that will allow those of you who are codefiddlers to play with some live, realtime faceswapping tech for streaming or videocalls – if you’re technically-minded enough, you could be speaking to colleagues LIVE with a creepily-rendered mask of Rowan Atkinson replacing your usual bored countenance (there are a couple of preloaded models available, of which he is one; there’s also software to train your own, though). This is still A LONG WAY from being convincing or indeed the sort of thing that anyone needs to be scared of, but it’s interesting that there’s no cost barrier to playing this beyond the (admittedly significant) computational might needed to make it work. Basically if you can afford enough processing power it is now entirely possible to wear your boss’s face on a Teams call like a creepy fleshmask – and if that’s not enough to motivate you to grind for that that payrise, I don’t know what is.
  • Will You Press The Button?: A seemingly-infinite series of dark bargains – do you take them? “You could control your dreams BUT you can never get out of bed” – tricky, that one. “You are an NBA champion BUT you have no eyebrows” – I think I can live with the lack of brow-caterpillars, sign me up! You get the idea – the nice bit is that you can see after each answer how your choice compares to others, which is how I discovered that a surprisingly large number of people would accept never having to work again, even if it meant that they needed to spend a significant proportion of their additional free time defecating. Wow, we really do hate our jobs, don’t we?
  • The Tail Company: I was at a festival a few years back, and there was a point at which I sort of snapped and decided that I hated everyone there (look, it was one of those ones an hour or so out of London, and literally EVERYONE worked in advermarketingpr and was on lots of cocaine – honestly, you would have hated everyone too, I promise it’s not just me being miserable) and I think the motivating factor was seeing literally hundreds of them wearing tails. YOU ARE AN ACCOUNT MANAGER FOR A COMPANY THAT MAKES ADVERTS FOR WEAPONS FFS DO NOT TRY AND PRETEND YOU ARE WHIMSICAL YOU APPALLING GHOUL! Had they, though, been made by the Tail Company I might have been a bit less anti- these look GREAT, and are fully articulated, and you can move them via remote control or via an app on your phone (it’s called ‘MiTail’, obvs) and, well, look, I have no interest in wearing one of these but I can’t begrudge you if you do.
  • The Forest: 2021 really has been a big year for ‘we want to bring the sense of serendipitous discovery back to the web’, hasn’t it? I must have come across about a dozen sites whose main theme and focus is ‘helping you discover small, interesting, odd, niche webstuff in a single click – so it is with The Forest, a very minimalist version of the genre. Inspired by the idea that the web was once somewhere you got lost, before Facebook and Insta and the rest turned the crepuscular corners into a single, tarmacadamed highway with BIG SIGNS and INTRUSIVE LIGHTING, users can either choose to be taken to a random site or to submit their own – I think, judging by the places I was taken, this has been knocking around coder communities for a while as there are lots of small portfolio websites and obscure-looking projects cropping up, but some of them are charming (like this one!) and this is worth a look if you’re feeling curious.
  • World of Spectrum: Rest in peace Sir Clive Sinclair. The Spectrum was, if you grew up in the UK in the 1980s, probably your first experience of home computing – my cousins in Nottingham had one, and playing Chuckie Egg on it was by a long way the most exciting thing about visiting them.  World of Spectrum is “the world’s biggest and most popular archive of Spectrum related material. It plays host to a huge archive of software including utilities, games, tools, type-ins, TR-DOS games, et al. The archive also includes documentation, instructions for games, magazine scans, tape inlays and other assorted stuff.” You will need to download an emulator to make this stuff work, but if you can be bothered then it’s a gateway to some wonderful nostalgia (for about 10m, til you remember the games are all objectively terrible by today’s standards and SO HARD MY GOD) and a superb way to torture your kids for the weekend (“No, no, no PS5 today, we’re going to play the games that I used to play when I was your age!” – a statement no child in history has ever reacted to with anything other than misery).

By Trey Abdella



  • What Do You Want Me To Say?: This is a beautiful little online artwork by Lauren Lee McCarthy. What Do You Want Me To Say? Is a piece about the feminised personae we give to voice assistants, and the things that tells us about gender expectations and roles and what is considered to be ‘women’s’ work. Speak to the art and the art speaks back, repeating your words in its own voice (specifically, the voice of McCarthy herself). This is oddly-compelling, and I found myself entering into a far more prolonged call-and-response sequence with my laptop than I was expecting to. If you’re at all interested in digital art distribution (NOT THE NFT SORT FFS) then the platform that this is being exhibited and sold on is also worth a look – the work is available for all to experience for a month, then for its collectors for a year, and then it reverts to being an archive playback version,  including the set of phrases the piece was instructed to say over the year. I am genuinely fascinated to see/hear its final evolution (and I love the fact that the character of the piece changes over time).
  • Ling Your Language: This is SO MUCH FUN! Basically, listen to a short clip of someone speaking – your task is to work out which language they’re speaking in, selecting from a multiple-choice selection. As you play, the game introduces more options to choose from, making the process harder – it’s astonishing quite how many languages I found I recognised, and how the game really quickly teaches you to recognise differences in tonality and nuance between languages which I had always thought in my ignorance sounded similar. I promise you, you may not thing that this will be enjoyable, but you are WRONG. Also, it’s a lovely project – it’s all compiled by volunteers supplying the audio samples, and the description is just super-cute: “Inspired by “The Great Language Game”, LingYourLanguage is a collaborative effort to bring the world’s languages to a wider audience in an entertaining, engaging way. The project began at a hostel in the center of Prague, Czech Republic, where visitors began contributing their languages to the LingYourLanguage collection. It soon spread to family, friends, acquaintances, friends of friends, and so on, and links together people and cultures. We hope to create a collection of all the different languages, varieties, dialects, accents, and linguistic peculiarities that are such an important part of cultures around the world.” See? Adorable.
  • Why The Fcuk Do You Know That?: Specifically, a Reddit thread answering the question ‘what fact do you know that makes people go ‘why the fcuk do you know that’. Fans of odd trivia will be in heaven here – the one about ‘if you hold a sheep’s nose closed it forces said sheep to urinate’ is one I REALLY want to try (with an acquiescent sheep), but my personal favourite is the line, calmly delivered, “The foreskin of circumcised babies are typically reused as lip grafts. I learned this after I had to get my lip replaced.” SO MANY QUESTIONS. There are no citations, so you have to go on trust here (or be willing to do some supplementary Googling to verify the claims), but SO INTERESTING.
  • The IgNobel Prize Winners: Yes, yes, I know this was last week, sorry. Always a wonderful exploration of the sheer insanity of some academic research – how the fcuk the people researching whether the type of film people watch in cinemas makes the cinemas smell different got funding will forever be a mystery to me. Still, it’s good to know that the important research into cat purring is being undertaken – although why exactly we needed two separate investigations into why people sometimes do, and sometimes don’t, bump into each other when crossing the road is beyond me.
  • There is, to my mind at least, something interesting in the fact that despite it being around for a decade or so now, and despite the fact that ‘keeping track of everything you see and read online in a way which makes it retrievable and useful’ is still the sort of thing one would imagine people would find useful, Evernote is still very much a niche concern – and that no other viable competitors have sprung up that do it better. It speaks, I suppose, to the deeply-personal mental models and processes people have for keeping track of their thoughts and ideas and memories, and the utter-impossibility of creating a system and interface that augments these models in a way in which is universally helpful or which suits all, or even most. is AN Other attempt to create a system of tagging and retrieval for the FULL WEB EXPERIENCE – it’s simple and minimalist, with less of the clutter and bloat that has ruined Evernote for many people, and it’s free for the first 200 things that you tag. Pricing beyond that seems reasonable ($45 a year for unlimited collections), but your mileage will depend entirely on whether you can get on board with the interface and whether your brain is the sort that lends itself to index carding everything you see online ever (I wish mine was ffs).
  • Dust: If you’re into scifi or interested in filmmaking (or both!), this is quite the find. Dust is production company whose YouTube channel hosts a staggering number of professionally-produced short scifi films, spanning every single genre convention and trope you can imagine, and all produced with the sort of production values you don’t always see on YouTube. Creators can submit their own completed films for inclusion on the channel, and there are literally HUNDREDS of videos on there, from full series of indie scifi productions to music videos to standalone shorts, running the gamut from space operatics to grimy near-future dystopias. So much material here if you’re a genre fan.
  • Clos: This is amazing – I stumbled across this app via a post from the photographer who shot Zendaya’s recent cover for…Vogue? Elle? Some fashion mag…anyway, they were saying that they had taken the shot featured on the cover using Zendaya’s phone, controlled via this app, whilst sitting at home in London. Which is ASTONISHING. Clos basically lets you take over someone else’s phone from your own, fiddling with all the camera settings and letting you communicate with the subject over the mic – so you can effectively art direct them from the toilet or wherever you happen to be. Obviously you’ll still need someone to worry about lighting, costume and the rest, but this struck me as utterly transformative and quite magical.
  • Space Age Pop: An excellent piece of vintage web, this – a fansite for what the author terms ‘space age pop’, defined loosely as a sort of weird midpoint between rock and jazz, and spanning such microgenres as ‘esoterica’, ‘space-age bachelor pad music’ (no, really) and ‘The Now Sound’. Basically it’s all music that sounds like someone from the 50s and 60s idea of what music might sound like in the future, and it’s GREAT – also, the site hasn’t changed in what I suspect is approximately 20 years, thereby adding to the retro feel of the whole thing. This is a pre-YouTube site (bless!) so doesn’t actually have anything you can listen to, but open YT or Spotify in a separate tab and spend the afternoon on a musical journey into what really doesn’t sound like the space age of anything anymore.
  • Find Tech Jobs: This is a good idea – this site pulls a live(ish) feed of tech jobs posted to Twitter, using nothing but Twitter search API. This is such a good and simple and easy and cheap way of building something like this – can we please do this for EVERYTHING? I’d like one of these that updates me on PS5 drops, and perhaps another that pulls a running list of every single illegal football stream – thanks!
  • YeetGarf: Garfield now exists in quite a strange place in terms of the web and its relationship with him – after the initial flurry of ‘wow, Garfield is actually really weird and dark’ analysis around a decade or so ago (Garfield Minus Garfield remains an ur-text of webart for me), he’s just sort of become a part of digital culture’s substratal layer. Anyway, this is a Twitter account sharing images of Garfield being thrown out of the window – and why not?
  • Suicide Notes: A few years ago there existed a subReddit where people went to post notes before killing themselves; it was shut down due to a lack of moderation in 2018. The people behind this site have taken it upon themselves to bring back the archive of those posts – their reasoning is as follows: “Over the years this subreddit was accessible, a positive community was created around it where users would help each other by talking openly about their problems and struggles. Discussing mental health without the fear of being judged is essential to break down the stigma surrounding suicide and it was something that this subreddit was well known for. The purpose of this website is to ensure that these notes remain safe and accessible so that the people behind them won’t ever be forgotten. Having all these notes available again hopefully serves as a reminder for everyone that we are not alone and that more people than we would expect struggle daily with thoughts of suicide.” TO BE CLEAR, THESE ARE (OR CLAIM TO BE) ACTUAL SUICIDE NOTES – caveat emptor and all that. I’m linking to this not out of some sort of morbid sense of fascination – although I am interested in the stories that people tell about why they choose to end their lives when they do – but because I think it’s important to acknowledge that people do feel sad and alone and awful, and sometimes do kill themselves as a result. Pretending otherwise, or not looking this stuff in the face, is, to my mind, unhelpful. That said, be aware that everything past the second click is VERY SAD, and you should proceed accordingly.
  • The PS4 Emulator: This is SUPER-geeky – it runs on Linux ffs! – but if you are the sort of person who can deal with that then this is apparently the world’s first fully-working PS4 emulator that you can run on your desktop.
  • Ants: File this under the same heading as clicker games, and other stuff that is ‘fun’ for reasons and in ways that I don’t fully understand. The premise of the game here is simple – select a map, place your ant spawning points, and see how much ‘food’ the ants can collect in a set amount of time. Given that this involves two things: a) clicking to place your spawning points; and b) hitting ‘start’ and watching as your ‘ants’ (tiny black pixels’) ‘eat’ their ‘food’ (more pixels, this time green), you wouldn’t expect this to be compelling – AND YET. It’s oddly satisfying to watch your ants chow down, and the compulsion (for me at least) to beat other users’ scores was strong enough to see me waste a good 20 minutes’ of an employer’s time on this.
  • Quake in 13kb: Finally this week, a truly remarkable feat of coding by Dominic Szablewski, who’s built an entirely-playable version of venerable FPS Quake which has a filesize limit of just 13kb (SO SMALL). This is not only technically staggering, but it’s a really nicely-made port which is really fun to play and with which you can comfortably waste the rest of the afternoon should you so choose.

By Mark Forbes



  • The Kimono Gallery: Only one Tumblr this week, but it’s a lovely one – The Kimono Gallery collects images of kimonos – photography, but also portraiture and design work – along with other aesthetically-similar imagery of Japan. Beautifully-curated.


  • Letterboxd Out of Context: A selection of some of the more idiosyncratic opinions left by users of film reviewing and recommending site Letterboxd. As ever with these accounts, you wonder whether much of the content is created on purpose by people wanting to be featured (and then you remember that no, actually this is what we are like) – fair play, though, to the person leaving the all-caps comment under Spider Man: No Way Home “IF ALL THE SPIDERMANS HAVE AN ORGY MY LIFE WILL BE COMPLETE”. You speak for all of us.
  • David Umemoto: Geometric, architectural cut-out cardboard sculptures and designs, like the sort of play set you might see being sold in the gift shop of the Tate which will disappoint every child you give it to, but, well good.


  •  9/11 and the Birth of the Big Lie: This is written by an American, and from a US perspective, but it was hard not to nod along compulsively reading it as a Brit – and I imagine there are many other Western countries where this all feels grimly familiar. The piece lays out the thesis that the attacks on the Twin Towers ushered in a new era of political mendacity in which bigger and bigger lies were required to maintain the illusion that our response to the new world in which we found ourselves was right-thinking and made sense, and wasn’t always doomed to failure. The lies begot lies begot lies, and because this is an American piece the conclusion is that they eventually begot Trump. Leaving aside the Americentrism for a second, though, I think it’s reasonable to argue that the more universal impact of these lies was a generational breakdown of trust and belief for a generation of people – as the author writes, “the legacy 9/11 has left us is that there is no common set of facts we can agree on about anything: Not about the COVID pandemic and masks and vaccines; not about the climate change that has killed hundreds and left town after town burned to the ground or under water and destroyed by tornadoes and hurricanes. We cannot agree that votes counted amount to elections won or lost.  We cannot even agree on the common good of vaccines that will save us, that science is worth studying, that learned experts are worth listening to.”
  • Machine Writing and Literary History: A look at the extent to which our current early-stage experimentation with machine-created texts is a TERRIBLE ABERRATION WHICH WILL DESTROY LITERATURE, or instead, as the author argues, simply a sort of modern extension of the formulaic nature of much of what was termed ‘literature’ in the pre-Romantic era. The central premise here is that whilst we might be sniffy about what machines and GPT-n and ‘probabilistic’ models of writing might end up doing to culture, we should also be aware of the fact that all cultural production is in many respects formulaic and often born of a desire to replicate the mean, and to presume that much of what we do isn’t as fundamentally process-y as what a machine does is perhaps giving a little too much credence to our special-ness and perhaps not giving enough scrutiny to the way writing (and culture) works.
  • Eco Fashion and Animal Rights: I really, really enjoyed this article, but must preface it by saying that it’s coming from a place of relatively-vested interest – the publication it appears in is called Craftsmanship, and is all about CRAFT and BEING AN ARTISAN, and so it’s not…hugely surprising that they would carry a longread about how vegan leather is not that good for the planet actually. With those caveats in mind, this is a really good look at how incredibly fcuking complicated questions of environmental ethics are when discussing when it is and is not eco-friendly to use non-animal products. Non-animal is not necessarily the same as ‘good for the planet’, is the central tenet here – there’s a lot of interesting stuff about the branding of ‘vegan’ as a concept, and the extent to which it’s as oddly-greenwashed as any other lifestyle choice being sold to us via mass-market capitalism. Small authorial note here – I DO NOT THINK THERE IS ANYTHING BAD ABOUT BEING VEGAN, just fyi.
  • Lebanon Is Gone: One of the sad realities of The Way The News Works for most of us is that something will happen in a country we know little about, we will spend 48h reading explainers helpfully put together by journalists to give us the precis of What We Need To Know, and then approximately 48h after that we will largely forget about that country’s existence until the next time it appears on the news. So it was (for me at least) with Lebanon, in the news last year following the tragic port explosion and which my cursory reading informed me was in a bit of a mess, generally – this piece in the NYT by Lebanese writer Lina Mounzer takes us back to the country a year on, and paints a picture of a barely-functional state which is struggling to support its people. This is very, very sad, and an incredible account of what a country in the process of falling apart looks like.
  • Chinese Podcasting: A look at popular podcasting platforms in China, how they work, and how that functionality means that the ecosystem for podcasts there looks rather different to how it looks in the West. “Instead of serving as just search and recommendation engines, [podcasting apps] also had features that allowed listeners to take notes and leave comments on their favorite audio content. On Ximalaya, listeners can create and join listening circles or discussion channels, or give gifts to support their favorite shows. Creators can livestream, monetize via advertising programs, and provide voiceover services — all within one app.” This all feels like stuff that will be coming to Spotify et al sooner rather than later, so worth perhaps thinking about what you can do with it when it does.
  • New Emoji!!!: I used to get very angry about emoji, particularly in that period around…2014(?) when they were everywhere and you couldn’t move for someone trying to flog you a pillow in the shape of a smiley poo, but I have mellowed slightly, not least as my girlfriend is a creative user of the medium and also because it feels like the way in which people use them has shifted and evolved slightly (language in ‘constantly-evolving’ SHOCKER! Ffs Matt, really). This is the latest dispatch from a really interesting newsletter which is all about emoji, their usage, their development and the wider culture around them, and makes some interesting points around what the new set of Unicode symbols announced this week mean in terms of the way in which we now use them as an adjunct to written communication. Basically the whole thing about moving from emoji as single carriers of meaning to contextually-dependent signifiers that are best-used in concatenated sequence (what a horrid sentence, I am sorry) is fascinating to me, and if you have any interest in linguistics then it may well be to you too.
  • The eBay Beanie Baby Scams: The Beanie Baby boom is one of those online stories that gets resurrected for a new generation every 3-4 years or so – this article talks about a resurgence in interest in the inexplicably-popular-in-the-90s plush toys based around their allegedly-soaring resale value. Obviously said spiralling resale value is all a scam, being fueled by grifters looking to make a quick buck out of gullible idiots, but what was most interesting to me about this was the extent to which at almost every point in this piece you could replace the term ‘Beanie Baby’ with ‘NFT’ and it would make about as much sense. IT IS HAPPENING AGAIN.
  • The Virtual Stripclubs of Roblox: My friend Dave got in touch with me a few months ago to ask whether his son – my godson – should be allowed on Roblox (he’s 9 – or at least I think he is, I am a terrible godfather). I responded with some sort of blithe ‘yeah, it’s fine, they have pretty good moderation and it’s not that paedo-y’ – then of course the stories started about Roblox exploiting kids with the promise of never-attainable developer millions, and now this? Yes, apparently there are strip clubs in Roblox where, er, people can watch blocky flesh-coloured avatars sliding up and down poles. Look, this is obviously a bit iffy, fine, but it also seems a BIT like a moral panic in search of an audience – or at least that’s what I’m going to tell Dave when he calls me and asks why Jack is twerking for pennies in a digital sex dungeon.
  • OnlyFans Burnout: Or, ‘turns out there is a limit to how many times a day you can crack one off on camera!’. My unfunny snark aside, this is a really interesting story that gets to the heart of what, for me, is rotten at the heart of every iteration of the ‘creator economy’ myth (regardless of the form of said ‘creation’) – to whit, that the effort required for most people to sustain a living doing this stuff is INSANE. We know it about YouTube and Insta (honestly, do any of you know any people who are professional content creators? Are you jealous of them? I doubt it, if so), we’re learning about Twitch, and so it is with OnlyFans – except quite possibly moreso, due to the specific and peculiar emotional connections that develop between fans and the object of their desires. The stories here about the amount of time performers have to spend pandering to the fans to secure those sweet, sweet tips are bleak.
  • The Food Wars: Almost a companion piece to the vegan/eco one earlier on, this looks at the increasingly impossible-to-navigate debate around food and nutrition and health, and the insane quantity of conflicting and often contradictory advice being peddled about what is safe and advisable to consume. From influencers to Big Food, everyone has strident opinions about what we should – and, more often, shouldn’t – be consuming, and it’s increasingly becoming as much of an ideological position as a nutritional one to declare oneself an adherent of a certain stance on diet. What does this all sound like? THAT’S RIGHT, MORE CULTS. I will die on this hill, I tell you.
  • The Man Who Made Pixar Possible: This is a lovely portrait of an incredible-sounding man. Alvy Ray Smith was a proper visionary, a man whose conceptualisation of what could be achieved with computer software to make imagery ended up defining a large part of what we can now do in that field, and without whom we wouldn’t have computer animation as we know it. Every part of this is lovely and hugely inspirational (and I say that as someone who hates the word ‘inspirational’ and all it stands for) – if you have any interest in the history of computing, or animation, or just really clever people pursuing brilliant ideas, you will love this.
  • The 500 Best Songs of All Time: Rolling Stone this week published the updated version of their ‘best songs ever’ rundown, first published in 2004 and now refreshed to make sure it includes all the great music created since then, like Rebecca Black’s ‘Friday’ (the list does not in fact contain Rebecca Black’s ‘Friday’). This is obviously a) too long; and b) clickbait in the extreme (the only point of ranking things is to make people angry, after all) – that said, musos among you will enjoy getting irate at how they have/have not included that song, and I personally enjoyed a few of the selections that suggested that the editors were trying just a bit too hard to be cool with some of the recent selections (there is no way in hell that Kanye deserves this many entries, for one) (GAH! THEY HAVE SUCKED ME INTO THE DISCOURSE!)
  • Generation Wars: I wasn’t expecting to read something this interesting in the pages of Marie Claire Australia, if I’m honest (sorry, Marie Claire Australia!), but this article – in which the magazine interrogates the largely-made-up three-way intergenerational beef between Gen-Z, millennials and Gen-X through a conversation between three women of appropriate age. Honestly, this really cheered me up – it’s not hugely revealing, but there’s something really lovely about the way in which three generations find common ground and agreement, and it’s pleasingly-free of the sort of manufactured antagonism you sometimes find in these things. A palette-cleanser of an article, should you need one.
  • The Wine Is Changing: “Climate change is altering forever the flavour profile of my beloved California Zinfandels!” is, to be clear, the sort of middle-class cry that is ripe for parody, but this article – about the effect the increasing prevalence of wildfires across the West coast of the US is having on grapes and the viticulture industry as a whole, and the wine it produces – manages to be smart and interesting without at any point making you think that the wine is necessarily the important thing here. Another excellent article exploring how something huge that we all know about is affecting something tiny which we don’t – one of my favourite genres.
  • Mastering The Mental Game of Tennis: This is a great piece of personal writing by Sarah Manavis in the New Statesman, on what it was like for her becoming good at tennis – Manavis was, by her own account, a good-but-unspectacular player who one Summer learned to sort her head out enough to make the sort of leap in ability that makes coaches sit up and take notice. If you’ve ever read David Foster Wallace on his experiences as a good-but-not-great teen tennis player in the American midwest, you will enjoy this – the most interesting part, to my mind, is not just the extent to which Manavis’ mentality was the key to her improvement, but also the extent to which it’s even possible to ‘enjoy’ something when you’re approaching it like this. Read the piece and then think to yourself whether you’d want to think in the manner that it suggests you need to to attain success – I for one probably would not (which is obviously the ONLY thing holding me back from success, sporting or otherwise, and not a host of other failings).
  • The Voice vs The Pose: OK, I said I wasn’t going to post any Sally Rooney discussion but, well, this is only sort-of about Rooney and so I think I’m allowed. I’ve seen this article described elsewhere as ‘Roth is better than Rooney’, which I think is sort-of missing the point; the author contrasts stylistic trends in novel writing by comparing your 20thC canonical authors (men, mostly w4nkers, defined as ‘authors of voice’) with contemporary stars of modern fiction such as Ben Lerner, Otessa Moshfeghi and, yes, Rooney (defined as ‘authors of pose’). I don’t personally think there’s that much value judgement in here – instead, I found it an interesting analysis of the differing ways in which authors ‘present’ themselves in their work from then to now, and who that ‘presentation’ is for.
  • Karachi: A wonderful portrait of Karachi, and what it can tell the observer about Pakistan as a whole. This is an extract from a book called Karachi: Death and Life in a Divided City, and it was so good it motivated me to buy the whole thing which never happens.
  • In Search of Memsahib: Sejal Sukhadwala goes looking for a half-remembered Indian restaurant – this is lovely, on the impermanence of culture and how to write really good ad copy.
  • Guts: We close this week with a piece from Vittles – Abbas Asaria writes about a peculiar pre-match ritual of Atletico Madrid fans, the eating of deep-fried offal, and what happened to that ritual and the restaurants that housed it when the stadium moved a few years ago. Football, culture and intestines – this is GREAT, and will make you want crispy intestines in a bun more than you ever have before.

By Pablo Geraldo Camacho


Webcurios 10/09/21

Reading Time: 34 minutes

Have you pre-ordered your ZuckerBans yet? Will you be rushing to don a pair of shiny, branded surveillance specs with which to better CREATE and through which you can enable your fans, followers, friends and family (delete as applicable, or alternatively come up with an entirely new word for the odd combination of all four audiences that certain people seem to honestly believe they are all times presenting for) to get closer to the real ESSENCE of the YOU-EXPERIENCE?

No, I can’t imagine you have, have you? And yet that doesn’t really matter, because SOME people will have, and that means that we’re ever closer to a world in which you don’t just have to contend with the fact that you’re inevitably being surveilled by CCTV but you also have to account for the reality that some dreadful person will be snapping you unbeknownst and irregardless of your wishes. So it goes, as a wise man once wrote.

What does this all mean, though? Two predictions, in case you care: 1) enthusiasts of point-of-view pornography are going to find themselves very well-catered for (and in the real world, noone should EVER have sex with anyone wearing sunglasses ever again, or at least not without taping over the top-right lens); and 2), we are going to see an absolute explosion in the numbers of that very specific genre of video in which someone awful has a meltdown whilst being filmed by someone who, whilst not being quite as awful as the person melting down, does themselves no moral favours by uploading that video to the internet in pursuit of numbers. So, er, that’s something to look forward to!

Anyway, that was my TOPICAL TAKE on the big tech announcement of the week (aren’t you glad I didn’t decide to focus my CRITICAL NOUS on tomorrow’s anniversary?) – now on with the webspaff! A particularly thick and clotted batch this week, so imbibe with due caution and take regular breaks as this sort of stuff can tax even the sturdiest of constitutions.

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and I apologise to all the new subscribers (whose immediate unsubscription I totally understand and in some small way admire – would that I could stop so easily).

By Sophie Gladstone



  • Lifeforms: I feel I should apologise for Web Curios’ continued coverage of the NFT thing – what can I say, I am simply a MIRROR TO THE ZEITGEIST. Also, whilst I don’t personally have any interest in owning a verified link to a file somewhere on the internet, I do find the thickening, coalescing sense of possibility around the movement increasingly interesting, even if only as an ur-example of the evergrowing cultification of everything (see Curios passim). Lifeforms is an interesting riff on the phenomenon – my notes (ha! ‘notes’!) describe the link as ‘NFTamagotchi’, which is not a million miles from the truth. This is very much NFT-as-art project – to whit: “Lifeforms are NFT-based entities created by Sarah Friend. Like any living thing, lifeforms need regular care in order to thrive. If not properly looked after, lifeforms die. A lifeform that has died will no longer appear in wallets, is not transferable, and cannot be brought back to life in any way. How do you care for a lifeform? Within 90 days of receiving it, you must give it away.” So basically a game of digital creature pass-the-parcel? GREAT! Friend has also taken the time to try and make the project as un-environmentally ruinous as possible, which is sort-of the bare minimum anyone playing in this space ought to attempt, and there’s no theoretical limit to the amount of these which can be created and traded – “The lifeforms on display on this website are in foster care at the Kunstverein Hamburg until November 14, 2021. After this, these lifeforms will continue their perilous journey through many hands, and the lifeforms contracts will open for public creation. Lifeforms run on polygon, a proof of stake network with a low ecological footprint. The total supply of lifeforms is uncapped, and creation will cost ~10 USD’. Despite my absolute skepticism of the whole sh1tshow around the NFT scene I am very tempted to create one of these and then send it out into the world and see where it ends up.
  • Slaps: “What if TripAdvisor, but TikTok?’ is a question that I can’t imagine anyone has ever posed, and which now it exists in the wild is a clear contender for ‘worst speculative app idea of 2021’. Except it’s not speculative, it’s real, and it’s here in the form of Slaps, “The video-based discovery platform built for Gen Z to show the best places in town, now” (if you are not <25 you can FCUK OFF, basically). Not only does this strike me as A Bad Idea – “would you like to be able to quickly browse community reviews of venues to be able to assess their suitability for your current needs?” “NO!! What I would like to do instead is sit through 9 1-minute videos in which people performatively play the role of ‘reviewer’ in the neverending fcuking self-directed soap opera that they appear to have decided is their life!” – but the language on the page slightly does my head in. “Local discovery platforms are outdated, flawed, & biased”, it says, “Videos are far more informative than 1-5 star reviews tbh”. Also, categories are hypergenZ to the point of parody, with categories for venues including ‘vibes’ and the almost-unwriteable ‘Grammable Places’ (you can’t see me, but I am cringing so hard as I type that that my entire being is now nothing more than a puckered anus of embarrassment). Now I know that this is copy designed to rile the old – I know this, and yet here I am, biting like a piranha. Anyway, this is VERY early, and in Beta, and I think only operating in Florida at present, but I’m interested in whether the current vogue for ‘that thing, but this time video!’ catches on.
  • Face The Facts: Germany goes to the polls in just over a fortnight, ushering in a strange new world in which Mutti is no longer Mutti and we have to recalibrate our perceptions of How Europe Works (not that we have to care anymore, what with our surfeit of post-Brexit control). In the run-up to polling day, this is a joint project by…a bunch of organisations that I don’t recognise what with their being German and all that, but which looks like a coalition of not-for-profits and pro-democracy institutions, which is designed to let Germans quickly and easily find information about the candidates on their ballots who are currently being advertised to them on posters and billboards nationwide. Face The Facts is a downloadable app which Germans can use to scan political posters – the app will then pull up information about the candidate in question, the party they represent, their voting record (if a current parliamentarian), all taken from verified public sources (and Wikipedia). It’s a super-smart use of image recognition and search tech, and whilst obviously the success of the project depends on people actually being aware of the app and downloading it, the idea is a super-smart one which can be used over and over again. I know a few German people read this, so if any of you have THOUGHTS on this I would be fascinated to hear them – it strikes me as a neat idea, though.
  • Ghostpacer: On the one hand, this is VERY scifi – on the other, it already feels oddly-dated, and the sort of thing that has a lifespan exactly as long as it takes for a proper AR glasses solution to come to market. Ghostpacer is a company making mixed-reality glasses which exist solely to provide wearers with an AR training companion for when they run. That’s literally it – put the glasses on, load up some data from your previous run or from some terrifying local superstar on Strava, and then watch as the blue CG hominid absolutely destroys you in a virtual race. It’s a really clever idea – the idea of ‘ghost runners’ is a longstanding one from games, and it’s a logical step to bring this to life via AR/MR for training purposes, and the Strava data thing is a great touch – it was backed on Indiegogo a year ago and is just about ready to ship, apparently. There’s seemingly no current option to buy, but keep an eye on the site if you’re curious (and, er, look at reviews before you do, as, well, crowdfunding).
  • Made To Measure: “Made to Measure is an experiment that asks if you can reconstruct a person based solely on their digital data trail. Can you build a doppelganger of a person you don’t even know? Record, recreate, and replay the life of someone and their personality in detail? This is exactly what we attempted to do. In Summer 2020, we published spots on social media requesting personal data from people with access to Google and Facebook. More than 100 people from all over Europe answered our call and anonymously handed over their data.” This is, to be clear, a documentary and requires 80m or so of your time – it is, though, really interesting and very well-made, and is a nicely-practical antidote to much of the frothier post-Cadwalladr ‘THEY ARE ALL WATCHING US’ fearmongering of the past few years (to be clear – they are all watching us, but they don’t care what we are doing because you, and I, don’t matter).
  • The Matrix is BACK!: You all obviously know this by now – the internet has been all aquiver at Lena Wachowski’s attempt to make up for Matrices 2 & 3 – but the promo website they’ve made is very slick (as you’d expect) and worth a look if you’ve yet to check it out. There’s the standard redpill/bluepill choice as an entry mechanic – the smart bit is the use of IP tracking and other gubbins to present to you a TOTALLY PERSONALISED EXPERIENCE, splicing together a selection of shots from the forthcoming film based on various datapoints (where you are, the time you log on, etc etc) meaning each little trailerexperience is ‘unique’. This is not only sort-of cool (and the fact that the time gets seamlessly-integrated into the voice-over is a small-but-impressive touch, and there’s an object lesson here in how modern tech will soon make certain aspects of creative work obsolete – how long before you just shoot a bunch of stuff and then throw it into an AI blender for the creation of infinite numbers of edits which will then get A/B tested to bggery until an optimal version is found with no human input whatsoever? Not that long.
  • Elan School: This is a quite remarkable thing. Elan School is a webcomic which has been running for a little while and which is still ongoing and approaching what I think will be its climax. It tells the story of its author, anonymously writing under the pseudonym ‘Joe Nobody’, and his experience at the Elan School, a real-life facility which existed in the US until 2011, and which was basically a cult-like system for the coercion and control of ‘problem’ children who were sent there by desperate parents who feared their progeny were headed down A Bad Path. This is very long, and very harrowing, and not an easy read, but as a work of art it’s quite amazing. The art style is simple-but-powerful, and improves over the course of the comic’s evolution, and the story is gripping – I inhaled this over the course of a couple of hours, and am anxiously awaiting the next instalment. Were I the sort of person who put trigger warnings on links, this would carry multiple – there’s a lot of bleak stuff in here, although it’s relatively sensitively-handled and doesn’t feel sensationalist at all. Highly recommended (I mean, EVERYTHING here is highly recommended – what, you think I just throw in any old sh1t? You should see the stuff I don’t link to).
  • The Ultimate Emulator: This is a very, very geeky link, but there are some of you for whom it might be the best present EVER. This is a device which calls itself the MISTer and which is basically a little semi-DIY bit of electrical kit which emulates every single console from the past you can imagine, upto the PlayStation era. NES, SNES, MegaDrive, Neo Geo…if these names mean anything to you and spark a small ember of 90s nostalgia and make your thumbs twitch with the memory of horrible, Sonic-induced blisters, this may well be for you. The website does a generally-terrible job of selling the kit to normies, so take a look at this article and see if the MISTer is something you could fall in love with – it looks like a lot of fun.
  • Villagebot: Thanks to Ale for sending this my way – Villagebot is a simple, single-function website which generates made-up names for English villages. It’s built on a neural net trained on ACTUAL VILLAGE NAMES, you can tweak the model to make it more or less mad in its suggestions (turn it up much over halfway and it starts throwing out things like “Farn Greggneux”, which sounds to my mind like a cattarhal Devonian’s battlecry), or specify certain prefixes, and if you’ve a need to generate names of fictitious places for any reason whatsoever then this could be perfect for you – after all, it would be a shame if such inventions as “Bogworth”, “Rotaby” or “Almshaut” went to waste.
  • Preserving Worlds: There’s a small niche genre of online content these days which I feel deserves a name – maybe digitalhistorchaelogy? Yeah, that’s catchy, let’s go with that! By which, of course, I mean ‘the practice of revisiting virtual worlds which are now abandoned or in abeyance to see what they teach us about the digital and analogue lives we used to lead in the distant and comforting-looking past’ – which is what Preserving Worlds is doing. The site is a wrapper for a documentary hosted on MeansTV (linked to directly here), which takes you through the history of Second Life, MystOnline, ZZT and others – the first link offers you an overview of the documentary, and a host of links to learn more about each of the digital environments featured. I know that this sort of thing feels a bit…frivolous, on first glance, but I honestly think there are all sorts of important things to be learned about how humans interrelate in digital spaces from looking at how nascent online communities and ‘worlds’ developed (but I also appreciate that it’s perhaps more appealing to just sit on TikTok and not think about it).
  • Fairuseify: I’m not 100% sure, but I can imagine certain musicians having a few…thoughts about the term ‘fair use’ in the title of this new AI-based service. Plug in an MP3 of any song you like and the AI will ‘learn’ that song and create a version of it which is a bit similar but just different enough to ensure that you don’t fall foul of copyright. I have had a very brief play with this, and the results are…not great (I think perhaps I was a touch ambitious in my hope that it would out-Mozart Mozart), but then again they probably don’t need to be. If all you want is ‘muzak that is reminiscent of Taylor Swift’ then this is perfectly-capable of churning out exactly that (albeit for an audience that has only ever heard Taylor Swift coming out of someone’s phone on the upstairs deck of a bus, but still) – if you’re a composer making commercial tracks for libraries then, er, another reason not to be cheerful, I’m afraid. – EDITOR’S NOTE – ANDY BAIO GOT IN TOUCH AND TOLD ME THIS IS A QUITE OBVIOUS FAKE, WHICH IS EMBARRASSING ON A NUMBER OF LEVELS AND WILL TEACH ME NOT TO CHECK THINGS PROPERLY BEFORE POSTING ABOUT  THEM
  • Thoughts: I am unlikely to ever use this, but I am glad it exists. “ is a platform for hosting a small webpage for your thoughts. it’s basically like twitter, but nobody can @ you…thoughts pages are an attempt at a quieter, slower, more personal internet. a little space on the web, just for you.” There’s something about the format that makes reading other people’s ‘Thoughts’ pages a strangely-intimate experience, perhaps because you get the impression that they were never written with the intention of being read – you can find a few living examples of live Thoughts pages here, and they might inspire you to start your own.
  • Sprout: No, not the horrible joyless social marketing platform – this is FUN! Feeling very much like something which should have come out a year ago (not dated, just very much OF THE PANDEMIC), Sprout is a super-interesting little tool/toy which feels like Miro or similar but SO MUCH NICER. Basically anyone can create a Sprout space and invite others to it for videochat, coworking, brainstorming, collaboration and, eventually, publication as a webpage – the scope here for making interesting and fun and intensely-personal little spaces online is vast, and I think you could have a really good time making something with similarly-minded friends.
  • Generative Fish: You may recall that a few weeks ago I linked to a small project which generated a completely new, AI-imagined fish at the press of a button – you remember, right? SOMEONE READS AND CLICKS ON EVERYTHING, DON’T THEY???? Ahem. Obviously you don’t remember, but I do (it’s here, in case your curious) – anyway, someone saw that project and thought ‘yeah, I can totally rip that code and use it to create an NFT marketplace!’ and lo! Generative Fish was born. Generate a fish, mint a bunch on Ethereum and…er…own a bunch of digital fish drawings? Still, it’s good to know that, for the enterprising amongst you, Web Curios offers a regular stream of ideas that you can turn into a massively-shady grift on a weekly basis!
  • HBD NFT: Do you have a loved one with a significant birthday coming up? Would you like to get them something which isn’t just a banal gift but is instead a promise of future earnings, and membership of an exciting new community and, obviously, a marker of the giver’s exquisite taste and zeitgeist-surfing ability? Yeah, fcuk flowers, fcuk dinner, fcuk a holiday or theatre tickets or jewellery or experiences – the BEST presents these days are entirely digital and NON-FUNGIBLE! Just imagine the look on their face when you give them their card and they see you’ve included a link to, er, a CG image of a friendly piñata! There are of course a limited number, and of course some of them are SPECIAL (this is, I have realised EXACTLY the same as Panini sticker albums having occasional ‘shiny’ foil stickers, isn’t it?) and they are currently retailing at about £150 so, er, why not? (that is a rhetorical question, please do not attempt to engage me on this as I will likely cry and start expressing blood).
  • Frasier Looking at Videogames: A Twitter account featuring pictures of Frasier staring out of his insane apartment and seeing, instead of Seattle’s skyline, a scene from a videogame. No idea why this is funny, but it is (this is canonical and I will brook no argument).
  • Tiny Text Generator: I find ᴠᴇʀʏ sᴍᴀʟʟ ᴛᴇxᴛ on Twitter strangely affecting/amusing. If you do too, then this site (which lets you type anything you like and then copy the resulting tinytext for use elsewhere) may be of interest. If you don’t, it won’t.
  • Mad Max’s Cars: I have literally no idea what you would do with one of the cars from the 21stC Mad Max film (fan conventions? Road trip? Turn it into a massive planter and create weird postapocalyptic submissions to next year’s Chelsea Flower Show? Actually I quite like the idea of the last one of those), but if you think that you could give them a good home then you will LOVE this forthcoming auction taking place in Australia at the end of September where there are 14 lots, all starting at the low, low price of $1. The first one is a bundle of 13 different cars – I have no idea how much any of these could possibly go for, but I like the idea that at least one of them will be sold to a drunk man on the other side of the world who will have to have a very awkward conversation the next morning about where the savings have gone and what the fcuk he thinks they are going to do with an 8ft high monster truck in various shades of Uluru rust.
  • BugGirl2000: This is literally just a tshirt shop, but I found the designs so utterly charming and very funny that I thought you might too. The Twilight / One Direction ones made me properly LOL, which isn’t something I often say about either Twilight or 1D – obviously none of this is the sort of thing that I personally as a 41 year old man could or would want to wear, but I appreciate that some of you are Not Like Me and as such there are a few of you who might be young enough to get away with these.

By Gueorgui Pinkhassov



  • Minus: Yeah, I think it really does feel like an interesting period of fertile creativity in terms of people experimenting at the edges of digital/social platforms – I HAVE CALLED IT, IT IS A TREND! Fine, a microtrend that has little-to-no-impact on mainstream culture, but still. Minus is another vector in that trend – a project which is supported by Arebyte Gallery and made by Ben Grosser which imagines a social network built on a principle of scarcity of posts. If you only had 100 posts to play with – 100 ever, and then you were never allowed to post again – what would you post? How does that change the act / nature of ‘posting’? You may not use your 100 posts, but it’s interesting to create a profile and see how others are choosing to use theirs.
  • RemoteOK: This is a cute idea – RemoteOK is a recruitment site for remote working positions, and they’ve made a version of their website which looks exactly like a word document for jobseekers who are forced to come into the office by their EVIL AND UNCARING bosses (my girlfriend was told this week that the expectation is that she will be in the office one day a week come next year which, honestly, is pretty much the dream, no?), so that they can browse for new roles incognito, right under the EVIL AND UNCARING bosses’ noses. Simple, clever, and a gentle reminder that they could have done this all on GDocs for free and so could you.
  • Neglected Books: I love this – Neglected Books is a site which reviews and writes up books which are, er, neglected – authors who have fallen out of fashion, obscure imprints, anything that’s a bit musty and unpopular. Honestly, if you’re interested in books and literature then this is an absolute treasure trove – I learned about the fascinating life and work of Peter Vansittart thanks to this site, and there is SO MUCH wonderful information to enjoy here, and new (old) authors to discover.
  • Precious Plastic: This is so incredibly Dutch, in a good way (what’s the bad way? Workplace rudeness and an inexplicable insistence on making you drink milk at lunchtime?) – Precious Plastic is an initiative which has gone through various iterations since its genesis in 2012, and which now seeks to help people around the world get involved with plastics recycling on a commercial level – giving people the tools and information needed to set up their own small businesses dealing with plastics (reusing, remoulding, repurposing, recycling) at a local level and educating them as to how to make a difference to the impact of plastics on the environment. “Our solutions see people as the key element to fix the plastic mess. Precious Plastic approaches count on people to bring about the necessary change.Small steps, multiplied by millions. That’s where we can win our battle. We don’t believe in techno-utopian, fix-it-all, dream technology. Precious Plastic is a combination of people, machines, platforms and knowledge to create an alternative global recycling system.” This is genuinely great.
  • The Estate of Al Capone: If you didn’t fancy the Mad Max murdervehicles a few links back, perhaps this auction will be slightly more your speed – California auction house Withells is running an auction in early October, selling off a bunch of items from the estate of Al Capone. You could, if you so wished, bid on some old daguerrotype photos of chubby-cheeked Al as a butter-wouldn’t-melt child, or maybe chuck a few hundred quid on, er, some questionable pottery gewgaws seemingly held in high regard by the Capone family. OR you could bid on a bunch of Capone’s guns – the estimated sale prices for these seem VERY low, and part of me wonders whether if I buy Al’s Smith and Wesson (estimated sale price: $500-1000!!!) they’ll just post it to me in Rome and trust that I won’t do any Bad Things with it (I won’t, I promise – my mum got into trouble with the police a couple of years back because she found an old gun of my grandfather’s and handed it in; she has a record now as a result, which says all you need to know about the way the Italian policing system works, and explains why I’m not hugely keen on having another illicit firearm in the house).
  • The Camera Offset Project: Let’s stop doing videocalls. Please. I don’t care about your face, I don’t need to see it, stop showing it to me. Let’s all just go back to the days of voice-only remote conversation so we can all start rolling our eyes and silent-screaming and all the other cathartic gestures that you can make off-video and which having to suppress makes being on-video so draining and painful (I say this as someone who has outright-refused to do videocalls at any point during the past 18m). If you want a good excuse – although why you should need one beyond ‘I DO NOT SEE WHY IT MATTERS IF YOU CAN SEE ME EFFECTING A PAINFUL RICTUS GRIN HOW IS THIS GERMANE TO MY WORK YOU FCUKING SADISTS’ is a mystery to me – as to why you should be allowed to turn off the camera, why not appeal to sustainability? Yes, the genius ‘fact’ that turning off your camera reduces the carbon footprint of your videocall by 96% may be total bullsh1t (there’s a distinct absence of citations on the site), but WHO CARES? All your clients’ sustainability claims are total bullsh1t too, so they will be too scared to call you out when instead of your face they instead see a smug poster explaining how you’re going camera free for the planet. This is the work of some ad agency called McKinney, who I imagine are as sick of looking at serried ranks of bored faces as I am.
  • Playbyte: Or TikTok for games (‘TikTok for X’ is the new ‘Tinder for Y’!) – this is a really interesting idea that I am fascinated to try but can’t yet due to iOS-exceptionalism, but which is effectively a no-code platform on which anyone can make a simple (by all accounts VERY simple – we’re talking NewGrounds shovelware-type stuff here) game using the on-platform software and submit it for play by anyone else on the platform. All the games are single-screen, and the user-experience for players is a simple ‘play, swipe, play another’ interface which will apparently ‘learn’ your tastes and serve you increasingly-’you’-type content until, presumably, you are so entranced that you will never again do anything else. There’s something lovely about the no-code nature of this – UNFETTERED CREATIVITY! – although inevitably it means that 99.9% of everything on the platform will end-up being borderline-unplayable, and a similar proportion will inevitably end up being Columbine simulators rendered in emoji. There’s a writeup here if you’re interested – can I just invite you to take a close look at the game pictured in the article, to give you an idea of the content? Yes, that’s right, it’s a ‘shoot civilians’ button. Very much caveat emptor here, as this is obviously going to be a poorly-moderated hellhole and the sort of thing I can see eliciting a frothy ‘THINK OF THE CHILDREN!’ Daily Mail worrypiece in a few short weeks’ time.
  • Podopi: I imagine all of you who listen to podcasts spend much of your lives thinking ‘God, there simply aren’t enough of the bstard things! I NEED MORE AUDIO CONTENT’ – so thank GOD for Podopi, which offers anyone the ability to turn any online content into a Podcast automatically. “Without lifting a finger, Podopi turns blog text into spoken audio and video’. Will said automatically-created audio and video be any good? NO! Of course it won’t! And who the fcuk in their right mind would want to listen to a computer-generated voice reading out a blogpost? NO FCUKER, that’s who! Still, MOAR CONTENT! Should I be mistaken here, and should there be a hitherto-unimagined appetite for Web Curios in podcast form, please do let me know.
  • The Star Trek Show Bibles: I am neither a Trekkie or a Trekker (I can never recall which is which, but apparently one of these is ‘someone who quite likes Star Trek’ and the other is ‘someone who has gone to the trouble of learning Klingon’), but I find these documents super-interesting in terms of worldbuilding and framing – this site offers the show bibles for each of the Star Trek series available for your perusal. Want to know what the guardrails guiding the narrative development of The Next Generation are? Want to know what the core storytelling principles of Voyager were? If you’re in the business of worldbuilding, or interested in how to create principles to inform storytelling, this is all absolute gold – equally, if you’re the sort of person who knows Worf’s inside leg measurement this will be grist to your weird, obsessional mill.
  • Untools: I am aware that many of you working in the loosely-defined field of ‘strategy’ will occasionally use models and frameworks with which to structure your thinking and present a rigorous working of your thought processes to arrive at the KILLER INSIGHT that will help you sell more bathroom equipment (or something). If you’re that sort of person, this site – which collects a wide range of different thinking tools and methodologies and frameworks – might well be of use. These are as-useful for systems thinkers and designers and UX people as they are for ‘strategists’, frankly, and are a boon for anyone attempting to add a degree of rigour to their processes (I laugh in the face of ‘rigour’, which explains why I am likely to be very unemployed in a few short months’ time).
  • The Film Colour Database: Interested in the history of film and how colour in movies evolved over time? OH GOOD! “This database was created in 2012 and has been developed and curated by Barbara Flueckiger, professor at the Department of Film Studies, University of Zurich to provide comprehensive information about historical film color processes invented since the end of the 19th century including specific still photography color technologies that were their conceptual predecessors.” One for the professionals, this, but if you’re in the business (or studying the history of cinema) then this site is potentially very useful indeed.
  • Maiahi Bot: I LOVE THIS. A Twitter bot with a single purpose – tag it in a Tweet containing an image, and it will (eventually) reply with a version of the same image turned into a little animation which sings the Maiahi song (you will know it when you hear it). This is very silly, but VERY fun and the sort of thing which you will be grateful for bookmarking next time you want to troll someone who’s foolishly posted a photo of themselves to Twitter.
  • 1001 Albums Generator: If you feel that the one thing you REALLY want to do now that the world is opening up again is to commit yourself to a long online project that will eat into your time and possibly give you an excuse not to have to engage with the real world ever again then HERE YOU ARE! The 1001 Albums Generator is a nice idea which takes the list of ‘1001 Albums You Need To Hear Before You Die’ (as listed in this book) and turns them into a randomly-arranged ‘to listen’ list, which prompts you to listen to a new album from the list each day, with Spotify links to facilitate the process and a function to take notes on each to record your thoughts. You can even generate a new sequence for group listening, with everyone able to collaboratively share ratings on each album. Whether you’ll have the stamina to keep the project up for 3 years is questionable, but as a way of creating a series of scheduled obligations you can use an excuse to avoid social commitments for the foreseeable future (“No, sorry, Ican’t come to your birthday dinner, I simply must listen to and rate White On Blonde this evening”) it’s pretty superb.
  • Daily: This is sort-of amazing – Daily is an API service that basically lets anyone add videocalling (PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD NOW) or audiochat to any website, for free (fine, there are paid tiers too, but the free version should be enough for most projects). The web is amazing sometimes – something that was the preserve of specialist software just a few years ago, now a free plugin for literally any site you care to mention.
  • Relisten: Relisten is an incredible archive of live concert audio from the past 30-ish years, presenting a truly astonishing amount of bootleg recordings in one place. The list of bands featured is slightly-odd – there’s a definite prog-ish bent, along with some artists who I haven’t thought of for literally decades (Matisyahu! Orthodox hiphop! Jesus, or perhaps more-accurately Yahweh!) and far more who I have never heard of in my life, but if you’re interested in delving into the live back catalogues of, say, Leftover Salmon (no, really), this will please you no end.
  • English Sandwich: Simple-but-excellent culinary guessing game – you get presented with a list of ingredients and a photo, and your task is to guess which nation the dish is from. It’s multiple-choice, which makes it a touch less daunting, and it’s a really interesting way of learning about cuisines from around the world and also of learning about regional similarities in ingredient usage and flavour combinations. In particular there’s SO much to learn about the foods of various African nations – if you live in a multicultural city (GOD I MISS LONDON SO MUCH) it’s also an excellent way of picking which nation’s food you’re going to try next.
  • Mapping Theories of Everything: I have mentioned on here before the extent to which I am baffled and indeed slightly-frightened by physics at a high level – I simply don’t understand quantum stuff at all, and it makes me feel stupid and nervous (most of the time I only feel one of those things at a time). Still, even a know-nothing science-bozo like me was able to appreciate the beauty of this visualisation by Quanta magazine, which presents all the BIG concepts of physics in a pleasingly-designed interactive which shows you how they all interrelate. I may no be any closer to knowing what the everliving fcuk ‘Electroweak Baryogenisis’ means, but I now know where it sits in the pantheon of modern physics relative to other concepts I don’t understand, and that can only be a good thing.
  • LengUSA: This is a fascinating tool which (to my mind) is slightly let down by an impenetrable interface. The idea behind this is that you plug in words and it shows you how they are used in real-life English language context – the platform lets you compare different words and phrases, and shows them in action so that you, the writer, can determine which is best-suited for your purposes. Unfortunately the site doesn’t do a great job of explaining what it does and how it works, but it’s seemingly pretty-powerful and could be useful if you’re a student of English or simply looking to use more £3 words where £1 words will do (I FEEL SO SEEN).
  • The Most Fcuked Tattoos: A Reddit thread in which Tattoo artists discuss the most…unusual requests they have received. If this makes you laugh, you will very much enjoy this (and if it doesn’t then, well, what’s wrong with you?): “Not a tattoo artist myself but trained a bit. Asked a master what the weirdest thing he tattooed was and he said, without hesitation “a pair of eyes on me mate’s balls””
  • Mumu: Do YOU struggle to find exactly the right emoji to communicate the exact nuance of the specific feelings you want to express? Do YOU feel that you’re stymied by this problem, that you’re being held back from being the best and truest you that you can be? Do YOU feel this so strongly that you’d be motivated to pay for a service which uses AI (OF COURSE IT FCUKING DOES!) to help you search for emoji with natural language, and which will use its AI SMARTS (stop it ffs) to find the perfect symbol for your needs? In the unlikely event that the answer to all three of those questions is ‘yes’ then a) therapy. Get therapy; and b) Mumu will be a godsend, as that is exactly what it promises to do for the low, low price of £35. Fine, it’s a lifetime price, but if they sell more than 10 licenses I will be AMAZED.
  • The BPM Database: Want to know exactly what the BPM is of Darude’s Sandstorm? What if it’s the ‘Darude Vs. Orgy Astro American Remix’? This and other important BPM-related questions will all be answered thanks to the BPM Database – no samples, no audio, just cold, hard, BPM facts. I have never been a DJ, but this might be of use/interest to those of you who dabble (although tbh I would this is only of use for people on vinyl, as everything digital will surely be automatically beatmatched by now, no?).
  • Omnimedia: This is SUCH an interesting idea. Omnimedia is a game which plays through a fictional version of a corporate Wikipedia from the future. The link takes you to the Omnimedia site, which is freely accessible and lets you explore the first ‘chapter’ of the story – later chapters, which let you explore more of the Wiki and see various versions across time, to explore the story and solve its central mystery, are paid-for pieces of additional content. This is basically a sort of transmedia murder mystery game, played out across different Wiki pages and with the mystery revealed through edit histories and lots of between-the-lines reading – this is obviously not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but as a means of experimental storytelling and a novel gameplay mechanic it’s fascinating. You can read a better, more in-depth explanation here, should you be curious, but it’s worth a click and explore simply to marvel at the degree of work put into the project.
  • Sisyphus: The most honest ‘clicker’ game I have ever seen, which will have you asking serious questions of yourself and why you are ‘playing’ it, even as you RSI your way to 50,000 clicks.
  • Heartreasure: A cute, hand-drawn Where’s Wally?-style game, in-browser, which is at first soothing and then, if you’re me, tooth-grindingly frustrating. ENJOY!
  • Kung-Fu Chess: Finally this week, a very silly but oddly-fun twist on chess, in which each player plays simultaneously with pieces on cooldown – so you end up in a frenetic rush to annihilate the other player before they can annihilate you, all the while trying to remember enough rudimentary chess strategy to stop yourself being overrun. Purists will scoff, but the 4-way deathmatch version of this is one of the oddest and most-exhilarating little game experiences I’ve had in a while. This is very homespun and the matchmaking is a bit janky, but do persist – it really is quite a special idea.

By Isabelle Albuquerque



  • Wikipedia Food: Food images taken from Wikipedia and which seem to be selected for the sole purpose of ensuring you never want to eat solids again. The picture of Moussaka in particular is criminal.


  • All Bugs Go To Kevin: Lovely macro photography of insects by photographer Kevin Wiener, who I can almost-but-not-quite forgive for the title of their Insta feed.
  • Unsettling Toys: The Insta feed of Unsettling Toys, a…company? project? which offers to take ‘unsettling’ toys off their owners’ hands. When they say ‘unsettling’, they really aren’t lying; I tend to put ‘scary dolls’ in the same category as ‘scary clowns’ (ie not in fact scary and a very tired and banal idea in general), but, well, these are horrible. I mean, just look at this malevolent little plastic fcuk, for example.


  • The Other Afghan Women: There are no 9/11 links this week, given that I imagine you will all be more than capable of finding your own thinkpieces about the anniversary; of course, you could argue that this piece about women in Afghanistan is in a way very much a 9/11 piece. It’s a superb piece of journalism which takes one subject – a woman called Shakira – and uses her story to tell a wider narrative about women (and more broadly, rural communities) in Afghanistan over the past 3 decades, and which by so doing paints a better and more complete picture of the complexities which made the whole thing so complex, and the incompetencies which made the whole thing a sh1tshow from the off. Very long, but very much worth reading, this is one of the best ‘explainers’ (not really an explainer) about the country and the conflict I’ve yet read.
  • Tech Lessons from the Pandemic: I don’t know about you, but I wrote at least two ‘trends’ presentations about STUFF THAT WAS CHANGING during COVID – they were, obviously, utter b0llocks, but, you know, agency life!!!1111eleventy This piece is a bit like one of those, except it’s been written with the benefit of a bit more hindsight and as such is one of the more sober and real-sounding of these ‘HOW THE WORLD HAS CHANGED FOREVER’ pieces. There’s nothing in here that will (or should, at least) surprise you, but everything it says is well-argued and well-judged, and if you want a decent overview about how tech and work and society all interact now in the weird, liminal, ‘is it post- or is it still just ‘pandemic’?’ time in which we find ourselves.
  • On Pronouns: Given the latest Mantel-induced furore about pronoun-usage, and the standard terrible arguments made by dreadful people about how attempting to respect people enough to refer to them in the manner in which they desire to be referred is THE DEATH OF LANGUAGE AND SOCIETY, this LRB piece by philosopher Amia Srinivasan is particularly-timely. Srinivasan looks back at the history of pronoun usage, the multiple attempts made to coin different terms for use in those circumstances where the binary he/she distinction simply doesn’t work (from THE PAST! THIS IS NOT A NEW ISSUE FFS!!!!), and some solid analysis of linguistics to explain why this is in fact a useful conversation to have from both an English-language and philosophico-sociological point of view. Impressively erudite and even more-impressively readable and clear, this is superb writing and thinking and exposition.
  • Silicon Valley and the Fashion Editors: Or ‘everything is publishing in 2021 and there’s nothing you can do about it’ – this article looks at the growing trend of people moving from editorial positions in the fashion world to in-house roles at tech companies, and what that says about the narratives that companies are building around themselves and the way in which their businesses work. More interestingly, to my mind at least, it also highlights the extent to which EVERYTHING is storytelling and EVERYTHING is narrative (or at least ‘a’ narrative), which made me momentarily hopeful as to my continued ability to pay my mortgage until I remembered I am not actually very good at either of those things.
  • Jeff Bezos Wants To Live Forever: An interesting look at Altos Labs, a company which is apparently attracting significant big money investment from all the terrifying alphatechcunts in Silicon Valley based on its promises to help people live forever. The piece is a bit dry, but I find the general concept of this search for immortality amongst the super-wealthy grimly-fascinating – I appreciate the whole Alexandrian ‘there are no worlds left to conquer!’-type lament of the world’s richest man (well, not so much ‘appreciate’ as ‘can just about sort-of understand if I squint really hard), and the hubristic desire of those who see themselves as having changed humanity in some way (which Bezos almost certainly does, and with some justification I suppose) to see the longterm way in which said changes play out, but, well, there’s a novel I rather enjoy called Bug Jack Barron which tells this story and which doesn’t end well (it’s hard to ‘recommend’ it exactly in 2021 – it is very much OF ITS TIME, and let’s just say that there are certain tropes and language choices which very much do not fly right now – but it’s a hell of a trip if you’re in the market for some high-psychedelic nightmare-scifi).
  • The Chip Shortage: On the one hand, this is a fairly-dry Q&A with Harvard professor Willy Shih as to the reasons why it’s so hard to buy a PS5 at the moment; on the other, it’s a properly-fascinating examination of the complicated bits of manufacturing and supply that we (oh, ok, fine, that I) never, ever think about. So much of this caused me to do a small pause for thought, not least the number of times Shih, an expert in the field and someone who understands all this stuff, refers to the way it all works as ‘crazy’ – honestly, all the stuff about how chips are actually made slightly blew my mind.
  • TikTok and the Vibes Revival: The nth thinkpiece about ‘vibes’ and WHAT THEY ALL MEAN – it’s interesting to see people scrabble to codify something which in and of itself is the verbal equivalent of a half-shrugging arm-sweep. If I were a different sort of ‘writer’ (don’t worry, I am aware of the fact that I am very much not a writer) I might attempt to make some sort of tortured analogy between the idea of ‘vibes’ and the rise-and-ubiquity of memetic culture – visual-elements-as-carrier-of-oceans-of-meaning-type stuff – but, thankfully for you and quite possibly for me too, I am not.
  • What Is Mephedrone?: This article made me laugh a LOT – partly because I hadn’t thought about mephedrone since the weekend it became illegal and someone gave me a load for free because they were ‘scared’ (never quite understood of what, but hey ho) and I had a very fun time as a result; and partly because the whole spin of the piece is how people are now apparently using it to have marathonwanks. LADS, A WORD IF YOU DON’T MIND – if you’ve become so desensitised, so bored of playing with yourself, so inured to the all the free bongo you’re saturated with, that you feel the need to ingest some iffy powders simply to make your junk feel something again, then perhaps (just PERHAPS) there are issues here. I don’t know about you, but any succinct summary of the M-Cat self-abuse experience which reads “when I came down, I couldn’t move from dehydration, my dick was raw from the friction and every time I farted, I’d sh1t myself” does not, to me, sound like ‘a good time’. God, I’m so vanilla.
  • The Manchester Scene: A really interesting picture of some of the artists making up a particular branch of the Manchester music scene – I featured a video by Space Afrika and Blackhaine on Curios a few months ago, and this is a great overview of the other artists in that orbit. There’s some great stuff linked to and referred to throughout the piece, and I like the fact that it feels very mancunian, if that means anything to you.
  • Bad Boy Chiller Crew: If the Manchester artists written about above represent a side of the UK music scene which feels like it’s thinking hard about modernity and shaped by the current state of the nations whilst simultaneously being utterly shaped by it, then Bad Boy Chiller Crew represent the side of the music scene that is resolutely NOT thinking about it despite being equally a product of nos canisters and universal credit and terrible diets and boredom and COVID and anxiety and and and. I can’t pretend the music makes any sense to me, but that’s hardly the point – BBCC are painted here as a weird force of nature, a brand in the making, and three young men who at this point will do literally anything to keep riding the fametrain because they will have a horrible time if it stops or if they fall off. I have particular respect for the line in the piece about them embracing commerciality if it means becoming rich – reminds me of late-00s chartbotherer Example who, after his Mike Skinner-endorsed debut rap album sold approximately 30 copies, decided ‘fcuk it, I am going to write top-10 singles instead, screw ‘integrity’ I would like to be a popstar’ and promptly did just that.
  • Films Never End: On how modern films just go ON AND ON AND ON AND DEAR GOD PLEASE STOP, and, specifically, on why that is – primarily, it seems, because THE DATA says that audiences respond better to people enjoying victory than they do the actual victory itself, and as such films are now optimised to deliver more of this specific dopamine hit, meaning you now need all sorts of padding to frame said enjoyment after the actual business of the plot has been dealt with. Combine that with the need to ensure that a sequel has been set up to create demand for MOAR CONTENT and you have films that last forever, like songs that never fcuking stop. A classic example of how data can give you the correct answer and still lead you to draw terrible conclusions – you may find it useful to wheel this out next time some awful person tries to use numbers to persuade you to make more fcuking branded video content or something.
  • Novels By AI: I love this lots and lots. Phil Gyford fed the first line of a variety of famous novels to GPT-x-enabled writing generators and here compiles their efforts – he also includes AI-generated covers for each, just to add to the uncanny flavour. These are sort-of beautiful – I particularly liked the direction the Invisible Man went in, not least because it reveals some of the inputs to the copy generators (you can practically feel the Reddit-y corpus seeping out), The way it groks the style in certain instances is quite uncanny – The Secret History in particular feels very right.
  • Ambergris: All about the trade in, market for and history of ambergris, one of the odder substances to ever become a valued commodity. Noone’s 100% sure exactly what it is, but ‘some sort of organic whale material’ is the general consensus – the following description is so beautifully-revolting that I want to reproduce it here for those of you who don’t click through to the whole thing: “when squid beaks become lodged in a whale’s intestines, fecal matter accumulates around the blockage until “eventually the rectum stretches until it breaks, causing the whale’s death, and the ambergris is released into the sea.”” (they make perfume from this stuff!). The article looks at the history of trade in the substance, the mythology that surrounds it, and the weird, insular community that exists among amregris traders, enthusiasts and scammers worldwide – so wonderfully-niche and powerfully-strange.
  • What Romans Found Funny: An analysis of humour in ancient Rome, looking at playwrites and their works and presenting a reasonably-rigorous series of thematic comparisons with the structure of jokes and comedy in modernity. I particularly liked this passage, suggesting thematic commonalities between then and now: “a very common feature of Roman comedy is the frustration of old, wealthy, stupid men who take themselves too seriously. This trope was immensely popular with the Roman audience, whose diversity meant that they would have found it funny for different reasons, whether it was an older elite man laughing at a hyperbolic representation of himself, or a younger slave laughing at the inversion of traditional social norms.” Basically, ‘OK Boomer’ has been a thing forever. Also, this was written by a Cambridge University classics PHD called Orlando Gibbs, which is SUCH a perfect name for someone studying Roman Comedy at Trinity.
  • On Semen Retention: As the now-inexplicably-mainstream Redditfest that is Nonut November shuffles ever-closer, this is a timely article looking at all the reasons why increasingly-popular theories about how retaining semen is a key to VIRILITY AND SUCCESS are, well, a load of old w4nk, based on her analysis of writings on the topic from ancient history (of which, SURPRISE!, there are lots – men, it turns out, have long been obsessed with the workings of their magical testes). This is a lot of fun, not least because the author, Dr Eleanor Janega, finds the whole subject entirely ridiculous and makes it clear throughout, and also because it is written in language like this (which imho should now be the house style for any investigation into really, really dumb behaviours): “In other words, dudes, be careful lest a woman drain off all your semen and then hulk TF out or something.”
  • Sister Sauce: This is a wonderful piece of writing from the Paris Review, all about Gabriele d’Annunzio, visionary, artist, thinker, madman and ar$ehole, but also about his cook, Alice Beccevello, and their food-based relationship. D’Annunzio, for those of you not familiar, was a poet and all-round cultural whirlwind in the early-20th Century, whose multiferous theories of, and opinions on, food and diet ended up influencing Marinetti’s ‘Futurist Cookbook’ and all that jazz – he was also a total prick. The article looks at his life, and the curious relationship he had with Beccevello who was seemingly part-cook, part maternal figure and part counsellor, and whose life I don’t envy one bit. This is fascinating, and in parts funny, but does also make me think, not for the first time, that the only criteria for being declared a genius in the early 1900s were being a man, being rich, and being a mad cnut.
  • Chase Scene: This is about death and love and loss and mourning, and is beautiful and very very sad.
  • A Better Place: Finally this week, David Sedaris in the New Yorker, also talking about death but, well, in a very David Sedaris way. Obviously very funny, obviously very sharp, but surprisingly-poignant and superb on the oddity of expected reaction to a death you’re not sure whether to be sad about.

By Julia Soboleva


Webcurios 03/09/21

Reading Time: 32 minutes


It’s been a GOOD WEEK! ABBA are coming back, and the Italian immigration services finally got back to me after 3 months (if you ever fancy a cushy life, try getting a job as a civil servant in Italy where there is seemingly no obligation that you do your job competently, or indeed at all!) meaning I might not in fact be deported after all, and the temperature in Rome has dipped to a relatively-temperate 28 degrees or so, meaning that for the first time in several months I am not covered in a light patina of sweat at all times (no need to thank me, you can have that image for free).

Hopefully this positivity will be evident in this week’s selection of links’n’words – why not read on and find out (you’ll be disappointed, but try not to let it get to you)? With little in the way of further ado, then, let’s once more leap into the ballpit-of-the-mind that is the latest edition of Web Curios – as with all ballpits, you must remember to thoroughly disinfect yourself on exiting.

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and, regrettably, the web is still what it is.

By Jenny Holzer



  • Loot: This is simultaneously the most incredible NFT grift I have ever seen AND one of the more conceptually-interesting of said grifts to float across my field of vision this year – oh, the everpresent duality of crypto! So, how to describe this? Imagine, right, that there was a videogame, a sort of fantasy roleplaying-type thing, with quests and magic and items and stuff. Imagine that there was a bag of random in-game objects that you could buy, with the contents of the bag revealed to you/your character only after the point of purchase – effectively an in-game FOBT, but, wevs, you can see how that works and how people might be motivated to shell out. NOW, though, imagine the exact same scenario…but without the game. Imagine that you had the opportunity to buy a ‘bag’ of ‘loot’ for a ‘game’ that doesn’t exist (there’s something lovely about the fact that the only part of that sentence that I can write without the inverted commas is the final, ‘doesn’t exist’ part) – THERE YOU ARE! Yes, that is ‘Loot’ – a sold-out collection of 8,000 bags of…random words generated by Markov chain? Incredibly (or not – the guy behind this is the guy who also co-created Vine, and who did Peach (remember your Peach strategy lol?), and as such is an INTERNET FAMOUS and so is possibly more likely to be able to sell imaginary tat to fans than you are) these are now all sold out, and there’s a secondary market for the bags (BAGS OF WORDS. BAGS OF WORDS. THIS IS MELTING MY BRAIN) and people have now set up FURTHER markets to sell individual ‘objects’ (not ‘objects’ in any way in which I can honestly make sense of, but, ok!), and there is now a ‘guild’ for all those people whose ‘bags’ contained a randomly-generated object referred to as a ‘Divine Robe’, effectively a ‘pay to enter’ club whereby the bar for entry is…ownership of some words on the blockchain? AND STILL THERE IS NO GAME! This is, my madly-gaping mouth aside, really interesting. Will a game develop around this? Is this anything other than cryptowhales flexing, muchlike the rocks? Am I going to regret not investing in any of these things when I am old, grey and scrabbling together for pennies to pay someone to clean my feeding tube? ONLY TIME WILL TELL!
  • Who The Baer?: This is an exhibition currently taking place at the Fondazione Prada in Milan, by British-Japanese artist Simon Fujiawara – it’s on until the end of the month, but presuming that you’re not going to be able to pop to Milan to visit it then this is the next best thing. There’s some fabulous artwank accompanying the exhibition – “Who the Bær is a cartoon bear without a clear character – “Who” as they are known, seems to have not yet developed a strong personality or instincts, they have no history, defined gender or even sexuality. Who the Bær only knows that they are an image, and they seek to define themselves in a world of other images.” – but I rather like the style, and the way that the gallery space within the Fondazione has been constructed from cardboard. The site only works on mobile, and the navigation around the gallery space using your phone is really nicely done – it’s a linear journey, but arranged as a series of frames that you pass through, creating both a stop-motion-style experience but also making it really easy for the viewer to pause and focus in on specific exhibition elements should they so desire. Also (and I appreciate that this is unbearably twee, but, well, I can’t help it) I am a slight sucker for the sub-Pooh stylings of the spelling ‘baer’ – openly-manipulative childlike naivete, it really works!
  • Cinephobe: September! Mist, mellow fruitfulness, all that jazz! Or, more accurately, steel-grey skies and the creeping knowledge that you don’t have any more holidays til mid-December. Still, with the nights once more drawing in you’re probably DESPERATE for new entertainments and the like – thank GOD, then, for Cinephobe. This is quite incredible – it’s a TV station, based out of New York and playing online, 24/7, which plays cult, arthouse and obscure movies. I presume all of the stuff that they’re streaming is out-of-copyright, but it’s all human-curated and programmed, meaning that there’s a real sense of theme and coherence to the stuff that they show. You can look at the schedules for the coming day on the site (just scroll down past the player), and, let me tell you, if you’re reading this on the day of publication then you have some TREATS coming up later on. I am genuinely tempted to make time in my packed diary (ha! So alone!) to watch Herostratus, for example, a 1967 film in which ‘a young poet hires a marketing company to turn his suicide-by-jumping into a mass media spectacle’ which in all honesty sounds like the most Web Curios film EVER. This website and the associated project is an absolute treat and pretty much perfect in every way.
  • Daylight: What would make banking better? Do you think it would be…maybe…reforming the whole institution? Perhaps moving towards a world in which passive income from others’ wealth isn’t a thing? Or, MAKING BANKS GAY???? Let’s go with the last of those, shall we, and introduce Daylight – GAY BANKING FOR GAY PEOPLE AND GAY BUSINESSES! This is quite amazing – Daylight is a US bank which was talked about a bit at the tail end of last year as a thing but which has seemingly launched this week and WOW does it want you to know how progressive it is! “See how queer-friendly your spending is!”, it challenges customers, promising cashback for spending at queer-owned businesses! It promises a full choice of names on cards, and aggressively leans into its progressiveness – but, er, it’s a bank! It’s backed by notoriously-countercultural financial institution Citi! It will still chase you for fees, even if it does so in a really queer way!  There’s a decent overview here of some of the (many!) reasons why this feels…a bit odd (obvs I am a cishet guy, but I don’t think you need to be queer to appreciate all the ways in which financial institutions attempting to sell capitalism by an ostensible link to outsider/counterculture is at best a bit icky and at worst nakedly exploitative), but I’d be interested to know your thoughts.
  • Super Follows: A brief note on Twitter’s (partial) launch of Super Follows this week – you know, that feature that will let users with 10k+ followers set a paywall on some of their Tweets (and some other features as well, but that’s basically the ‘need to know’ bit). The pricepoints are interesting – $2.99, $4.99 and $9.99 a month – and I’ll be fascinated to see how people use this, but, well, it’s going to be bongo, isn’t it? Given that Twitter’s promising 97% revenue on Super Follow income upto 50k pa (dropping pretty steeply to 80% beyond that point), I can see this being an appealing avenue for smaller ‘creators’ who perhaps don’t feel confident in OnlyFans’ renewed commitment to bongo. Of course, Twitter won’t mention sex workers as target users of this service, but given the amount of smut all over the platform it seems a reasonable expectation – not least because I really struggle to imagine the sort of content that might otherwise persuade people to commit to shelling out between £30-100 a year to read the shortform thoughts of a bunch of strangers, although that doesn’t of course mean that this isn’t going to be a huge gamechanger (I am, after all, a know-nothing bozo who has a track record of predictions that can only be described as ‘ruinous’). Of course, maybe Twitter is the next platform to be targeted by the increasingly-influential online conservative movement, but there’s money to be made here before that happens imho.
  • Flip Shop: The move towards seemingly 50% of the world’s population pivoting to earning a living through mobile-based QVC tat-flogging continues apace, with the launch of Flip Shop, a new appnetworkthingy which (and I am sorry in advance, you are about to get a VERY lazy simile here) seems a bit like TikTok for shopping (I warned you, but sorry again). You can browse reviews of products by ‘your favourite creators’, and shop 100s of retailers’ products from within the app – there’s a referral system to earn credits, and additional credits can be earned by interacting with the app, the videos it hosts and ‘the community’. I don’t doubt for a second that this is A Thing, although whether Flip Shop as a platform has legs I have no idea – I am, though, utterly fascinated about the cultural shift that has occurred whereby ‘watching people talk to you about how good a lash enhancer is’ is now something aspirational that people will happily do, admit to and talk about, whereas a relatively short time ago watching the shopping networks was very much the preserve of the terminally depressed and the long-term unemployed. What happened?
  • Hour One: Have you decided that your role in the CREATOR ECONOMY is as a presenter? A face? Someone who will mug and gurn and perform on camera for whichever brand overlord chooses to throw you a few wankpennies this week? Or are you a jobbing actor who’s decided that, fcuk it, after all those extra appearances in the Queen Vic you can’t quite make thesping work anymore and you’re going to just take the corporate gigs – they’re lucrative, the corporate gigs! And it’s still real acting! – and do the training videos for the banks and the oil companies and the retail giants? Well SORRY, but welcome to the future in which even those opportunities are being wrenched from your cold, tired hands by the advent of NEW TECH! “Hour One is an end-to-end video creation platform. Powered by life-like, programmable presenters, we bring studio-grade video to all businesses…instantly add a photoreal presenter to your videos! Create thousands of videos at once with the dat you already have!” Yes, it’s a poor lookout for all of those Equity members who’ve padded their lean months with training videos and the like – these are all getting the AI-automation treatment, as companies realise that using a CG ‘person’ is cheaper than booking someone with RADA training and frankly noone cares anyway. Stil, though, it’s not all doom and gloom for actors – you can still get one final payday by, er, ‘submitting’ to digitisation. No, really, listen to this: “Submit to become a character on the Hour One platform, and make yourself available for work…Join our growing community of characters through a simple capture process” Feel free to write your own short two-handed play in which a pair of out-of-work actors discuss whether or not to ‘submit’ to digitising themselves for piecemeal digiwork – a surefire, feelgood hit!
  • Geneticat: Have you ever wanted a perfect encapsulation of the Sisyphean nature of LIFE, but, er, in the form of a digital cat? GREAT! Geneticat is a little webpage which presents a filing cabinet, a shelf, and a polygonal cat which is attempting to jump from the former to the latter. Except the cat doesn’t know how its body works, and is learning, generation by generation, what its limbs do and how ‘jumping’ is meant to happen – each time the poor thing falls to the floor, a new iteration is generated, learning from the mistakes of its predecessors. Will the cat ever make it? Will evolution permit it to eventually leap to the shelf? WHO KNOWS??? This is, honestly, almost unbearably poignant and also VERY funny, and offers much the same experience as I would imagine getting a cat very drunk on meths would but with none of the guilt and eventual feline death.
  • Mindset: I think I am about as far away from being the target audience for this app as it’s possible to be, which is perhaps why the idea of it made me a bit sad. Mindset promises to offer you access to the intimate thoughts and life lessons from a bunch of famous – you sign up and can access a set quota of these celebrity bromides for free, before the inevitable microtransactional models kick in and you’re shelling out an extra $20 to hear exactly how a member of BTS deals with the occasional feelings of inadequacy that assail even a member of the world’s most successful boyband at 3am in a nameless 6-star hotel suite (I have no idea if BTS are on this – I doubt it, somehow). This is, cynically, a very smart idea indeed and I can imagine it making unconscionable amounts of money – could someone do a version of this for slightly less famous famouses, maybe? Something that collects the same sort of inspirational advice but delivered by the sort of people who might end up on a series of Celebs Go Dating? I want some inspirational content from Lauren Goodger, it’s more relatable.
  • Tweetview: This is a nice, and potentially-useful, little webtoy Twitter app, made by perennial tech-tinkerer Terence Eden – plug a Tweet url and Tweetview will produce a visualisation of the conversation that stemmed from it, showing you clearly and neatly how replies and discussion around the original post developed. It’s a great way of making visual representations of the scale of a conversation, purely for aesthetic ‘I NEED SOMETHING ON A SLIDE!’ purposes, but it’s also a useful way of identifying ‘influencers’ on a topic, and of tracking the development of a discussion around a topic. Hover over the tweets to read their contents – this is a really nice piece of homebrew webwork.
  • Neural Yorker: A Twitter account sharing New Yorker cartoons generated by a neural net. These are obviously a total mess, visually-speaking – the AI-generated images are…busy, and not always very good and making much sense – but there’s occasionally something surreally-brilliant about the juxtaposition of images with captions that result.
  • Take it Back: An interesting project which is designed to give people the tools to make Zines about their own personal experiences of mental health issues – or, as the collective likes to term it, ‘madness’ (I have a lot of time for this reclaiming of the word ‘mad’, not least because ‘mental health’ has become so banally-overused and watered-down that it feels like we need a specific designator for the messier and less twee (sorry, but) expressions of what it is like when your brain acts against you). If you’re interested in participating, you can sign up on the website – there will be workshops later in the year to help you with the creative process: “Sign-ups for Take It Back will open at the start of September 2021. If you sign up, in October you’ll receive a workbook zine and some materials by post, access to online resources and a place in the online workshops happening in November 2021. In December 2021, you’ll be invited to submit either an individual zine or page(s) for a collaborative zine for the project’s library” If you’re a bit mad, this could be A Good Thing.
  • 30 Years of Ukrainian Independence: This is SUCH a cute website! Celebrating the recent 30th anniversary of Ukraine’s independence, it collects a bunch of POSITIVE FACTS about the country, its people and their achievements. Sportspeopl and artists and designers and musicians are all celebrated, as is the country’s cuisine and natural beauty, and the whole thing is just utterly charming (the best bit, to my mind, comes near the top where the site proudly celebrates the country’s size with a little splash of colour bearing the legends ‘actually the biggest!’ and ‘the most singing nation in the world’. I DIE! IS SO CUTE!). You can also ‘congratulate Ukraine’ and, frankly, I think more countries should start openly requesting to be congratulated by strangers on the internet.
  • Talk to Kanye: Have you listened to Donda yet? Can you tell me if it’s worthwhile, if so? I am unlikely to ever buy a Donda Stem, or, probably, listen to the whole album (Kanye West, a man of whom the idea is significantly more interesting than the reality), but I was momentarily-charmed by this chatbot which lets you TALK TO KANYE! I imagine it makes marginally less sense than the man himself, but those of you who observe Mr West more closely than I may be better-placed to judge.
  • Tactimotion: Now that THE FOOTBALL is once again happening (did it stop? It doesn’t feel like it stopped), so also are the discussions about tactics and formations and MOVEMENT and OFF THE BALL RUNS INTO THE CHANNELS and GET BLINDSIDE OF HIM (am I doing it right? I haven’t played football since approximately 2004, and even then I was laughably bad at it). If you’re the sort of person who likes tactics and would like to bring an additional layer of technical wizardry and insight to your 4-pint chat about whether or not Spurs have had a good window then you might like Tactimotion, a simple webtool that lets you easily programme player and ball movement onto a 3d representation of a pitch, to let you create really clear visualisations of how amazing Team X would be if they just followed your outstanding tactical advice.
  • /r/Produce: Until this week I had no idea that Reddit had a thriving community of…er…look, I don’t know the technical term for this job and I don’t want to offend, so let’s go with ‘the people whose job it is to ensure that the shelves of supermarkets are stocked with fresh fruit and vegetables and that siad fruit and vegetables look appealing to customers’, and that those people proudly share photos of what a great job they’ve done of, say, piling up the purple cabbages into a near-perfect to-scale representation of the Great Pyramid at Giza. This is near-perfect Redditing, and makes me wonder what it must be like to do something for a living that gives even a fraction of the joy that these people seem to experience in their creations.
  • The Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards 2021: These haven’t been decided yet, but the vote is now open for the People’s Choice category, and you can pick the most deserving image at this link. You are of course at liberty to vote for whichever picture you like, but know that the official Web Curios selection is this one.
  • AI Movie Posters:  The second version of this game I’ve seen this year – try and guess the film based on the AI-generated movie poster that a computer spat out when given a description of the film in question. This is significantly harder and more abstract than the version I linked to a few weeks back, but the images are wonderfully abstract and you’ll get a proper ‘oh, yes, I see what the machine was trying to do there’ once you reveal the answers in each case (or at least I did; I should stop trying to second-guess you, really).

By Terrence Payne



  • Dramatic Houseplants: The flat I’m living in has a balcony (don’t get jealous – it looks out over, er, a bunch of other flats, and currently affords me a view of a bunch of men drilling – it’s a relaxing idyll, I tell you) whose current sole adornment is the world’s saddest basil plant which I have been attempting to keep alive with limited success (four leaves is ‘alive’, right?) – those of you with similarly brown thumbs might also enjoy this subReddit which is devoted to videos of plants dramatically-reacting to being watered, which whilst it doesn’t, fine, sound interesting, is in fact almost-incredbly compelling. Honestly, if you’ve ever struggled to get a handle on the concept of ‘life’ as applied to flora, watch a couple of these and try and fight back the creeping feeling of Triffid-y horror as they move and stretch in reaction to being watered. Really, this is fascinating and strangely-creepy.
  • Transformers: This is SUCH a wonderful memoryhole, for me at least – the original Transformers cartoon from the 80s was, of course, literally just a vehicle to sell plastic toys to children, but it was also a properly good example of classic animation and a surprisingly-compelling (well, to my young mind at the time, at least) struggle between robotic good and evil, and also led to a whole generation of young boys running around playgrounds making the now-iconic ‘ah-eh-eeh-oh-ooh’ sound of gigantic robots turning into playground furniture (my memory of the Transformers universe may not in fact be entirely-accurate, but I’m sure it was something like that). The entire first series of the cartoon is now up on YouTube, and apparently the other 3 series will be online in the coming weeks – if you want to immerse yourself in nostalgia for A Better And Simpler Time, or if you want to attempt to force your own childhood memories onto your kids, this will be right up your street.
  • Duchamp, But NFTs: This is conceptually quite funny – an artist has taken a urinal, smashed it up, and is now selling NFTs of the fragments for Ether. High-concept riff on a classic 20thC art concept or another shameless grift in the increasingly-insane digital artspace? YOU DECIDE! It’s unclear to me whether or not you get the actual porcelain shard too, but, well, who cares? IT’S AN NFT! NF-wee, if you will (sorry, even by my low ‘standards’ that was almost-unforgivable).
  • Research AI: I am led to believe that the issue of essay plagiarism and fakery continues to be problematic in academia, with increasingly-sophisticated techniques being employed by institutions to catch out students who are buying essays from online libraries. Still, that’s going to become even harder over time, as evidenced by this new service which promises to provide ‘help’ with essay-writing, delivered by an AI. It’s unclear what this is built on, but I’d guess it’s the open source GPT-3 analogue I linked to here a few weeks back (I can’t imagine Open-AI licensing the real thing for something this nakedly-iffy) – the deal, as is standard nowadays, is that you provide a prompt and the machine does the rest. Anyone in any doubt as to the intended use of this can rest assured that it’s 100% designed for cheating – as the site says, “Research AI generates original text based on your input, so you can be assured about originality” – no danger of failing your plagiarism tests here, kids! Obviously the likelihood of this providing anything remotely-decent is…small, but a) like that will stop this service from making money from the gullible; and b) give it a year or so, and another iteration of the software, and I reckon this will be worth a 2:2 at least.
  • Missile Base For Sale: As we emerge (do we? Are we emerging? Honestly, I have literally no idea anymore) from the COVID times, I imagine many of you are trying to work out whether you can make wholesale life changes born out of the LEARNINGS from the past 18m of dark horror. If what you have decided to do is GET OUT of the city and CHANGE YOUR LIFE, and if you happen to have a spare half-a-million dollars at your disposal, why not consider investing in this, ‘one of the rarest nuclear hardened underground structures in the world!’. Fine, you’d have to move to North Dakota (fun fact: if you ask Americans which state they would lose if they had to ditch one, chances are they will cite one of the Dakotas), but, well, it’s a small price to pay for isolation, security, and the knowledge that, should the warheads drop, you will be safe to live through the post-radiation nightmare in your bunker. “This was a part of the Stanley R. Mickelesen Safeguard Complex located in NE North Dakota.  This property, for sale by owner, was one of 4 Sprint Missile Sites located approximately 10-20 miles from a central radar control site. Constructed in the early 1970’s, these bases were a last line of defense meant to intercept ICBMs coming over the North Pole. There was only 1 Safeguard Complex ever completed making this unique property an incredibly rare opportunity.” The price has dropped by ⅓ since its original listing, apparently, so, er, GET INVOLVED (and if you buy it, can, er, can I have a room when it all goes south?).
  • The New Shepherd Model: Do you remember WAY back in the distant past when those two billionaires had the space race p1ssing contest? Remember how funny Jeff’s penile spacecraft was? Well now you can own your very own scale model of the Bezos cockrocket! The blurb says that it’s an ideal adornment for your office or a shelf at home, but, well, given the ‘unique’ design of the craft, I would personally be amazed if any and all sales of this aren’t to specialist OnlyFans creators with niche audience interests.
  • Civic Online Reasoning: A superb set of resources made available by Stanford University to help educate on online information assessment in the modern age. How do you spot disinformation? What are the elements of critical thinking we need in order to be able to better-navigate the messy digital world in which ‘truth’ is an increasingly-difficult quality to identify? The stuff on ‘lateral reading vs vertical reading’ is, in particularly, really interesting and useful – if you’re curious about becoming a ‘better’ (or at least more discerning) consumer of online information (although were you discerning it’s, er, unlikely you’d be reading this), or if you have kids or family members who you think might find this sort of thing useful, you will find this hugely helpful.
  • European Heraldry: Want a website which collects the various heraldic emblems of the great European houses and local regions, the cantons andcounties,  departments and regioni? OF COURSE YOU DO! This is fascinating, particularly the Central European area which has SO MUCH in the way of shields and emblems – if nothing else, should you be interested in creating a GAN-based system to generate your own AI-imagined heraldic insignia (a description that I imagine applies to all of you, amirite?), this might be of use.
  • Multicolour Illustrations: Want a free-to-use, no-limits illustration library? YES YOU DO! “One new high-quality, open-source illustration each day. No attribution needed!” This is potentially worth bookmarking – there’s LOADS on there, and the licensing is incredibly-generous.
  • 404 Page Found: This is OLD – I think the site’s been dormant for about 7 years – but it’s nonetheless a lovely repository of links to oldschool websites which still exist in their original form (as opposed to, say, links to Wayback Machine archived pages), So you can see sites such as this one, the personal site of one Piero Scaruffi, which is still active despite still sporting the look and feel of something built in circa 1997, or the gallery of interactive geometry, or hundreds of others. Time travel, in-browser, and one of my favourite sorts of online Curio. Lots of these will have decayed over time, but as a way of browsing some interesting examples of The Old Web this is rather wonderful.
  • The Cyberfeminism Index: Very dense and a bit academic, this is nonetheless an incredible resource for anyone interested in exploring the intersection of tech-thinking and feminist praxis – this is all very post-Cyborg Manifesto (which of course is the first link in the list), but contains over 700 links to resources which trace the evolution of tech-centric feminist thought over the past 35 years, If you’re interested in the intersection between gender, technology, and power structures (and WHO ISN’T???), this is a superb bookmark to add to your arsenal (can one have an ‘arsenal’ of bookmarks? Probably not, and yet here we are).
  • Random Earth: A site which collects particularly-pleasing aerial shots of the Earth, taken from satellite imagery (basically Google Maps) – you can cycle through a seemingly-infinite selection of images submitted by the community, vote on the ones you think are best, and submit your own – as a way of reminding yourself that the world is a beautiful and wondrous place that you will never be able to see all of but which you can, thanks to the wonders of technology, experience vicariously at your desk through the eyes of satellites, this is rather lovely. Also, if you’re in the market for aesthetically-pleasing geographic imagery, this little site which lets you select anywhere on earth to make a pleasingly-minimalist map-based phone background out of, might also appeal.
  • The Geek Jargon List: I have no idea when this dates from, or who compiled it, but it feels old and like the sort of thing which will only really make sense to those of you who’ve been wrangling code since the 90s and for whom such newfangled things as Ruby and Java feel weird and wrong. If you’ve ever wanted a glossary of slightly-obscure (to a normie like me, at least) coding slang and terminology like ‘rabbit job’ (apparently, ‘a batch job that does little, if any, real work, but creates one or more copies of itself, breeding like rabbits’) or ‘shambolic link’ (‘A Unix symbolic link, particularly when it confuses you, points to nothing at all, or results in your ending up in some completely unexpected part of the filesystem….’), then this is all your Christmases at once.
  • Mars Now: NASA recently launched this webpage, which lets you see in ‘realtime’ (not quite sure exactly how ‘real’ it is, but given that it’s based on data that is being beamed across the literal cosmos from another fcuking planet, it feels like it might be churlish to complain about lag in this instance) where all the various Mars-based bits of space kit currently are. See the satellites and the rovers on the surface of the red planet, and start to dream of booking your own ticket to MuskVille on the BezosExpress come 2046 (when everything here is on fire and you’ve been unemployed for 8 years as a result of aggressive robotic overreach).
  • FunCooker: This is a search engine for scenes from the TV show 30 Rock, something I have never watched but am reliably informed is ‘quite good’. I’m including it less because of its memetic potential (although if you want a whole bunch of new reaction images for the groupchat this is probably super-useful), and more because every single TV show in the world should have one of these. Seriously, if you’re C4 and you own the Peep Show archive, why wouldn’t you do this? IT IS SUCH A GOOD IDEA. It exists for The Simpsons, it exists for this, so why can’t I have it for Peep Show? FFS!
  • The Museum of Home Video: The second ‘TV, but reinvented for the modern age!’-type link in Curios this week, the Museum of Home Video is ‘90 minutes of found footage for stoners, seekers, archivists and drinkers. Every Tuesday at 7:30p PST, we gather on to watch pirate television for the soul. The Museum of Home Video’s channel is also home to a number of like-minded programs—all dedicated to the intersection of art, archivism and the pursuit of a good time.” Basically it’s a weekly watch-along bit of scheduled programming, run through Twitch, and featuring all sorts of weird, odd, quirky and…unusual bits and pieces – I have watched a couple, and they’re fun in much the same way the sorts of programming you’d stumble across post-pub in the 90s on C4 are. Personally speaking I am fascinated to see how people start to build programming out of the vast trove of copyright-free material available online via services such as Twitch; I reckon there’s quite an interesting agency play here, doing deconstructions of old ads and campaigns and things on the platform (which is literally the most-joyless application I could possibly have thought of, fine, but equally I know who you are and what you do so let’s not pretend we’re above this sort of thinking).
  • Space Nerds In Space: This may well be the geekiest link in what I am aware is quite a geeky edition. Space Nerds in Space is a Linux-only (yeah, mainstream!) game which basically lets you play a real-life (not real life) game of Star Trek using a bunch of laptops and a projector. It’s quite complex – you basically all have assigned roles, from engineering to navigation to weapons, etc, which you all play individually on your laptops, while an ‘overview’ screen shows you all how your work is affecting your ship’s progress through the cosmos. Meanwhile, a ‘space dungeon master’ (see, I told you it was geeky) basically manages the story, throwing challenges and enemies and solar flares at you to create the plot and excitement. I have no expectation that any of you will actually play this, but it’s a really interesting idea that gives a tantalising glimpse of how this sort of thing could work in more mainstream fashion – you can imagine retooling all the individual elements into slightly more user-friendly iterations, and a version of this in which everyone uses their mobiles to do their individual tasks viewing the shared screen on Twitch, say… Oh, fine, it is irredeemably-geeky, but it’s still interesting – it’s worth taking a look at the videos on the site to get a feel for how it works in practice, as it’s easier to watch than describe (story of my fcuking life).
  • Destroy The Planet: Finally this week, the clicker game to end all clicker games. You win by consuming all of our natural resources and condemning us to a fiery planetary demise – what’s not to love? This is quite fun, if a) you like clicker games; and b) you studiously-ignore the message that it is trying to communicate.

By Gregory Ferrand



  • Richard In A Hat: Not, in fact, a Tumblr! Still, feels like one – and what could be more Tumblr than a series of photographs of a man called Richard wearing a selection of different types of millinery? Apart, of course, if Richard declared themselves to be otherkin.
  • Frogpostbot: A tumblr collecting examples of the classic channer post-Pepe ‘anon’ memes, these are ostensibly AI-generated but I have my doubts; most of these are far, far too good to be the product of a machine imho (either that or imitating Chan humour is the latest post-Turing test to be blown to smithereens by the march of technology). Either way, if you find content like “alert alert i have a challenge for you

the challenge is ask the cute nurse at my doctors to stick the vaccine needle directly into my balls do u accept?” to be strangely-compelling (and who doesn’t? NO FCUKER, that’s who!) then you will enjoy this.


  • Franz Ditaa: An Insta account which presents images made my one Franz Ditaa in which cats assume gigantic proportions. Want an image of a giant cat sitting atop a Mayan (I think) structure? Want to see a kitten wreaking havoc as it swats passers-by at a New York street crossing? Of course you do, you’re only human. Not hugely original, fine, but nicely-done.
  • The NU Transportation Library: God I love a niche institution Insta. This is the Northwestern University Transport Library’s OFFICIAL Insta, which posts all sorts of retro-transport-related imagery for the cleansing of the timeline. If you’d like to leaven the ceaseless procession of madness that is your Insta feed with some rather beautiful transport-related art and design then, well, fill your boots.


  • Epistemic Trespassing: As it was with Brexit, as it was with COVID, as it is again with Afghanistan, our online age (specifically, the experience of being on social media) is characterised by the expression of knowledge and expertise on certain topics by people who, it’s fair to say, don’t necessarily have the foundational knowledge to perhaps opine with the confidence which they in fact do. This essay offers an interesting perspective on the question of whether this is in fact a more valuable thing that we might initially believe, and that its corollary – to whit, the practice of ‘epistemic squatting’, or gatekeeping around areas of knowledge, can in fact be more damaging than the plurality of viewpoint and (admittedly often ignorant) opinion that we get every day on Twitter (because, mainly, it’s Twitter, isn’t it?). A good read, and one which challenged quite a lot of thinking I had previously taken to be self-evident.
  • Rewilding Your Attention: This is absolutely the sort of essay I would have written were I a) a better writer; b) a more coherent thinker; c) less lazy; and d) more interested in doing proper analysis of topics rather than the micron-deep dive that I tend to do – it’s also basically the Web Curios manifesto made, er, text. Clive Thompson writes about how algorithmic, feed-based content streams necessarily have a dulling effect – in his words, “Big-tech recommendation systems have been critiqued lately for their manifold sins— i.e. how their remorseless lust for  “engagement” leads them to overpromote hotly emotional posts; how they rile people up; how they feed us clicktastic disinfo; how they facilitate “doomscrolling”. All true.But they pose a subtler challenge, too, for our imaginative lives: Their remarkably dull conception of what’s “interesting”. It’s like intellectual monocropping. You open your algorithmic feed and see rows and rows of neatly planted corn, and nothing else.” Thanks, Clive, for neatly-articulating why Web Curios exists. If you work in strategy or planning or one of those sorts of pointless, made-up jobs, this is the sort of thing you should read and then annoy all your younger colleagues by forcing them to read too.
  • When McKinsey Types Run Everything: Thanks Alex for sending this my way – an essay about the extent to which the failure of US (Western) efforts in Afghanistan (although, per previous essays in Curios on this subject, the extent to which it was ever possible for there to be a ‘success’ is moot) can in some part be linked to the prevalence and growth of a certain type of managerial thinking in the military (as in other disciplines) – basically: “None of these tens of thousands of Ivy league encrusted PR savvy highly credentialed prestigious people actually know how to do anything useful. They can write books on leadership, or do powerpoints, or leak stories, but the hard logistics of actually using resources to achieve something important are foreign to them, masked by unlimited budgets and public relations.” Sound familiar, even if you don’t work in the military? It does, doesn’t it?
  • The Biometric Databases of Afghanistan: How Afghan government databases containing millions of records pertaining to military personnel are now in the hands of the Taliban and how this information could (depending, obviously, on the extent to which the Taliban reveal themselves to have been lying about having turned over a new leaf – who knows???!!!!1111eleven) be used to make life incredibly uncomfortable for those Afghans remaining in the country who might not in fact want records of how they spent the past two decades shared with the new regime. Interesting in part because of the specifics, and in part because of the fact that this sort of story is just How Things Are Now – every regime change story (and human rights story) from hereon in is also a tech story, is also a data story, is also a privacy story, and the sooner we come to terms with this (and factor it into our thinking when building systems and processes) the better.
  • The Rise of Aesthetics: A year or so after the aesthetics wiki was everywhere, YouTube has created its own official explainer around the whole concept of ‘aesthetics’ as a thing, as well as some guidelines as to what cottagecore, goblincore, psycore, strongbowdarkfruitscore, etc, are. If you’re desperate for data to prove why it’s VITAL that your next campaign embrace the tradwife aesthetic (more on which later), this will be very useful indeed – beyond that, it’s another interesting datapoint for the general thesis (fine, my general thesis) that subculture and belonging has weirdly never been more important to KIDS THESE DAYS, despite the lack of anything resembling universal subcultures that any GenX people could recognise as such.
  • Parasocial Bongo: OR, to give the article its actual title, “The OnlyFans drama has creators worried about more than money”. Still, the main theme of this piece is the relationship online sex workers have with their fans, and how the specifically-parasocial nature of said relationship enables them to monetise in a way that they simply wouldn’t be able to do without those sorts of emotional connections. I find this fascinating and borderline-troubling – not that there’s anything wrong with wnking at a camera for cash, more that the idea (referred to by at least one interviewee in this piece) of performers having ‘internet boyfriends’ feels…odd. This might of course be the simple ‘resistance to the new’ that accompanies any shift in social mores (see the mid-00s and the way online dating was perceived), but I do wonder about how healthy these sorts of relationships are for both customer and performer.
  • Barbie Career of the Year as a Window on Centrist Feminism: A look at what the Barbie ‘Career of the Year’ doll tells us about popular conceptions of women’s roles and what is and ought to be considered ‘aspirational’ for girls and young women. Far more interesting than I thought it would be.
  • NFT as Flex: A piece on the evolution of the NFT marketplace into something where, effectively, some whales are using the pieces as nothing more than signifiers of their immense crypto spending power. I am interested in this idea of NFT-as-status-object; if you consider that the coming generation has grown up with online play and digital avatars, and the idea of skins and customisation of said avatars being a totally normal thing to consider spending money on, it’s entirely plausible to imagine a situation a few years hence where digital drip is an entirely mainstream concern – beyond clothes, this could be ANYTHING to connote special status in an online space. Obviously there’s no need for these to be on the fcuking blockchain, but the principle is interesting beyond the NFT-froth.
  • Big Anime: I wondered last week at which point anime became the global cultural powerhouse it currently appears to be – as if by magic, this WIRED piece appeared this week which neatly looks at the growth of the genre and the extent to which it’s now being monetised hard at a global scale via streaming and production companies. Imho there’s a pretty easy attention hack available at the moment online – ergo to do whatever you do in reasonably-competent anime style for guaranteed eyeballs. I give it 12m before a major bank does a youth-focused campaign using anime-styled illustrations and the whole scene dies a horrible death as a result of the ensuing shame and embarrassment.
  • Cultish Language: This piece is technically about the venn diagram intersection between wellness bloggers and ‘mummy’ bloggers and peddlers of woobollock (the technical term for all pseudo-spiritual industrial complex that involves the sale of crystal-based tat for money), and how the language used is increasingly akin to that used by cults to position themselves as absolute arbiters of truth and authority. In practice, though, I think that you can apply the broad thesis here outlined to most online communities in 2021 – EVERYWHERE IS A CULT AND EVERYONE WANTS TO BE A CULT LEADER. I have said this before, but really – take this line from the piece: “In Cultish, Montell explores the language used by everyone from the notorious Jim Jones, who coerced nearly 1,000 members of his church to kill themselves in 1978 to the leggings-hawking direct sales company LuLaRoe. What unifies all these organizations and leaders is the use of language deliberately designed to make followers feel like part of a community, to feel privy to salvation or a higher power of being.” Now think of that excerpt in the context of any online interest group you care to mention. NFTs? CULT! Football Twitter? CULT! Mental Health Twitter? CULT! I don’t normally think I am right about stuff – honestly, I don’t! This veneer of certainty is just a pose! – but I honestly reckon that my assertion that the cult is the most important cultural unit of the modern age is bang on the money.
  • GenZ Tradwives: Or ‘the weird, culturally-conservative creep currently happening in quite a few corners of online space’ – I first started seeing this a few years back in the Jordan Petersen-addled narratives constructed by alt-right adjacent men, talking about the need to go back to more traditional family models and values (aka I EAT STEAK AND RECEIVE FELLATIO AND OCCASIONALLY BREED, as far as I can tell), and it’s been interesting watching it bleed into ‘aesthetics’ internet and more mainstream lifestyle content. This article discusses the extent to which this aesthetic is being used as a trojan horse for certain strains of right-wing thinking – I don’t know about you, but people starting to talk about ‘moving to the country and having a quieter life with more connection to the land and local community’ is now indelibly linked in my mind them falling down a fash-adjacent rabbithole, though that perhaps says more about me than anything else.
  • Mob Justice: There is, it seems, a neverending appetite for longform articles in the serious press about how unforgiving and trigger-happy the world is these days, and how the slightest transgression from accepted social mores can lead one to ostracisation and career-death in a matter of seconds. Here’s the latest, in The Atlantic – to be clear, I don’t hold with most of what is written in this piece, but I found it fascinating to read the author’s attempt to paint a society in which – let’s be clear – people are no longer able to behave in a way that upsets people without the people they have upset making them aware of it and asking them to stop behaving like that as A Bad Thing. My main overriding thought when reading most of the examples of ‘cancellation’ here recorded (in their defence, the author accepts that that’s a silly term) was that this is how it used to be for everyone who wasn’t at the top of the pyramid. To hear the interviewees complain about now living in a world where they no longer feel they understand the social conventions required of them and what is ‘acceptable’ or not is enlightening insofar as not one of them seems to acknowledge the fact that they are literally describing the life experience of being part of a marginalised community for literally all of history. No violins, basically, but an interesting read nonetheless.
  • Disco Elysium: I don’t normally proselytise about videogames you MUST PLAY, but I will make an exception for this. If you have a PC or Playstation and you like reading – even if you don’t really like games! – you absolutely must play Disco Elysium. This article is a lovely explanation of some of the reasons why – it contains mild spoilers, but it also perfectly captures the beauty of the writing and the fact that, more than anything else I have ever experienced, it feels like ‘playing’ a novel. Honestly, this is possibly the most interesting evolution of storytelling in games I have ever experienced, and you owe it to yourself to try it (again, even if you don’t really like games!).
  • The English Food Store: From the latest Vittles email, a wonderful piece of writing by Huw Lemmey about Englishness, food, class, history and embarrassment – “A visit to an English food store overseas is a vision of Englishness when the lights come up in a club at the end of the night. You’re staring straight into the flickering, blinding truth. You can’t hide from it. This is it, son: the nation that made you, the food that put flesh on your bones, the custard powder and Angel Delight that built your skeleton strong and the Fray Bentos and black pudding that made you broad.”
  • The Route Setters of Tokyo: Did you enjoy the climbing at the ‘lypmics? Wasn’t it GREAT? This is an absolutely brilliant article – and an excellent companion to that NYT explainer about how Olympic climbing works – about the people who make the course that the climbers seek to climb. Honestly, I can’t stress enough how fascinating this is, on both a practical and human level; I adore articles like this that shine a light on a niche profession or skill which I had literally never considered the existence of before.
  • Rooms Occupied by Ghislaine Maxwell: This is a brilliant piece of writing, about the Maxwell case but, more, about the power structures and systems that enable the sort of abuse that she and Epstein engaged in over the years. The final paragraphs in particular are some of the best writing about the horrific power dynamics that characterise this sort of abuse that I have ever read.
  • Proust’s Panmemnicon: This is a very odd one. I can’t quite recommend it, exactly – it’s VERY long, and unless you really want to read a hardcore literary analysis of A La Recherche…then you probably won’t want to read every single word, but at the same time it is so wonderfully, stylishly idiosyncratic in its writing that I think all of you would enjoy skimming it. Its author, one Justin Smith, is obviously an intelligent and erudite human being with a wonderfully turn-of-phrase; they are also someone who is…unafraid of pretension, to the extent that there was a certain point in the opening section where I had to stop and check that it wasn’t a parody of a certain type of arts writing. Honestly, though, this is packed with high-quality writing, and they even manage to make Proust interesting (obviously I have never read Proust).
  • The Youths: Finally this week, a piece of short fiction by Lisa Owens which, honestly, felt so familiar to me at points that it was almost like witchcraft. The story of a couple, from workplace meeting to middle-age, drawn so perfectly and with such pinpoint observation that it’s like observing something trapped in amber. This is absolutely superb, and the best piece of short story writing I’ve read in months – make a pot of tea (or, fcukit, open a bottle!) and enjoy it.

By Julie Curtiss


Webcurios 27/08/21

Reading Time: 37 minutes

HAPPY PARALYMPICS EVERYONE! Yes, given how terribly everything else seems to be going this week, let’s focus on the positives shall we?

How have you been? My past seven days have largely been characterised by immigration-related panic and the feeling that, even by the standards of modernity, stuff is happening at a pace that is frankly unsustainable. So what better way to counteract the jittery, overcaffeinated, ‘did I just bomb some speed and forget about it?’-type sensations of LIVING IN THE NOW than by taking a whistlestop tour through some of the best – and if not ‘best’ than certainly ‘most eclectic and least-discerningly-curated’ – websites of the week, lovingly (if it’s not love than it’s something at least adjacent – lust, maybe?) hand-selected by ME, Matt, once again here to act as your digital Virgil.

So come my Dantean proteges, let us once again embark upon a guided tour through the seven circles of the web – don’t look too closely, don’t touch ANYTHING, and don’t worry too much about the long-term effects; after all, at the present rate of progress, all of this is likely to be ashes before we’re able to make any sort of useful assessment of what it’s doing to us.

This, as ever, is Web Curios. It is TOO MUCH, but you knew that already.

By Elizabeth Pich



  • Candyman: Candyman is definitely one of those films which benefited from being watched on a pirate VHS round a mate’s house when you were skiving off from school, drawing the curtains in the mid-afternoon after doing bongs in the garden all morning to heighten the claustrophobic paranoia. Or at least that’s how I experienced it for the first time – I can’t speak for you and nor would I want to. Anyway, the now-traditional ‘reboot’ is out now, and this is a promo site that takes the central premise and MAKES IT REAL thanks to the magic of technology (and, er, voice recognition). Visit the site, let it access your mic and camera and then SAY THE MAGIC WORD 5 TIMES and see what hook-y horrors puncture your meaty carapace! What actually happens is that you, er, get to see an ‘exclusive’ trailer and then send the website to your friends – not going to lie, I feel that they could possibly have done…more with this. Maybe doing this in AR so you could see the Candyman creeping up on you over your shoulder? Anyway, obviously I am being miserable and churlish by complaining about something competently-made and reasonably-fun – I like the use of voice-recognition, really I do! – but, equally, there’s something very funny about the fact that the voicerec software is loose enough in its interpretation of your speech that it will work perfect well if you say ‘handyman’ – a very different sort of horror film, that.
  • Talk To God (Virtually): Let’s be clear – this is not in fact a portal to talk to the divine, unless you subscribe to the viewpoint that the divine is within all of us and therefore all people are in some small way manifestations of the ultimate Godhead (is that what you believe? It sounds comforting, can you…teach me faith?). Instead, this is an intriguing art project, born out of Burning Man which once again this year is a virtual rather than physical event (interesting, by the way, that the proliferation of ‘here’s a website that will let you experience the Playa in digital form!’ projects that characterised last year burn don’t seem to have been replicated this year, or at least not at the same sort of scale – you can check out what is happening here, if you’re curious), which lets you talk to…well, a stranger on the other end of the phone line, cosplaying as God. This year the phoneline isn’t connected to a booth in the middle of the desert – instead, it’s manned by a series of volunteers from around the world who are available day and night to chat to you via Zoom. Want the complete Burning Man experience? Get naked, cover yourself in dust, take more mushrooms than you feel entirely comfortable with, put the original Mad Max on in the background and prepare to have a conversation with a complete stranger about how ‘the oneness in us is the oneness in everything…and that’s why I felt compelled to start my disruptive company in the communications space!’. I am being a w4nker here, obviously – this could be a lot of fun, although I fear that the participants won’t quite be in an altered enough state to make this really fly.
  • Square Eat: It feels a bit like the past year has rather slowed down the conveyor belt of totally mad startup-type ideas flying around the web, so perhaps the appearance of Square Eat this week is a sign that NATURE IS HEALING or something. Anyway, this one’s a DOOZY – perhaps the best thing about it is that its creators obviously based the whole idea on the concept of a ‘SQUARE MEAL’ (do you see?!???) but then realised that there was already quite a large business with that name and so were forced instead to adopt the…less catchy Square Eat moniker. Leaving the name aside, though, let’s just judge the idea on its own merits. Square Eat offers meal plans – choose your preferred flavours and ingredients and you will be sent a delicious, nutritious box of food…BUT THE FOOD IS ALL SQUARE! That’s right, someone has decided that Soylent, Huel et al aren’t quite miserably-dystopian enough, and has decided to take the old scifi trope of ‘the meal in pill form’ and make it REAL. Except they’re not pills, they’re SQUARES! Squares of REAL FOOD (they seem worryingly keen to convince you of this – methinks you doth protest too much, food geometricians), processed into, er, SQUARES (do you see now?!???) which will last for up to four weeks and can be eaten hot or cold and come in flavours with names like ‘Mediterranean’, ‘Fisherman’ and the mysterious-yet-sinister ‘Treat’. So, to be clear, you are paying a premium price for 240g servings of normal food which has been processed, chopped and shaped into squares – WHY??? WHY IS THIS NECESSARY OR GOOD??? WHY IS THE SQUARENESS NECESSARY??? There’s a lot to love on the FAQ page too – I particularly liked the response to ‘how do you make this sh1t?’, which reads: “Our Squares are made with 100% natural and healthy ingredients only. Thanks to our innovative cooking methods (low temperature based) we are able to preserve all nutrients.” That definitely doesn’t sound sinister or evasive AT ALL. The best thing is that there is an AI angle (of COURSE there is!) – according to the investment presentation (of course there is an investor presentation!) there’s some vague flimflam about AI-powered nutrition plans in the mix also. If you’ve read all this and your overriding impulse is ‘wow, what an amazing idea! I must get in on the ground floor’ then a) stop reading my newsletter, you are a moron; and b) you can do so here. The worst thing about this is that the people behind it are all seemingly of Italian descent – MY PEOPLE WHAT ARE YOU DOING?
  • Invisible Universe: A while back I mentioned that TikTok starlet Charlie D’Amelio had a spin-off CG character made of her and her sister’s childhood toys, as an extension of their terrifying juggernaut of a media empire; this week I discovered that there is a whole company dedicated to just that – spaffing out CG animated branded characters, loosely tied to existing real world celebrities, to further extend their media empires. These are the people behind QaiQai, a CG Instainfluencer based on Serena Williams’ daughters’ real-life doll, and Crayzinho, a CG Instainfluencer based on, er, a monkey owned by Brazilian footballer Dani Alves (this one’s a bit harder to parse tbqhwy). Is this a good thing? I mean, to be clear, it doesn’t matter at all – who cares? – but there’s something a bit saddening in the idea that all future kids’ characters will inevitably be created out of this sort of lab-style development process where a team of consultants will extrapolate the sidekick’s personality from the original celebrity’s while an AI takes care of creating the look and the animation style…Also, maybe it’s just me but Crazyinho very much looks like the sort of monkey that would be flinging its scat around the living room within minutes and not the sort of chap I personally want to hang out with.
  • The Sainsbury Archive: This is obviously a bit of promo for UK supermarket Sainsbury’s, fine, but it’s also a wonderful piece of social history and a great bit of archiving. This site collects photographs and information and memories about the supermarket’s history, from old branches to the recollections of previous managers and staff – it’s managed by the Museum of London, and I think this digitisation process is relatively recent (it’s very much an ongoing project). This will, in the main, only be of significant interest to people from the UK with a significant affection for a particular chain of supermarkets, but it’s a wonderful example of using brand heritage well (if you’re the sort of person who cares about that sort of thing, and who am I to judge? NO FCUKER, that’s who!).
  • Bruce Up Your Wedding: I don’t really understand this. I mean, I understand the underlying basic premise – imagine if Newcastle United football manager Steve Bruce showed up at weddings! Wouldn’t that be hilarious! Imagine if there were a range of Steve Bruce-themed wedding merch! So RANDOM!! – but what I don’t understand is why Twitter (because it is literally Twitter who made this) decided to make a whole website devoted to a single-note Twitter account, offering actual, real products to order for a limited period of time (sadly all the Steve Bruce merch has run out, but I would imagine it’s currently failing to find a secondary buyer on eBay RIGHT NOW!), and promoting it really hard all over the UK TL this week. To be clear, I am not saying it’s not sort-of funny, more that, well, it’s not that funny, and I don’t really understand what Twitter is doing here. Is the point to show ‘look! There’s fun stuff on Twitter, it’s not just racists and people shouting loudly about topics on which they have nowhere near the expertise they claim!’? In the unlikely event that anyone from Twitter reads Curios then please could you explain it to me (in simple words)?
  • Webwed: Apparently this has existed since 2015 – I am MORTIFIED that I have never featured it before, but better late than never I suppose. Do YOU want to get married, but, well, without any of the fuss and ceremony (or family, or friends, or guests, or celebrants, or venue)? Do you want the legally-binding contract without any of the pointless fun and problem drinking? Well then Webwed may be for YOU! This service lets anyone get married online, and whilst the marriages are recognised under US law they are apparently legally binding worldwide (please, do not take Web Curios’ word on this and, if you are considering getting hitched for legal reasons, perhaps get a lawyer to check whether this is in fact legit). I could write more but, honestly, the copy from the site’s ‘About’ page does a better job than I ever could of communicating the vibe: “WebWed Mobile is a cross-platform mobile application that will revolutionize the wedding industry, by providing an optical indirect human experience. Our objective is to merge the three most powerful elements of the world: Love, Law, and Technology, to afford individuals from all walks of life and corners of the world, the opportunity to wed on an affordable global platform. Uniquely, the development of our raw technology has unlocked the doors to a new way of sharing special moments with family and friends. Therefore, WebWed Mobile is dedicated to ushering couples of all socio-economic backgrounds into the new marital digital world, on their time schedule, through a virtual stage. As a direct result, the judicial system will be eternally altered as the evolution of technology and law fuse to accommodate the new normal, where roaming-o meets emolji-et [AUTHORIAL INTERJECTION – I AM IN AWE AT THIS; IN AWE]. In an age where divorce rates are skyrocketing due to debt obligations from the wedding ceremony, WebWed mobile offers a necessary avenue to diminish debt and redirect the economic focus back onto love and family. Providing marital freedom, financial freedom, marriage equality and a resolution to marriage discrimination’s across the country, are major fundamentals that WebWed Mobile stands for. Our ultimate aim is to encourage the local and global communities to move from the mindset of the “impossible” to a statement of “I’m possible””. You’re tempted, aren’t you? I can tell. I’ll be your witness!
  • The Sad Girls Bar: The NFT artthing continues to rumble on, not dead but not quite as mainstream-frothy as it was 6m ago. At one end you have people paying 7 figures for clipart rocks, at the other you have small collectibles projects like this one, which has created a sort-of emo-punk aesthetic around the idea of the Sad Girls Bar where the collectible Sad Girls hang out and drink and, I presume, cry. So far so standard NFT – there’s a set number, they have a set number of traits which combine to create unique collectibles, etc etc etc, so far so CryptoPunk – but there’s something interesting in the way there are Patreon/Kickstarter-like stretch goals that will be unlocked as the editions get sold, like cocktail books and physical merch for those bought-in. Basically this feels a little more like a community/club-type thing than a straight up ‘buy and flip’ grift, and I am starting to see more projects like this cropping up which feel a bit like a digital sticker club. To be clear, I still think that the vast majority of NFT stuff is terrible and a con, but it’s interesting watching the space evolve.
  • Flowers For Sick People: This is almost heartbreakingly-lovely. Flowers for Sick People is a project by artist Tucker Nichols whereby they paint bunches of flowers in vases – some of the paintings are posted on this site, each bunch being dedicated to an individual (“Flowers for anyone who woke up handcuffed to a bed”, “Flowers for teenage panic attacks”), and some will be sent to those who need them as actual, real paintings. “Know someone struggling with illness? I will mail a small flower painting on your behalf to a loved one in need. Send an email with the name and complete mailing address of your loved one and I will send them a small original painting.” This is almost inconceivably sweet – the site supports donations, and it feels like this is something worth chucking a fiver at if you can afford it, simply because it’s such an incredibly kind thing for Nichols to be doing.
  • Metaphor: This is really interesting, and one of two things in Curios this week that made me quite excited (I mean, that should read ‘excited’ – there are limits, after all) about the future of search. Metaphor is an experiment in using language models in search – effectively it’s a piece of software that’s trained to predict webpages in a context where someone is describing them. So it’s a search engine that will respond to questions like ‘A webpage people were talking about a lot in 2018, it was about cartoon cats being sold’ (CryptoKitties) – this page talks a little bit about the project and lets you search freely using the engine. The results skew tech – the model was trained on links posted to Hacker News – but it’s a really interesting look into different ways in which search might function in the future, and a surprising window into unusual parts of the web.
  • The Commissary Club: A social network designed for people who used to be in prison and who would like to be able to connect with other people who also used to be in prison and get what it’s like being on the outside again. This is a US app and so it’s US lags only, afaict, but I was fascinated by the fact that there is still space for specialist-interest stuff like this (although I bet if you try hard enough you can find yourself on prison TikTok, which I imagine is a very special sort of place).
  • The Black Film Archive: “[The] Black Film Archive celebrates the rich, abundant history of Black cinema. We are an evolving archive dedicated to making historically and culturally significant films made from 1915 to 1979 about Black people accessible through a streaming guide with cultural context….The films collected on Black Film Archive have something significant to say about the Black experience; speak to Black audiences; and/or have a Black star, writer, producer, or director. This criterion for selection is as broad and inclusive as possible, allowing the site to cover the widest range of what a Black film can be. The films listed here should be considered in conversation with each other, as visions of Black being on film across time. They express what only film can: social, anthropological, and aesthetic looks at the changing face of Black expression (or white attitudes about Black expression, which are inescapable given the whiteness of decision-makers in the film industry). ” This is super-interesting, both as an overview of black cinematic work throughout the 20th Century but also as a way of discovering and exploring said work – where possible, the site features links to streams of all the films it features, and much of the older material here is available on YouTube (that fact tells its own interesting story about the commercial value placed on Black filmmaking).
  • Crochet Pasta: I have never met anyone in Italy who owns a pasta maker, and the general vibe around the idea of making your own tortelloni tends to be ‘lol, why?’ – I have, though, no idea how Italians might feel about the idea of knitting spaghetti (I will ask them, I know you’re anxious to hear). If YOU are the sort of person who has long-dreamed of being able to knit and purl some lovely wheaten shapes, though, then this link is likely to be a long-dreamed-of prize – the Etsy page of the ‘Copacetic Crocheter’ (copacetic – a word I have never heard an English person use and which for reasons I can’t adequately explain irritates me beyond all imagining) offers a variety of knitting patterns for sale, patterns which will open the door to a world of KNITTED LINGUINE and KNITTED PENNE and, er, KNITTED DEEP-FRIED MOZZARELLA CHEESE STICKS! If you’re bored of scarves and are yet to master the heel-turn required for socks, perhaps this will provide a new knitting challenge for you (be aware, though, that knitting does not equal personality, however cute Tom Daley looked doing it).
  • Romania: Back in the heyday of Twitter (when was that? A brief period circa 2010?), there was a vogue for the creation of national accounts, where countries would have a Twitter handle which got rotated around the population at random each week. Most of them have stopped now (beautifully, though, the Dutch are still at it, and it’s honestly still one of my favourite accounts on the platform, do follow it if you’re not already), but I now wonder whether the new hotness in national-level PR is creating a TikTok account for your country to showcase the majesty of your nation via the medium of shortform video. So it is with Romania, whose official TikTok account offers viewers the chance to “Experience the raw beauty of Romania”, which in practive means “here’s loads of lovely bucolic footage of the Romanian countryside which very much leans in to certain tropes about the Central European region and features rather more women in headscarves than you might expect to encounter in downtown Chisinau (NOT CHISINAU! Thanks to Ale who emailed me to point out that this is in fact the capital of Moldova; I feel very ignorant) Bucharest in 2021” – one-dimensional depiction of Romanian life aside, this is rather cute. Is there an ‘England’ TikTok? It very much feels like there ought to be….oh, there is, but it’s for the fcuking football team. How tedious.
  • Librivox: FREE AUDIOBOOKS! Ok, so admittedly these are all volunteer-recorded and so the quality of reading may be…variable, but they are FREE and there are 15,000+ of them, and the site has been going for 16 years!!!! This is honestly so lovely, and I think I am going to download audio of a stranger reading Aesop to me as a way of coping with life. Beautifully, some of the 15k audiobooks on here are academic textbooks – I have no idea who the altruistic lunatics producing audio recordings of a 400-page guide to organic chemistry for strangers to ‘enjoy’ online are, but I am glad that they exist.
  • Cofounder Quest: This is unquestionably the greatest recruitment website I have ever seen – not only that, but the music it uses is reminiscent of that in SimCity2000, which took me momentarily to a very happy place. You probably won’t be qualified for the job – unless you’re a developer living the Bay Area – but you will appreciate the beauty of the website made to find someone who is. Honestly, do click this, it is JOYOUS and such a wonderful homage to late-90s videogames.

By  Lilou Oh Yeah



  •  The Dance Music Archive: Or, perhaps less hubristically, a Dance Music Archive – it’s not like the web is short of places which seek to chronicle the evolution of repetitive beats, after all. Still, this is a great project which has been put together by Any Durrant to chronicle the evolution of the genre(s) over the past 4 decades. A lockdown project, this is a truly stupendous trove of year-by-year overviews of the scene in the UK, with scans of dance music mags, mixes of the best (or at least most ‘iconic’ tracks from each year, images of old rave flyers, links to legendary sets by some of the most famous DJs of the era…honestly, if you’re the sort of person who has vague, fuzzy memories of double-dropping to Oakenfold in Lakota bitd (for example) then you wil absolutely lose yourself in this, and quite possibly spend much of the weekend boring your partner and friends with reminiscences about ‘the vibes, man’ and ‘mitsus, the pill that saved clubland!’ (a Mixmag cover I still can’t quite believe ever happened). Wonderful stuff, though it made me feel VERY VERY OLD indeed (plus ca fcuking change).
  • Love: I think I said this a few months ago, but it’s interesting to see a new wave of proto-social-networks springing up again in 2021 – this is another attempt to break the FaceTokChat hegemony, admittedly more messaging/chat app than network, which offers users the promise of an ad-free experience with some neat visual effects (the ‘bubble’-type visualisation of who’s talking on videocalls is a nice touch, for example) and then some vague guff about how the whole thing will be turned over to its users via some sort of DAO-type setup should the platform reach 100m Daily Active Users within 5 years. Look, er, I think that that last ambition is possibly a bit of an overreach, but I quite like the concept behind it – if you’re after a non-FB messaging platform and think you can persuade your friends to try it, this might be worth a go; and who knows? In 5 years’ time you might own a fractional stake in the next big thing. You probably won’t, to be clear, but it’s nice to dream.
  • Macro: This feels a little bit like it might have missed a boat, but what do I know? Macro is a layer which you can add on top of Zoom to personalise your appearance in videochats – it lets you create frames for your presence, so that rather than simply appearing as a face in a square you can instead appear as, er, a face within a frame in a square! I am possibly being a bit unfair – there are lots of interesting effects you can apply, turning your face into all sorts of interesting, arty designs and letting you create canvases for your call appearances with animations and effects and flourishes and stuff – but the lines about how this software lets you MANIFEST AS YOUR TRUE SELF ON ZOOM made me do all sorts of internal cringes (it’s a generational thing, I know). Basically this is a series of slightly-fun videocall filters which are inexplicably (to me) being sold as a means of ACHIEVING PERSONAL ACTUALISATION – what can I say? If all you need to be able to finally become the fullest and best version of you than can possibly be is a series of rainbow effects to wear in your next meeting then, well, I am glad the bar is set so comfortably low for you. In a similar vein, by the way, is this product, which does the same sort of thing but for livestreaming – in fact this strikes me as significantly more useful for those of you who have do do streaming professionally, whether as an individual or a corporate.
  • Marvel or Font?: A game that challenges you to guess whether something is a font or whether in fact it is a Marvel character. Several things: 1) this is more fun than I expected; 2) man, do Marvel characters have some silly names; 3) based on this, there are seemingly enough secondary Marvel characters out there that Disney can keep the MCU going until the heat death of the universe, which is obviously GREAT news for the future of cinema and mass entertainment oh god can we please make the superhero thing stop or at the very least slow down a bit please?
  • Our World of Pixels: Another in the occasional series of ‘projects that let anyone from anywhere on the web contribute to an infinite online canvas’, this does that exact thing but with PIXELART (much like the now-legendary Reddit ‘Place’ experiment from BITD). This is amazing in part because, at the time of writing at least, it is still pure and seemingly untouched by Channers and Nazis, and also because of the absolutely insane skill on display by some of the artists involved. Honestly, scroll around and gawp – there’s some anime work on here in particular that is boggling in terms of its scale and execution and which must have taken some poor fcuker days to complete (also, when did the tipping point occur at which manga/anime-style art became this ubiquitous, like the visual lingua franca of online experience?).
  • Hexopress: Turn Google Docs into a blog – that’s literally it, but it’s a really nice, simple, clean idea and a nice low-friction way of publishing online. Curios is done in a similar way, should you be interested – I write in GDocs and then there’s some MAGIC CODE that Shardcore wrote which takes that copy and formats it for the website and newsletter. For those of you interested in self-publishing stuff online but who don’t have the skill with HTML to do something entirely-homespun, this might be worth a look.
  • Hate Raid Response Tools: I find this fascinating – hate raids are an increasing problem on Twitch, apparently, with streamers finding themselves being brigaded by armies of trolls who invade their chat and kill their streams with copypasta and pr0n and hate and all the usual wonderful internet gubbins that we’ve all come to expect (it’s…sort of miserable, isn’t it, that our modern experience of being online is always, inevitably, characterised by the expectation that someone somewhere will attempt to ruin it for us). This website offers a selection of tips and tools to help streamers guard against such instances, and to deal with them should they occur – what’s interesting to me about this is that it’s yet another instance of services being developed to deal with platform problems that the platforms themselves seem incapable of, or unwilling to, deal with. There’s a growing space for businesses and products that set themselves up to solve niche-but-growing issues such as this one – any of you who do ‘strategy’ or other such pointless, made-up jobs could do worse than use this as an example of spaces inbetween services which can usefully be exploited for community benefit and reputational gain.
  • Karencheck: Similarly, Karencheck is an interesting proposition – designed for Etsy sellers to be able to see whether the person leaving crappy feedback on their products is in fact a genuinely-aggrieved customer or whether in fact they are the sort of person who habitually does the complaining thing all over the web because that’s just the sort of joyless horror they are. It pulls all of the reviews associated with an Etsy profile and displays them in one place, giving sellers a quick way off telling whether they are dealing with a reasonable person or, frankly, a w4nker. Leaving aside the debate around whether the ‘Karen’ thing should be left to die (it should), this feels like the sort of thing that could actually be used in a positive way – why not use this to find the nicest Etsy users and reward them in some way? I mean, noone will ever bother to do that, but it would be nice, wouldn’t it? Eh? Oh.
  • Mike Strick: You may not have realised that what your significant other wants most in the world is a small, grotesque figurine depicting Hugh Jackman in his Greatest Showman getup but with Hugh’s handsome antipodean features replaced by those of a tardigrade (the TARDIGRADEST SHOWMAN!!! DO YOU SEE???), but I can assure you that that is EXACTLY what their heart desires. Sadly that particular piece is sold out, but there’s a wealth of weird sh1t on Strick’s site and they even do commissions – if you want a custom version of one of your vinyl figurines (THEY ARE TOYS! TOYS!) then this is the place to come (also, worth checking out the Young Ones statuettes, which are genuinely ace).
  • Niche Museums: I am very sorry that I didn’t come across this at the start of the SUmmer, as this is perhaps THE perfect website for torturing your kids with. “What shall we do this week, kids? I mean, it’s the Summer holidays and you can’t possibly spend all 6 weeks using the kitchen as a set for TikToks that will never, ever get more than 5k views. I know, let’s go to the Museum of Funeral History!” The Niche Museums website is a trove of small, unheralded museums and archives from around the world – you can search for locations near you, or just put in a few search terms and browse – a cursory search under ‘London’ has thrown up some great-sounding places I’d never previously heard of, including the London Jukebox Museum which I am absolutely visiting when I am back in the country and have some semblance of a life again.
  • How I Experience Web Today: This has done the rounds this week, but if you’ve not seen it it’s a simple-yet-depressingly-accurate depiction of what it’s like using the modern web. It’s also a really good example of how effective a simple piece of webdesign can be at communicating a very particular experience, and the sort of thing which really ought to be sponsored by some sort of adblocking software or ‘modern and better web browser experience’, so those of you with clients in that camp, GO! START A BIDDING WAR!
  • Sleeping In Airports: A doubtless useful website whose existence I find deeply-depressing, Sleeping In Airports not only offers general tips about how to get a good night’s kip when stuck in the liminal non-space that is an international transit hub, but it also offers specific intelligence on where exactly in, say, Heathrow Terminal 5 you should bed down for a bit of shut-eye. Regardless of your personal interest in the subject matter, I can heartily recommend the ‘Airport Stories’ section of the site for some occasionally eye-raising anecdotes about what people get upto when on a layover (“Another story about inappropriate personal grooming. Where is the best place to shave your legs in the terminal?”).
  • Infinite Canvas: I know I always bang on about how more brands should make browser games (or, frankly, games in general) as a marketing tool, but I equally appreciate that it’s not that easy to know how or where to start with such a thing. Infinite Canvas is a company that works with brands and creators and platforms to make bespoke game experiences based on your brand and assets – it’s (as far as I can tell) a sort of connector-marketplace where you can approach them with your need and they will pull together a useful team of people drawn from their rolodex to assist you – I have no idea what sort of vig they charge for the service, but it’s an interesting idea and something that it might be worth bookmarking if you can ever persuade your clients to do something less skullfcukingly-dull than ‘let’s do a white paper – in an INTERACTIVE PDF!’ (kill me now).
  • 90s News Screens: A Twitter feed posting screencaps from US news in the 90s. Sort of like DaytimeSnaps if that were historical, American and news-focused (but it is not as good as DaytimeSnaps). Still, this is good meme-fodder, should you be in the market for such stuff.
  • Flixgem: Not the first ‘ffs why is it so hard to find anything good on Netflix and why won’t the algorithm show me any of the subsidiary categories so that I can search through every single film tagged ‘shark-based murder comedy’?’ (this is literally my girlfriend’s ideal film genre), but certainly one of the more useful ones – tell this website where you live, and what you’re into, and it will spit out all the relevant films that are available in your Netflix region. Fine, it doesn’t appear to be 100% comprehensive, but if you’re after ‘animes based on light novels, available in the UK’ (for example) then this will help you find the perfect match (apparently there’s something called ‘is it wrong to pick up girls in a dungeon?’, which actually on reflection does make me rather doubt the quality of the algo here because, really, that was a novel first?).
  • DJBiddy: Not, sadly, the personal website of the UK’s premiere Women’s Institute DJ (I now can’t get the image of a tearoom fitted with a massive speaker stack, and a 70-odd woman in a twinset doing incredible things with four Technics), but instead an app which lets you quickly an easily find and book DJs from across the world, spanning a range of genres, to play at your…thing. OnlyDJs, if you will. I really like this idea, and specifically the fact that this means you can now book a Guatemalan reggaeton set for your next Teams meeting – PLEASE can someone do this for their next office all-hands (I am so so pleased that I do not and have never worked for an organisation that does things like ‘all hands’ meetings, the very concept makes my teeth itch). “Monthly accounts meeting? This calls for a high-octane gabba set from DJ Motherfukcer!” Or something like that.
  • Missing Maps: This is a wonderful project: “Each year, disasters around the world kill nearly 100,000 and affect or displace 200 million people. Many of the places where these disasters occur are literally ‘missing’ from open and accessible maps and first responders lack the information to make valuable decisions regarding relief efforts. Missing Maps is an open, collaborative project in which you can help to map areas where humanitarian organisations are trying to meet the needs of people who live at risk of disasters and crises.” Again, though, it’s an example of where big tech fails and volunteers have to step in – every time I see something like this I can’t help but wonder what all the other massive lacunae are in terms of global service provision that I haven’t even begun to conceive of. There is interesting and useful work to be done in identifying and filling said gaps, basically (which I appreciate is not a new or in any way helpful observation, but one which just occurred to me as I was typing and, well, that’s how Curios works, isn’t it? I TYPE MY BRANES! God, I bet you wish it worked differently. Sorry).
  • LudoTune: Latest in the seemingly-infinite procession of browser-based synthtoys comes LudoTune, which per all the others lets you pull together loops and beats using a drag-and-drop visual interface, but which does so IN 3D! Effectively this is musical LEGO (I know that that is a lazy description but, well, I am a lazy man, what do you want from me?), where you snap together different effects and sounds and delays and triggers and then see what they sound like – pleasingly, you can also see some of the better creations made by other users, which will make you feel hugely inadequate but will also demonstrate quite how flexible the tool is. There’s something rather lovely about the way in which it creates digital sculptures as a side-effect of composition, and I would rather like to see this idea explored a bit further (but, obviously, I don’t really know how – I’M A BIG PICTURE GUY, OK, I DON’T DO DETAIL).
  • Hogwarts Is Here: No it is not. Hogwarts is a fictional school. It does not exist. You cannot learn magic at Hogwarts, because it is not real. And yet, here we are! My girlfriend is a millennial (just), and as such has the same sort of slightly-insane relationship with Potter as all of those of her generation (she self-identifies as Slytherin, and while I love her very much there are some aspects of this that I confess to finding troubling in the extreme), and even she would probably draw the line at this site. NO, HOGWARTS IS NOT ‘HERE’. Ahem. Should you have less of a problem with the obsessional arrested development that has seen every adult between the ages of 30-40 attach undue and frankly insane importance to a series of books for children, though, then maybe you too will want to enrol in a class on this website? As far as I can tell, this is basically a portal to a sort of digital Hogwarts LARP (except not live action, so, er, Digital Experience Role Play? DERP? Sounds about right) where you can roleplay as a student and…take classes in made-up subjects? Look, one of the main tenets behind Curios is that there is nothing odd or boring, and all interests and pursuits are equal and should not be mocked (apart from teledildonics; mocking teledildonics is literally fine), but this really does press right up against the limits of my tolerance. Still, if you want to roleplay as a new student at Hogwarts, inventing a backstory for yourself and attending Herbology classes and doing homework and effectively participating in a modern version of a MUD then YOU GO! In all seriousness, if anyone reading this happens to know exactly how this all works then please tell me as I am fascinated.
  • Quora Adult Content: There’s an old internet dictum (I forget which Rule it is exactly) which states that all platforms will at some point (if not always) be used to house bongo. I wouldn’t necessarily have thought that this applies to question and answer bonfire Quora and yet, well, HERE WE ARE! This is, to be clear, a collection of pictures of naked people, most specifically their genitals, in various states of arousal – it’s bongo, so, to be clear, DO NOT CLICK THE LINK UNLESS YOU ARE COMFORTABLE SEEING SEX PICTURES. It’s reasonably mixed in terms of gender and sexuality, but what I find most odd/charming about the whole thing is that this is a bunch of online exhibitionists who found each other because of their other shared interest – answering questions about stuff! Truly, the nested venn diagrams of humanity and human interest are rich and dense and multilayered. There is one particular gif about halfway down the page that made me do a proper double-take, by the way, and I say that as someone who has seen a LOT – it’s not horrible or bad, more…’blimey, you don’t see that that often, do you?’. And if that doesn’t tempt you to click then I don’t know what will.

By Ling Yung Chen



  •  Moviedromer: Moviedrome, for the UK-based kids of the 90s amongst you, was a genuinely amazing film programme – it showcased arthouse or ‘odd’ films that you wouldn’t necessarily have seen elsewhere on TV, and each was preceded by a bit of introanalysis by Alex Cox and Mark Cousins. This site collects transcripts of all those introductions, along with reflections on the films – if you want a decent way of exploring some classic, odd, occasionally niche cinema, this is a wonderful way of building a watchlist.


  • Math Is Noiz: Mixing AI generative art with scifi aesthetics isn’t something I’ve seen done that much; this account posts a really interesting mix of GAN-ish aesthetics and fractal-based future-ish art. Idiosyncratic and rather cool imho.
  • Helga Stentzel: Food, domesticity and whimsy here – there’s a very recognisable vibe/style about this work, but Stentzel executes it beautifully.
  • Brendon Burton: Photos of gothic-ish americana. Lots of ‘places in the middle of nowhere’ and ‘the blasted reality of the midwest’-type shots, but, again, executed particularly well.
  • Yann LeGall: Programming and generative art – but the sort of CG stuff that is so hypnotic I could lose myself for days watching some of these. The physical/digital kaleidescopy of it all (can you believe I used to work in arts PR and actually write press releases about this sort of stuff? No, me neither – I was terrible at it, fwiw) is mesmerising to me, and there’s something pleasingly-tactile about much of this despite its 100% digital-ness (see previous parentheses).


  • Green Gadgets: Or, perhaps more accurately, ‘on the inherent impossibility of environmentalist consumer technology’. This is a piece on Protocol, which means it’s very business-sympathetic, but the underlying message here struck me quite starkly – there is literally no way of doing all this stuff (making gadgets, phones, devices, doodads, gewgaws) in a way that doesn’t, at heart, continue fcuking the planet with knives. There are some lines in this that stood out to me as almost parodic in their cluelessness – I don’t doubt for a second that the people at Razer mean well, but this in particular made me scream/laugh in frustration: “Razer also began selling a stuffed animal version of its snake logo to raise money for the planting of roughly half a million trees, and released a limited edition apparel line made from reclaimed ocean plastics.” Say it together, kids: MAKING MORE CRAP DESTINED FOR LANDFILL IS NOT IN ANY WAY A USEFUL SOLUTION TO ENVIRONMENTAL CHALLENGES! There are many potential takeaways from this, but the biggest for me was the extent to which the word ‘sustainability’ is literally meaningless in 2021.
  • Brandcoins: Look, I’m bored of talking about crypto and NFTs and web3.0 – YOU’RE probably bored of reading about it all. Still, I know that enough of you reading this are in professions where having an opinion about this stuff (and, crucially, how you can sell your consultancy’s ‘knowledge’ (ha!) in this space to credulous clients who think that THEY CAN OWN THE METAVERSE) matters. So thanks to BBH, then, for producing this very useful guide to the lay of the land when it comes to brands and coins and NFTs and the whole shebang – the TLDR here is ‘if you have a brand that people care about and which has ‘fans’ then this may be worth exploring; otherwise, tell your CEO that just because he saw an article about it on Forbes doesn’t mean that your water company needs a metaverse strategy’, but there’s lots of really useful detail here should you need a primer or a general guide.
  • Trans Kids and Inclusion: A rare Guardian link now (I don’t usually link to their stuff, mainly because I sort-of assume that all my readers are also Guardian readers and you will be all over their stuff already, but will make an exception in this case as this is such a good piece of writing), to an extract from Shon Faye’s book about the transgender rights and justice. This is SO illuminating, about the experiences of young people and their families dealing with the issues faced by kids who know from a young age that their assigned gender is ‘wrong’ and how they deal with that – it’s a sober, sensitive look at one of the hot-button issues of our age, and feels like it ought to be required reading.
  • Airline Seats and Ownership: This is a wonderful example of an article about an ostensibly-boring topic that made me think SO MUCH MORE than I had expected. The central question here is a simple one – who owns the space between your knees and the chairback of the person in front of you on a plane? AND IF YOU SAY IT’S THE PERSON IN FRONT OF YOU, WHAT SORT OF A MONSTER ARE YOU??? – but it spools out into all sorts of questions about how monetisation of space works, how companies conceive of customers, and even broader conceptions of rights and ownership. Honestly, this is a really, really deeply-interesting piece, and will also provide you with a guaranteed argument-starter next time you’re at a boring dinner.
  • Introducing MUM: Technical-but-interesting, this is a blogpost by Google announcing an evolution of its search tech – MUM, or the Multitask Unified Model. “Take this scenario: You’ve hiked Mt. Adams. Now you want to hike Mt. Fuji next fall, and you want to know what to do differently to prepare. Today, Google could help you with this, but it would take many thoughtfully considered searches — you’d have to search for the elevation of each mountain, the average temperature in the fall, difficulty of the hiking trails, the right gear to use, and more. After a number of searches, you’d eventually be able to get the answer you need. But if you were talking to a hiking expert; you could ask one question — “what should I do differently to prepare?” You’d get a thoughtful answer that takes into account the nuances of your task at hand and guides you through the many things to consider… MUM could understand you’re comparing two mountains, so elevation and trail information may be relevant. It could also understand that, in the context of hiking, to “prepare” could include things like fitness training as well as finding the right gear.  Since MUM can surface insights based on its deep knowledge of the world, it could highlight that while both mountains are roughly the same elevation, fall is the rainy season on Mt. Fuji so you might need a waterproof jacket. MUM could also surface helpful subtopics for deeper exploration — like the top-rated gear or best training exercises — with pointers to helpful articles, videos and images from across the web.“ This is, I would imagine, quite a long way from reality at present, but it’s a fascinating look at what will come.
  • The History of Google Messaging Apps: Fine, this is VERY geeky, but it’s also a super-interesting retrospective on all the different ways in which Google has tried (and largely failed) to make messaging work as a product over the years. It gets quite techy at points, but it’s worth a skim even if you’re not a coding or product geek, simply as a reminder of all the different fcuking products you bothered to learn about before they got killed after 9m, and as an example of why sometimes the Google way of doing things isn’t always the most effective in terms of working culture and practice.
  • Toys and Surveillance: This is a bit of a depressing read, or at least it was to me – and I don’t even have children. If you’ve spawned, though, I imagine this article – about the increasing normalisation of the state industrial surveillance and control apparatus via the medium of Playmobil, essentially – will have a slightly greater impact. I find analyses of this sort of soft propaganda fascinating, as well as the mechanisms by which they come into being – who pitches this stuff? Here: “The most expensive [Playmobil set] — yours, or your child’s, for $120 — has six guns, two batons, three different computers, video cameras, aerials and a panopticon-style control tower. One of its miniature computer screens appears to show a Google Maps-inspired layout of an unnamed urban center. Even the most basic Playmobil police play set ($7) includes CCTV cameras on top of a tiny police station and a mugshot displayed on a laptop.” Is that ok? It doesn’t feel ok.
  • The Hardest Part of Making Games: …is everything! This is an indepth look at the games design process and why it is so fcuking hard – if you’ve ever worked in the industry then you will know most if not all of this already, but for laypeople this may well be a usefully-eye-opening look at how incredibly complex and multilayered the process of game creation is, and how the sorts of nested dependencies inherent in gamecode mean that everything basically falls over all the time until one day it doesn’t and often you don’t really understand why. This made me want to go back and apologise to everyone who I ever worked with in my earliest days in games PR for saying things like “So why don’t we put this in the game?” and not understanding why the smiles of everyone around me tightened by about 3cm and a cold silence filled the room.
  • Netflix and Games: Another essay by Matthew Ball who I imagine has no gone stratospheric after Zuckerberg cited him in his metaverse chat last month but who I have been reading for ages and I FOUND THE CONCH, OK MARK? Ffs. Anyway, this is his look at Netflix’s mooted move into games, and how that might work, and what the challenges are – it’s less a prediction of how Netflix might do it than an overview of how hard it will be, but as a primer on the current state of the games publishing market and where it might develop, it’s worth a read. His closing paragraphs about the lack of innovation in TV as a medium is interesting to me in particular – I spent quite a lot of time at the BBC a few years back exploring ideas for technologically-augmented storytelling using clever video and audio techniques, and the upshot was, basically, that there simply wasn’t the demand to warrant that sort of experimentation within the public sector. Maybe Netflix will be the outfit that has the money and the reach to experiment with innovation at the intersection of gaming and passive, sit-back entertainment.
  • Matt Furie vs NFTs: Matt Furie, you will doubtless recall, is the comics artist who created Pepe, and who subsequently saw his creation co-opted by some of the worst people on the internet and fought to get control back (if you’ve not seen it, the documentary ‘Feels Good Man’ is a great account of both this specific story and a certain mid-10s period of online culture, check it out). Furie is now attempting to block people from minting NFTs of suspiciously Pepe-adjacent cartoon frogs, and this piece details the back and forth between Furie, who is now making bank out of Pepe NFTs – and, frankly, who can blame him? – and the ‘creator community’ who want to be allowed to attempt to sell digital cartoons on the blockchain for Ether. This is a bit inside baseball, fine, but in microcosm it’s an interesting look at the sorts of debates around IP and ownership that are likely to plague this space for the foreseeable. It also features this quote, which I keep rereading because, well the last line is possibly one of the greatest phrases ever uttered, ever: “I’m also disappointed that Matt and the devs couldn’t find a way to work together and find a solution that would have allowed the project to move forward in such a way that respected the artistic integrity of both parties and frog meme culture in general.” WILL SOMEBODY THINK OF THE ARTISTIC INTEGRITY OF FROG MEME CULTURE????
  • StripTok: Rule 192098 of the internet – for every subculture and interest group, there will be a TikTok bubble. So it is for strippers, apparently – this is a nice, wholesome look at the community that exists around stripping on the platform, although again it contains a line that made me do something of a doubletake and which even now gives me quite strong WTF vibes: “”I have a lot of privilege,” Taylor says. “I’m white; I’m actually bisexual, but I look straight””. Wait, so there’s an accepted bisexual lookbook now? Really? We’re gatekeeping sexuality based on aesthetics? Smh.
  • Big Balls: Apparently there’s a trend happening amongst DEFINITELY well-adjusted men (ALWAYS MEN) towards attempting to, er, increase the size of one’s testicles via the medium of testosterone supplements and the like. I can only imagine the glee with which the author committed the line “Kevin is trying to supersize his balls” to digital paper. This is objectively mad, and a prime example of how the web has in many respects been awful for male sexuality – does anyone interested in going to bed with someone who owns testicles fussed about how large said testicles are? Actually, don’t answer that, I am comfortable not knowing.
  • Naval Architecture: VERY TECHNICAL, but I am including this because it’s yet another wonderful example of making an instructional webpage infinitely better via the medium of interactive graphics. This page is all about how boats float and how, therefore, they are engineered and built – at every step of the way there are small interactives which let you explore the relationships between the hull, the water and gravity, which as you read give you a (small, if you’re me and find the maths baffling) degree of understanding about how the whole ‘floating’ thing happens at scale.
  • The Federer Brand Legacy: A portrait of Roger Federer, not as a preturnaturally-gifted tennis player but as the best, most-committed, most-amenable brand ambassador that has ever lived. There’s something intensely-joyless about this piece, which speaks the language of sponsorship and money rather than that of sport, and it paints a picture of Federer as a lovely person who is literally every sponsor’s dream – I remember when I was at the agency that did this that everyone described him as the perfect talent to work with, always willing to do pickups and never stroppy – and who obviously decided at a certain point in his career that he was very interested in being violently rich and that The Federer Brand was the way to go about it. If nothing else, it’s interesting to think of him as something of a precursor – I imagine every teenage footballer on a Premier League team’s books has a scrapbook of designs for their logo, and dreams of which brands will beg them to be their face.
  • The Plot Against Fiction: As the literary hype machine prepares to chew up the latest Sally Rooney, this essay in the Hong Kong Review of Books is timely – in it, Susanna Kleeman writes about the plot against ‘plot’, and the manner in which the work we read is shaped by capital as much as anything else. “This conformist and retro business strategy bleeds down to advice given to prospective authors, who are increasingly numerous. We might not read novels, but more and more people feel they can write one. And why not, since their stories have become familiar and the instructions for their creation more and more clear. Getting a novel published has never been more proscribed and professionalised. Gone are the days of novelists as bad boys, askance from the culture. Cocks can no longer be snooped. Look at publisher, agent, and other industry websites and social media: you will find many rules and regulations about structure, plot points, genres, hero journeys, queries, pitch letters, etiquette, comp titles and so forth, plus instructions on self-promotion, DIY marketing, newsletters, blogs, how to build followers, social media decorum, extending even to advice about not using social reading sites to ill-review potential peers. This is the “precorporation” of novelists, Mark Fisher’s term for the “pre-emptive formatting and shaping of desires, aspirations and hopes by capitalist culture” (Capitalist Realism). And it is necessary even for those who plan to self-publish: the identical metadata, marketing, discoverability and sales strategies will apply since Amazon is the marketplace and there’s no alternative publishing ecology. Self-publishing authors who want readers must be canny businesspeople, as all authors are best advised to become these days.”
  • The Real-Life Mr Toad: On the boorishness of the early driver, and specifically on the boorishness of one William K. Vanderbilt II, an American millaire and turn-of-the-century car enthusiast, whose rollcall of bad behaviour is genuinely eye-popping and includes highlights such as “In 1899, during a visit to France, he killed two dogs that were attacking the tires on his vehicle and had to flee from an angry mob”. Will please those of you who, like me, try and pitch their inability to drive as some sort of moral choice rather than a simple fact of a lack of interest and probably coordination.
  • The Mascot Whisperer: As REASONABLY ONLINE PEOPLE (you are reading this, after all) I imagine you’re all familiar with Gritty, the new-ish mascot of the Philadelphia Flyers whose monstrous-yet-friendly orange countenance – like some googly eyes stuck onto an orange supermop – has become one of the hallmarks of being on a certain part of the web post-2019. This piece profiles Dave Raymond, a consultant whose job it is help sports teams develop mascots and who is the person who helped develop Gritty along with countless others. SO interesting, even if the fact that mascots are born of exactly the same rigorous process that births, I don’t know, new brands of toothpaste, made me a tiny bit sad inside.
  • On Immortalising Ex-Partners In Fiction: A sort of anti-companion-piece to the ‘My ex was the guy in Cat Person!’ expose’ from a few months back, this is a short article about what it’s like talking to your ex about your appearance in their new novel. Fascinating, not least because I really disliked both author and interlocutor in this piece in a way that felt almost-intentional.
  • Khansama: Or, ‘What It’s Like Being A Chef In India After Being On Masterchef’. I loved this – if you have any interest in cooking, and specifically the business of doing it, you will adore this. Even better, if you have any interest in the Indian celebrity chef scene I bet this will be pleasingly-gossipy for you.
  • Eating A Whale: In which the author travels to Alaska to eat whale meat. This is an odd piece insofar as it felt to me while reading it that it’s a sort of journalism that is unlikely to exist in the not-too-distant future – partly the subject matter (indulgent meat eating is very un-green), partly the authorial voice (middle-aged white bloke goes exploring!), partly how commissioning (doesn’t) work these days. I mean, I can’t imagine this being a video, is all I’m saying. Regardless of all that, I found this beautifully-written and oddly peaceful and elegiac – do have a read, it’s very much a ‘grey afternoon with a cup of tea’-type piece, if you know what I mean.
  • Booking Nas In Angola: This links to part 1 of a three-part series (just swap the ‘1’ for ‘2’ and ‘3’ to read the other segments if they’re not hyperlinked at the bottom) about what happened when an attempt by an enterprising but down-on-his-luck New York promoter to book Nas to play a New Year’s Eve concert in Angola went wrong. This involves crime, addiction, redemption, kidnapping, and a lot of sitting around – it could use an edit, fine, but I enjoyed every single word of this (and there are a lot of words).
  • The Dresden Job: Finally this week, another story from Germany about TRUE CRIME, and another rip-roaring yarn – after that one a few months back about the blackmailer and the bombings, I’m starting to wonder whether Germany simply has a more entertaining class or criminal. This is about diamond heists and smuggling and fencing and sting operations and, honestly, it’s great fun (and I say that as someone who generally has no personal interest in true crime stuff whatsoever).

By Alessia Morellini


Webcurios 20/08/21

Reading Time: 35 minutes


Well wasn’t that a three weeks? What was your favourite bit? The ‘realising we’ve really, really fcuked things, planet-wise’ bit, or the ‘realising we’ve really, really fcuked things, Afghanistan-wise’ bit? Hard to choose!

My favourite bit of the Curio-less weeks just gone was neither of those – it was instead attending a (genuinely lovely) wedding at which one of the attendees got so drunk that they had to be escorted from the venue before the meal. It takes a special effort of will to drink that hard, but WELL DONE, nameless person who I shall never ever see again, you managed it. I am sad on your behalf that your memories of your achievement are likely to be hazy at best.

Now, though, all the fun and frivolity is OVER and I am back doing the serious stuff – by which, of course, I mean stuffing myself full of internet and then spending Friday mornings squeezing it out of me in what I hope are pleasing shapes and patterns. Gaze upon my informational scatplay, my pretties, and revel in its curlicues – I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and I imagine at least three of you have unsubscribed by now.

By Eric Kessels



  • OnlyFansTV: Well who saw that coming? The news this week that OnlyFans is going slit its own throat by apparently ‘banning explicit content’ came as a shock to the world, but was sort-of trailed earlier in the week when the company launched its OnlyFansTV app – an app store-approved (iOS and Android) version of everyone’s favourite wanky parasocial superstore with, er, all of the titillating content removed. OnlyFansTV is literally that – a softcore TV channel via which, judging by the most visible content it’s peddling, you can watch a succession of people in their pants making burritos. Fcuk knows why anyone would want to do that, mind – I can’t imagine that the appeal of a show called ‘Coffee & Cleavage’, for example, extends much beyond 13 year old het boys in the brief window between ‘discovering their sexuality’ and ‘working out how to access incognito mode and pr0nhub’. Anyway, if you’re curious as to what OF might look like come October, it may well look like this – a graveyard of terrible content bereft of any reason to watch it! Of course, the terms of the OF ‘explicit content’ ban are currently very opaque, meaning we can expect an awful lot of tedious semantic wrangling over what ‘explicit’ means, while a whole new host of ‘put videos of you cracking one out online for profit!’ platforms spring up, many of which will doubtless be sketchy and exploitative and borderline-criminal! So that’s good, then. Interestingly, whilst the story being peddled yesterday was that OF was blocking bongo as a result of cold feed from payments providers and banks, and as a result from investors, the BBC is claiming that it’s a direct result of investigations into the company’s less-than-stellar record on moderation of illegal content. It’s the Love Island contestants who I feel sorry for – how are they meant to make a post-show buck now?
  • Snapchat Trends: Hugely useful, this – trends data portal from Snapchat which lets you see, er, trends in what people are making Stories about on the platform, with a degree of local market granularity. So if, say, you want to track the relative popularity of Love Island (sorry, I don’t even watch Love Island so have no idea why my brain has decided to fixate on it this morning; I will find another tic shortly, I am sure) contestants over the course of the show, based on people’s breathless Story-based dissections of their performance, now you can! Obviously Snap data is less representative than Google’s, but on the other hand it’s a pretty decent window into what children are into and should be helpful when trying to pull together ‘strategy’ (God I really do hate that word) on how to flog more useless tat to children.
  • Horizon Workrooms: So after Zuckerberg’s recent burbling about the metaverse and how Facebook is planning on ensuring its dominance over the next stage of human digital experience (no Alexander he – no way Mark is going to run out of worlds to conquer!), we get the first look at how that’s going to manifest itself. What are you offering us, Mark? A limitless digital playground through which we can embody our true selves and communicate unfettered by the cruel limitations of mere physicality? A new, true ‘third’ (or even ‘fourth’?) space for human flourishing? Or, er, an office, but in mixed reality? THAT’S RIGHT KIDS, IT’S AN OFFICE! Horizon Workrooms is now available in open beta, and if you have an Oculus 2 then you too can experience the FUTURE OF TOIL for yourselves. It’s worth watching the video embedded on the page, as it does a decent job of explaining how the software works and what it does – and, you know, it looks…good? I mean, not good – it’s work, and all work is awful – but functional, and I can see the point / utility of the whole thing (although there was a point in the video in which a headsetted woman was smiling, alone, whilst drawing on a virtual whiteboard which made me soulsad in a very specific-yet-unfamiliar way, which was…a newly unpleasant feeling) and why it might be useful. As was widely noted yesterday, though, there’s something so sad about the purely-functional nature of what’s on display – I know that things need to be familiar to be understood, and mapping the tools to the way work currently ‘works’ makes sense from a sales and onboarding point of view, but must the digital world so slavishly mimic the worst parts of the real world? Must it feel like there’s a water cooler and a sad, messy coffee station and a fridge adorned with passive-aggressive notes about milk ownership just out of shot? Metaverse? More like metaworse, amirite? Eh? Eh? Oh.
  • Reminiscence: This is a film, apparently – or rather, it’s promoting a film – but WHO CARES about that? NO FCUKER (or at least not this one), THAT’S WHO! Instead, we care about the shiny digital promo-toy that’s been made to accompany it, which captured my heart at the point at which I realised that it is EXACTLY like a ‘your face in this internet video!’ promo toys from circa 2010 (the best of which was Lollipop, which I have just checked in on and which still exists but is now charging you cash to make it work, which, well, LOL!) but this time USING AI! You click, you upload a photo, and you then watch as the photo is integrated into the trailer in what is honestly pretty-impressive fashion – can we bring this back as a thing, please?
  • Drama vs Reality:  Regular readers will know I have something of a bee in my bonnet about how good browsergames are as a marketing technique, and how more mainstream brands ought to invest in them; someone at ITV has obviously been reading Curios (NB – it should be obvious, but, to clarify, I do not in fact believe that anyone in any position of power anywhere reads Curios) as they have followed my advice (see previous) and MADE A GAME! And, you know what, it’s rather fun – it’s a side-on beat’em’up in the style of Street Fighter (or more accurately King of Fighters, but noone would get that reference so SF it is) in which you can pick from 6 combatants (3 from the ‘drama’ roster, 3 from the ‘reality’ side of things) and face off in a series of bouts to determine…who gets to host the TV Choice awards next year, maybe. The best thing about this is the audio samples it’s peppered with – I am very bad at TV-based pop culture and so only recognised Anna Friel from the lineup, but I really enjoyed the squawks made by whoever Bobby Norris is as I used him to dispense summary justice to some pixellated actors.
  • Bulwer Lytton 2021: I’ve featured the Bulwer Lytton contest for YEARS, so you really ought to know what it is by now – still, for those of you with short memories, it’s the annual contest to pen the worst possible opening line to an imaginary novel (inspired by, and carrying the name of, Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, the novelist credited (erroneously, turns out) with first committing ‘It was a dark and stormy night…’ to paper). This year’s selections are as wince-inducingly bad as ever, and I shan’t spoil the joy of investigating them yourself, but some of my favourites include: “He had never seen such a beautiful woman, he thought to himself as his blind date was being escorted to their table at the restaurant, although unfortunately he hadn’t seen her yet and was just staring at a framed photograph taken three years earlier of a famous actress standing awkwardly with the restaurant manager.”, and “She had a deep, throaty laugh, like the sound a dog makes right before it throws up.”
  • Citycoins: There are interesting questions around how cities are going to have to adapt to a potential new, post-pandemic world in which working and commuting habits evolve, land usage shifts, and a recalibration of the urban environment leads to a shift in economic priorities and pressures in our more densely-populated centres. How best to address these? WITH CRYPTO!!!! That’s right – once again, someone on the internet is positing THE BLOCKCHAIN as the best possible solution to a problem, despite THE BLOCKCHAIN not once (ever!) having been the best answer to a question. As far as I can tell (and it’s not easy to work out what the fcuk is going on here), this is basically a version of bonds, issued at a civic level, but, er, ON THE BLOCKCHAIN! Want an explanation? Here! “CityCoins offer people a way to support their city and grow its crypto treasury while earning Bitcoin BTC and Stacks STX for themselves. Each city has their own coin, starting with Miami and MiamiCoin ($MIA)…With any CityCoin, you can mine it, hold it, stack it to earn STX, borrow it, lend it, and program it. Built on open source software, CityCoins are a new way for developers to create applications and experiment with innovative use cases. At launch, the benefit of CityCoins will be earning STX. However, CityCoins are programmable and will have additional utility over time. The possibilities of CityCoins become endless as cities one by one begin to #pickupthebag and communities and software develop around their respective CityCoins. CityCoins communities will create apps that use tokens for rewards, local benefits, access control (to digital or physical spaces), trading, lending, smart contract execution, and more. As one simple example, local businesses can provide discounts or benefits to people who show they “Stack for their city” by Stacking their CityCoins.” Except…except…look, lads, AT NO POINT HERE ARE YOU EXPLAINING WHAT THIS IS OR WHY ANYONE SHOULD CARE APART FROM YOU, THE PEOPLE WHO ARE PEDDLING IT. I mean, you could replace the word ‘CityCoin’ in the above screed with ‘MagicBeans’ and it would make literally as much sense.
  • IMVU: ‘#1 AVATAR-BASED SOCIAL EXPERIENCE!’ screams the landing page for Imvu, and, well, who am I to argue? Imvu has apparently been around since 2004(!) in one form or another, but is currently making a big metaverse play (because of course it is!) – apparently 4million people use this regularly (which, frankly, I am massively skeptical about), so if you want to see what it’s like to spend your days in a sub-Second Life digital world with your own avatar and (of course!) a native economy which allows for the buying and selling of digital goods with real-world currency, then fill your boots. If nothing else, you might want to make yourself an avatar just in case this ends up being the platform that wins the web 5.0 wars (it won’t be).
  • YikYak Comes Back: YikBACK, if you will (you won’t). That’s right, everyone’s (noone’s) favourite mid-2010s app has returned from the digital grave, and this time it cares about the safety and wellbeing of its users! YikYak, if you recall, was even by the standards of the day a particularly binfirey app – the gimmick is that it’s anonymous chat for anyone within a 5km radius of each other; which bitd equated to groups of schoolkids shouting ‘SUCK YOUR MUM’ at each other on the schoolrun every day, as far as I was able to tell, but which also made it an inevitable hub of toxic bullying with very few reprisals. The app has relaunched in the US (iOS-only) with a view to rolling out globally – the product is basically the same, but to the devs’ credit there is a significantly more robust section about ‘community safety’, and the community moderated ‘5 downvotes and content gets yeeted’ feature isn’t a bad idea – it remains to be seen if it functions as intended or gets enforced, though, as there seems to be quite a heavy onus on human checking behind the scenes which will struggle should this grow at scale. Good luck to it, but this feels like a series of increasingly-shrill MORAL PANIC headlines waiting to happen imho.
  • The Internet Onion: This is near-perfect smallform internet art, imho. The Life and Death of an Internet Onion (to give it its full title) is a project which will run from 11 August to 14 September and which describes itself as ‘a perennial anthology about the possibility of love online’. Arranged as a series of ‘layers’ which the reader/visitor can explore either sequentially or in an order of their choosing, the website presents a series of essays, dialogues and thoughts about love, each in subtle relation to the others but equally functional as standalone writings; honestly, this is beautiful and I really enjoy the onion-y ness of it (you will see what I mean).
  • Eros Magazine: Eros Magazine was, as the name suggests, a magazine about sex which was published for 4 issues in the 1970s. It is everything you would expect from a highbrow literary endeavour all about the meshing of mucous membranes, with, variously, articles with titles like ‘A Plea for Polygamy’, a surprising lack of naked photos (it’s highbrow, so there’s plenty of longform smut should you be in the market), and some quite staggeringly 70s-ish writing and viewpoints (special shoutout to whoever penned the headline ‘Love Among The Indians: A Sociological Investigator Discovers That WE Are The Ones With Reservations’, which even at the time it was written would, one would hope, have raised a few eyebrows). This is a wonderful relic of its time.
  • The Identity Factory: A slightly odd ‘digital museum experience’ which is designed to accompany a real-life exhibition of the work of Hito Steyerl at the San Jose Museum of Art which opened last week. You move through a series of rooms in the classic ‘WSAD + mouse’ style, lightly-interacting with different elements to create a slowly-layering personalised visual experience which you can ‘photograph’ throughout to create a record of your own journey through the exhibit – my maths isn’t great, but there are several thousand potential different experiences you can make from this, meaning there’s a certain pleasure in taking the time to craft your own cyberpunk disco (which is basically what it sort-of boils down to). Have a play, this is more interesting than I have probably made it sound.
  • The OpenAI Codex: This is so, so interesting, and is one of those ‘where tech looks like magic’ things that AI occasionally throws up. OpenAI are taking applications for access to their new product which (and yes, I know that this explanation is VERY shonky) basically works to translate text requests into working code via the magic of GPT-3 (or a descendent of it). So basically it will let you write things like ‘a calculator with scientific functions in cobalt blue’ and it will magically code a working version for you in literally seconds. Which, honestly, is astonishing – you can watch a demo of it in action here (admittedly all of the examples demonstrated are less-than-compelling from a visual point of view, but you can get an idea of the magic at play). It’s this sort of thing that I find compelling about the evolution of AI in conjunction with the metaverse chat; the possibility inherent in a persistent virtual space in which anyone can create anything simply by speaking it into existence is the most magically scifi thing, and it’s within touching distance. Which will be a nice distraction as the temperatures reach 55 degrees and our brains slowly poach in their skulls.
  • ShlinkedIn: There were a spate of articles this week about how GenZ is ‘brilliantly trolling’ LinkedIn and how they treat the platform with the disdain it deserves – I would argue that if you don’t treat LinkedIn with disdain then you’re doing it wrong, but maybe I’ll revise that attitude next year when I am staring down the barrel of 6 months of unemployment and all the people who I have spent a decade calling ‘businessmongs’ on the platform are refusing to acknowledge my increasingly desperate offers to w4nk for pennies. Anyway, if you would like to openly mock the idiocy of LinkedIn but are too much of a craven coward to do so on the platform itself, you may appreciate ShlinkedIn, a frankly baffling website which seems to be an incredibly full-featured LinkedIn clone which exists solely for the purposes of people who want to spend time cosplaying as LinkedInwankers for lols. It seems…it seems like an awful lot of effort, if I’m honest, creating a whole profile and logging on to post spoof motivational screeds, but I suppose if you’re the sort of person who also enjoys Facebook groups in which you all pretend to be in your 60s then you may well get some kicks from this.
  • Dumb Tshirts: A Twitter account (accompanying the subReddit of the same name) posting photographs of terrible tshirts, either listed for sale or, even better, in real life. There are some beauties in here, but the best thing I have seen so far is a bumbag sporting the legend ‘My D1ck Isn’t Tiny’ which, honestly, feels like a really powerful piece of clothing. Special secondary shout out to the 10 year old kid wearing a tee emblazoned with “I Went To Your Hood And Nobody Knew You!!”, which I am sure is a sick burn in some universes but not in mine.
  • The Light Herder: A beautiful piece of artistic sculptural machinery (not a phrase I write as often as I would like), this is almost indescribable – think of it as a kinetic kaleidoscope, if you will, but it’s really worth clicking the link and watching the videos as it is SO soothing and really rather lovely. “This is part sculpture, part performance art, and may make the most complex video feedback ever created, using three cameras, two video switchers, a sheet of beam-splitter glass, and an HDMI input from a phone or live video feed. Much like a musical instrument, the operator at the helm of this device plays it, but instead of making sounds, makes entire worlds, spirals within spirals, loops within loops, galaxies, classical fractal imagery and primordial organisms, leaves, trees, and insects. It really is the God machine.”
  • Paint Transformer: AI that turns your photos into paintings isn’t new, but this toy also creates a little gif of the composition coming together, stroke-by-stroke, which is very pleasing indeed.
  • Sicktionary: B3ta’s Rob Manuel has a history of side-projects around off-key definitions and gags – Sickipedia (the Wikipedia of sick jokes) no longer belongs to him as he decided, understandably, that he didn’t necessarily want to be associated with That Sort of Thing, but now there’s Sicktionary, a thesaurus of euphemisms and colloqualisms for RUDE THINGS, not unlike a crowdsourced version of the (in)famous Roger’s Profanisaurus – should you desire, say, a list of 27 different ways of referring to male sexual dysfunction then you’re in luck (I just spat water everywhere at the idea of mournfully intoning ‘Blackhawk Down’ at a recalcitrant member, if you want an idea of where the bar is set here).
  • Grids: A lovely piece of webdesign all about webdesign, Grids explores, er, grids! This is really, really nicely-made, and given the fact that grid-based design has been the overriding feature of hipster websites for a good few years now, it’s nice to read something of a theoretical explainer as to why they are so fcuking popular (but seriously, can we stop with the grids now please?).
  • Potato Photographer of the Year 2021: Whilst this is obviously something of a joke, the winning photo in this competition is a legitimately great piece of art. Also, seriously, WHATEVER you or your clients do, start a photo competition! Insurance Photography of the Year! Actuarial Portraiture 2022! You know it makes sense.
  • TypeScholar: Such a good idea, this – learn while you learn touch-typing, by using Wikipedia entries as your practice-content. This project, by UK developer Peter (one name, like Neymar – I like your style, Peter), lets you type in anything you fancy into the search bar, working your way through the entry as the software grades you on speed, accuracy, etc. If you’re looking for a free way to practice your typing (and might I respectfully suggest that EVERYONE needs to get better at typing, or at least they do if my growing irritation at waiting for people to write things is ever going to be addressed) and learn at the same time, this is literally perfect.
  • GTA Geoguesser: You know those games that use Google Maps and Streetview to plonk you somewhere on Earth and ask you to guess exactly where you are to within 10miles or so? Well this is exactly like that, except rather than being placed in the real world you are instead plonked somewhere in Los Santos, the fictitious version of Los Angeles created by Rockstar for GTAV. This is momentarily fun, but, honestly, if you can get any of these right then you have quite possibly spent more time than is healthy playing this game.
  • Unlimigur: PROBABLY NSFW CONTENT! This website pulls a live feed of images being uploaded to hosting site Imgur every time you refresh – if you want a scattershot picture of the id of a certain part of the web, this is IT. For some reason, all the thumbnails it pulls are very lo-res which lends the whole thing a pleasingly-shonky, deepfried air – be warned, though, there is ALWAYS bongo on here (or at least there has been each time I’ve checked), and I’ve seen Goatse twice so, you know, caveat emptor and all that jazz.

By Kimiake Yaegashi



  • Suupcover: A brilliant site which collects excellent album cover design from across the years and around the world for you to browse and take inspiration from. What’s great about this is that it’s designed to connect the artists who design the records with recording artists looking for people to do their new album design – EVERYONE’S A WINNER! The landing page asks you to sign up, but you can jump straight into the art by clicking the ‘want to take a look?’ button just below the fold; this is a lovely way of passing time (and if you’re anything like me and used to occasionally buy albums by obscure artists solely based on the strength of the cover art, a potentially great way of finding new music to boot).
  • Playrole: Quite a large part of me wishes that D&D wasn’t quite such a cursed pastime when I was a kid – I would, I think, have really enjoyed playing it, but there was literally no way in hell that was going to happen at a comprehensive school in Swindon in the 1990s where doing things like ‘reading books for fun’ marked you down as a dangerous outsider who was possibly a predatory homsexual. For those of you who were sensible enough to not spend your time worrying about what the double-figure-IQ playground morons thought, though, and who embraced the Dungeons and the Dragons and who still enjoy a game, Playrole might be of interest – it’s an online roleplaying platform that combines video and voice chat with a whole host of quality-of-life improvements for playing roleplaying games (not just D&D but all sorts of other rulesets that I’ve never heard of before), including character sheets, maps, all the dice you could ever want…can someone teach me how to play, please?
  • Scottish Agates: A Twitter feed which posts a different example of a highly-polished and aesthetically-pleasing stone from the National Museums Scotland mineral collection. You may not think you need this in your life, but I promise you that you will breathe an actual sigh of relief the first time your timeline is cleansed with some soothing agates inbetween people expressing their deeply-felt opinions about something which 5 minutes previous they had no knowledge whatsoever.
  • Strofe: The worst thing about making videos out of stock footage for pitches and showreels is obviously having to pretend to care about the output – look, let’s be honest, it’s a corporate video, noone gives a fukc and noone will watch it, so can we all afford this the requisite degree of effort and attention which is to say none at all? GREAT – but the second worst is having to pick the musical bed which obviously has to come from a stock library and which HAS to be there despite the fact that the video will be played with the sound up exactly once and no more. That, though, could be a thing of the past thanks to Strofe, which lets you pick a mood and an instrument type and which will in a few short seconds spaff out an AI-generated composition per your specifications. A sad tune on the marimba? NO PROBLEM SIR! What’s even better about this is that the tracks are generated in a multitrack way which lets you edit them post-creation, so you can tweak in-browser before exporting. Honestly, this is SO much better and more fun than having to sit through ten different identikit uptempo tracks called things like ‘Business Energy’ or ‘Hit The Heights’ or ‘Shareholder Value: FTSE Remix’.
  • Mecabricks: This is CAD for LEGO. If you don’t think your kids display a sufficient degree of design or engineering skill when making their misshapen creations (“Christ Jolyon, that’s not how an architrave works!”) then you may want to spend your evenings planning their ‘creative play’ with this – it lets you design INCREDIBLY complex LEGO builds on a grid system, picking your brick sizes and colours, spinning and flipping and placing them with remarkable ease. Whether or not you will ever actually be bothered to build your scale replica of Cape Canaveral after designing it in 3d is possibly besides the point – it’s the journey that counts, right? Possibly the most Dad link I’ve included in Curios all year.
  • Lost & Found Nature: Given the slightly bleak news we’ve had recently about the fate of the planet, it’s nice to feature a site which presents a slightly cheerier picture – Lost & Found Nature is a site which features all the animals which we thought were extinct which in fact tuned out not to be (hi, splay-footed cave salamander!). “The “Lost and Found” project works to bring to life the inspirational stories of those that never stopped believing and whose passion led them to rewrite the history of the species they so deeply cared about. Our goal is to use the universal language of storytelling to showcase in narrative and visual format the most formidable rediscoveries of both vertebrates and invertebrates animals as well as plants from five continents.” This is SO lovely – the stories of the animals are presented variously as stories, comics and videos, and there’s a quality to the writing and artwork that you don’t always get with this sort of project. Also, thanks to this I learned that there is a creature known as ‘Bocourt’s Terrific Skink’, which makes me now wonder whether there is a ‘Bocourt’s Mediocre Skink’ out there, bitterly complaining that the other one is ‘nothing special’.
  • The Debt Project: Money in America is a mad a terrifying mess – this website, accompanying a book of the same name, houses a photo project which documents that mess. “In 2013, Brittany Powell made the difficult decision to file for bankruptcy for her photography business. In the years following the 2008 economic collapse, she found herself in a significant amount of debt, a position many Americans across the country still share, a common yet isolating and private experience often steeped in shame. Her personal experience, inspired by the “We Are the 99%” slogan that came out of the Occupy movement, brought her to start the Debt Project, an exploration of the role debt and finance plays in our personal identity and social structure. This book presents an intimate look into 99 different lives: each shares an arrestingly honest portrait in the person’s home, surrounded by all their belongings, accompanied by a handwritten note of the amount of debt that person is in and the story behind the numbers.” What’s miserable about this is the extent to which it shows the insane breadth and scale of the problem – the whole gamut of American life is here, demonstrating that debt is for the vast majority of the population a simple reality of existence. Also, CHRIST some of the numbers are eye-watering.
  • Glass: Annoyingly this is iOS-only so I’ve not been able to try it out, but it’s getting a LOT of buzz this week and if you do photography on an iPhone then you might want to check it out. It’s A N Other attempt to create an Instagram-ish platform which is morelike Insta used to be before the video and the influencers and the reels and the stickers and the FCUKING HELL WHAT EVEN IS THIS APP MEANT TO BE ANY MORE??? The feed is chronological, there are no ‘Likes’, and the feed doesn’t even show the name of the photographer who took each individual image so as to, I don’t know, preserve the purity of the aesthetic experience or something. Photographers I know are almost universal in their complaint that getting your work seen on Insta these days is basically impossible – it’s basically become ITV2 on mobile – so perhaps this will be worthwhile from a ‘getting your work out there’ point of view.
  • The Nikon Small World Contest 2021: TINY MICROSCOPIC CREATURES CAPTURED ON CAMERA! If you’ve ever wanted to watch a water flea giving birth (also, did you know that a flea’s offspring are called ‘cubs’? This is possibly the best thing I have learned all week) then you are an odd individual but one who will be made happy by this website, which collects the winners of the annual competition to get the BEST imagery of tiny things doing their tiny thing.
  • Newsletterss: Being largely-offline for 10 days was instructive for a variety of reasons, as always (not least: wow, you can do SO MUCH MORE STUFF when you’re not compelled to spend three hours a day trawling the web for spaff!), but perhaps what it made most apparent to me was that there are TOO MANY NEWSLETTERS (this one, though, this one’s essential). Honestly, I think I subscribe to about 100 of the bstard things and that is a LOT OF INFORMATION. If you are similarly afflicted then a) why? This newsletterblogtypething is my excuse, what’s yours?; and b) you might find Newsletterss useful. This is a service which lets you basically chuck all your newsletters into one place, sending them into a single app and letting you keep them separate from your actual email. Whether this works for you, or whether this simply becomes another guilty oubliette into which all the stuff you feel you probably ought to read but definitely never will ends up falling, will probably depend on how rigorous you are as a person – personally I’m waiting for a service which automatically extracts all the interesting stuff from the ones I subscribe to into an easy digest for inclusion in Curios. So a Curios for Curios. Jesus, this feels unhealthy.
  • An Incredible List of Musical Archives and Resources: If you’re interested in music and musical scholarship, this will be absolute catnip to you – Todd L Burns is the person behind a newsletter called Music Journalism Insider, and this is his Gdoc containing an incredibly-comprehensive list of links to third party musical archives and collections for research and discovery. From hiphop collections to the Irish Pirate Radio Archive (no, really, that’s apparently a thing!), there is something for every taste in here – very much worth bookmarking for the next time you fancy some undiscovered musical oddity exploration.
  • Nestflix: This has been EVERYWHERE this week, so I will presume you’ve already seen it – in case not, though, it’s a very nicely-made Netflix spoof devoted to fictional shows, and shows-within-shows, from popular media. So you’ve got McBain and Itchy & Scratchy from the Simpsons, but also more obscure stuff like Boyfights from Arrested Development – if nothing else, it’s a good reminder of exactly how long the Simpsons in particular has been satirising pop culture.
  • The One Week Cartoon Workout: I imagine that those of you with kids are anxiously counting down the days til you can once again offload them into the care of their teachers (consider for a moment what it’s like in Italy, where school holidays run from early June to mid-September, and thank your lucky stars you’re presumably not Italian) – if your children are of reasonable age and have a degree of artistic potential, you could do worse than looking at this as a way of keeping them quiet for a few of the remaining days of freedom afforded them. The OWCW is a week-long self-directed course to help you get better at drawing cartoons and comics, with day-by-day challenges and exercises which gently improve the student’s technique over the course of about 10-20h of instruction – fine, the downside to this is that you may have to feign enthusiasm for your 10 year old’s interminable new series of ‘Bum Man and Fart Girl’ periodicals, but it’s a small price to pay for a few days’ peace (apologies to those of you who have children and actually like and enjoy their company; I am aware that such people exist, but am yet to meet one in the wild).
  • Solopsist: I can’t really explain what this TikTok channel does, but I do know that it is ART because it makes me feel slightly uncomfortable and uncertain and that’s what art is meant to do, right? Right? There is an obsessive relationship with payphones, and some quite Cronenbergian bodyhorror undertones, and the whole thing feels pleasantly unpleasant if you see what I mean.
  • Blotter Barn: Growing up, acid was never quite enough of a thing to get into blotter art – I vaguely remember ingesting something that had Denis the Menace on it, but that’s about as far as it goes (now the stamps on pills, on the other hand…). Still, if you’re the sort of person who can wax nostalgic about that particular strip of Dougal-imprinted microdots you had that one Summer in The Old Times then, well, fill your boots! Blotter Barn collects images of acid art from Times Past – honestly, there’s a whole bunch here that look like Liberty wallpaper designs which makes me wonder whether there wasn’t some design collusion going on in the 60s.
  • Make Cardboard Boxes: Yes, I know that’s hardly the most compelling link title, but this Dutch site lets you download templates for the creation of foldable cardboard structures in any shape you could possibly conceive of. Want to make a nice cardboard box in the shape of a heart for a loved one? HERE! Fancy creating the Platonic Solids in sugar paper? GREAT! Seriously, if you’re the sort of person who likes arts and crafts and homemade gifts and stuff like that then this will be GOLDEN.
  • Fishdraw: Simple, but a near-perfect use of machine ‘intelligence’ (not intelligence) – procedurally-generated fish drawings. These are some ugly, ugly little bstards.
  • Minimal Avatars: With all this talk of THE FCUKING METAVERSE (seriously in the running for the most annoyingly-overused term of 2021, which in the year that saw the popularisation of NFTs is no mean feat) I imagine you are all rushing to secure your very own personalised avatar to carry with you into the glorious persistent digital future to come. To that end, why not try one of these – Minimal Avatars are available in either static or animated form, and have a pleasingly lo-fi Cryptopunkish vibe to them, and you can download them to use across the web should you so desire. Were it not for the fact that I hate change and am convinced that my Twitter avatar is basically ME now, I would totally consider adopting one of these.
  • Bauhaus Generator: Make your own Bauhaus graphic. Because anything those overprivileged early-20thC artbastards can do, we can do, right? RIGHT! These make lovely phone wallpapers, which I appreciate feels insanely reductive but, well, it is what it is.
  • After The Tone: Oh my word I love this so so much. A direct descendent of old web projects like Found, After The Tone is a website which collects found answerphone messages, from the days when people listened to them rather than simply deleting them out of fear (noone leaves a message in 2021 unless they are trying to track you down for Bad Reasons, we all know it). From the ‘about’ section: “Since the late nineties we’ve been “finding” old tapes in thrift stores, yard sales, friend’s garages, or wherever we can, from all over North America…Out of thousands of hours of found (or donated) recordings, we’ve compiled the best of the best, and put them here to play at random. There is a lost story inside each message. Some of these stories are obvious, but you will probably find yourself playing an elaborate guessing game as you take them in. Some are pissed off. Some are funny. Some are pathetic. Some are beautiful and sweet. And it could be said that all of them are intimate. They run the gambit of the human spectrum of emotions.” Honestly, I could listen to these all day – there is something so so magical about these forgotten stories and people and the fact that it really kicks you in the face with the ephemerality of life and experience (or, er, it does if you’re me; less morbid people might experience different and less-dark emotions).
  • The Space Juggler: What would it look like if you juggled in zero gravity? I have no idea and neither do you (liar!), but thanks to the YouTube channel of The Space Juggler you can get a vague idea. This is really, really soothing, as well as being mathematically really rather fascinating. This is gorgeous to watch, but also a very gentle way of learning about geometry and physics should you so desire.
  • Type The Alphabet: How quickly can you type the letters of the alphabet from A-Z? NOT FAST ENOUGH TYPE HARDER! This is more fun than you think it would be.
  • Cubic Experiment: Finally in this week’s selection of miscellanea, this is a VERY satisfying puzzle game which involves rolling a cube around a landscape, hitting buttons and trying not to get stuck. The animation of the cube is, honestly, one of the most soothing things I have experienced all year, which somewhat mitigates the frustration of my getting stuck around level 12.

By Ci Demi



  • The Matchbook Archives: Matchbook designs from around the world, through the late-20th Century to the modern day (though obviously skewing 70s/80s). I do wonder about the sort of person who thought ‘yes, I will choose to carry a matchbook with a photo of a naked woman on it around with me as a symbol of…” – a symbol of what? Manliness? Virility? Uncontrollable horn? “I can’t enjoy a tab unless I’m thinking of breasts”? Again, the 70s – wow.
  • Jonathan Burnham: Mr Burnham is 67 and CEO of Giantbulb Unlimited. Jonathan Burnham also doesn’t exist. This is very odd, but equally very pleasing, and was brought to my attention by Ryan Broderick’s Garbage Day newsletter – you can read about Mr Burnham and the other members of his fictional universe here, but there are seemingly half-a-dozen of these characters all interacting with each other across the Tumblrverse, cosplaying as middle-aged, middle-American small-c conservatives? Why? WHY NOT EH?


  •  Dead Pubs of London: As the bio says, charting the dead or abandoned pubs of London, one photo at a time. There are few things sadder or more sinister than dead pubs in the middle of housing estates or down-at-heel residential districts; the thought that all of these are going to be turned into awful exploitative flat conversions to rent out at 1100 pcm for a tiny room with an in-bedroom toilet is quietly miserable.
  • Watching New York: Like the Sartorlist, updated for 2021, this account presents street photos of NYC – the gimmick in this case is that all the pictures are candids, taken with a veeeery long lens, with subjects captured au naturel rather than posing to be papped. These are BEAUTIFUL, and there’s something genuinely-cheering about the vibrancy and youth and diversity of the subjects.


  • Was There A Plan in Afghanistan?: I am not, evidently, anything resembling an expert in war or security studies, much less the theatre of the Middle East, much less Afghanistan specifically. Someone who is, though, is the War Nerd, aka Gary Brecher, aka John Dolan (it’s complicated), who has been writing about wars around the world for decades and who has been proved right about an impressive number of conflicts over the years. This is a piece that was published in May and which has been de-paywalled in light of this week’s events, looking back at the past two years of US involvement in Afghanistan and asking what the plan was and if indeed there was a plan at all. Honestly, this is so well-written and so cogently argued – I am not in a position to critique Brecher/Dolan’s analysis, but it’s hard not to nod along as he outlines the relationship between the Afghan war and that in Iraq, and the convenient way in which a quite staggering amount of cash has ended up being spent on the business of war which – now here’s a coincidence! – in turn has ended up in the pockets of a lot of lovely-sounding businesses. Probably the most compelling explanation of the sheer callousness of the whole operation you will read, and pleasingly clear-eyed about everything.
  • The UK’s Illusion of Strategy: Writing for UK defence Think Tank RUSI, Professor Michael Clarke does a superb (and again, dispassionate) job of exposing the hollowness of the UK’s ‘strategic’ ambitions in Afghanistan. This is a very well-argued piece, which can in part be summarised thusly: “As a result of the tragedy in Afghanistan, Western democracies will take a big credibility hit in the eyes of the autocracies and the uncommitted of the world. It may result in more challenges to the status quo as the West’s adversaries test the resolve of a wounded US to uphold its ‘values’ when its own hard interests are not directly at stake. It is not difficult to envisage circumstances in areas such as Southeast Europe, the Mediterranean, East Africa or the South China Sea where new challenges might arise. If that begins to happen, policymakers across Whitehall should take another hard look at the Integrated Review and decide just how much ‘Global Britain’ can exercise independent influence at a strategic level.”
  • Afghans Online: There’s been a lot of discussion of the ‘sophistication’ of the Taliban’s social and digital work this week – I enjoyed this WaPo piece which suggested in slightly hushed tones that maybe they were being helped by an agency, which made me think that the WaPo is possibly giving agencies a bit too much credit for being good at social tbh (although I wouldn’t be surprised if one of the really lovely little agencies that sprang up post-BP – people like these fine folk, for example – was involved somehow) – but more interesting to my mind is the way in which Afghans are working to wipe their social media profiles in the wake of the return of the Taliban, to remove evidence of collusion with the West or their interest in non-Sharia-approved things like dancing and music and the like. There’s an interesting intersection with the whole ‘Facebook has banned the Taliban’ argument here – after all, Facebook hasn’t banned the Taliban (Facebook doesn’t know if someone’s a member of the Taliban when they log on), it can’t ban the Taliban (it can only try and ban its propaganda), and it can’t stop the Taliban from using its platforms to find and persecute those citizens which it believes display beliefs antithetical to its rule.
  • It’s Not Subtle: This is short-but-heartbreaking by Zeynep Tufekci, and imho says something quite true and rather saddening about the intensely-personal way in which we interpret tragedies in the social media age, with the visible suffering transmuted into currency until it’s no longer worth anything anymore. Tufekci writes about the Afghan Girls Robotics Team, a group of young roboticists who traveled the world as a piece of soft-propaganda for the way things were going in Afghanistan (girls doing STEM! Progress! technology!) and yet who have not, you may be surprised to learn, been the beneficiaries of extraction to the US. As Tufekci writes, “there are things worse than a world of superficial and performative caring: it’s dropping even the pretense of it, even for that few, even after that much publicity before.”
  • Longtermism: I read this before I went away, so apologies that it’s now a few weeks old – if you’ve not already read it, though, this account of longtermism as a growing ; philosophical movement is fascinating; partly because it’s a batsh1t way of thinking (to my mind, at least; I remember skirting around this sort of stuff when doing my masters and even then thinking it was a bit out there), partly because there’s one screamingly obvious flaw in the reasoning as laid out here that noone seems willing to acknowledge (if you spot it, do let me know), and partly because once you read about it and think about the way than many of the world’s richest people are behaving it makes a sort of terrifying sense (not the thinking, to be clear, but the idea that said thinking is increasingly popular with the hyperrich). The short version of the theory is that we should treat human progress on a FAR longer continuum than we in fact tend to, and by so doing we should probably not sweat things like ‘half the world’s population or more dying as a result of the climate emergency’ because that’s a small and acceptable price to pay for trillions of us living us an infinite, post-Singularity existence come 2820. See, I told you it was batsh1t.
  • Axie Infinity: This is fascinating – before yesterday I had never heard of Axie, but this story spread like wildfire yesterday and it feels like something that is going to be used as a case study in all sorts of places for the rest of the year. Axie is an online game which is providing an income to a growing number of people in the Philippines, who use the game’s marketplace to sell items that they have farmed for crypto, which they can then exchance for real-world cash. I don’t know what to think about this. Is it hugely blinkered and unempathetic to think of people doing digital piecemeal work as ‘bad’ or ‘sad’? – I mean, objectively it’s hard to argue that this sort of labour is worse than backbreaking manual work. At the same time, the idea of a whole tier of society labouring collecting digital gewgaws for lazy, richer players to buy from them to secure in-game progress without putting the hours in feels…wrong, in ways that I can’t adequately articulate. This strikes me as a hugely-interesting test case, and an offshoot of the ‘creator’ economy which merits further exploration – there’s been insufficient thought given to the sub-creator layer, imho, and the digital industries that will grow bacteria-like in the wrinkles between innovations (if that makes sense. Does it make sense?)
  • The Omerta’ of Consultancy: This is, fine, a bit of a sales pitch for the author’s agency, but the point that it makes overall – that consultants should feel an increasing sense of guilt for trousering cash from the companies that are destroying the planet, for engaging in and assisting with greenwashing, for turning a blind eye to the supplychain and manufacturing iniquities which plague every industry and mean that EVERY SINGLE BUSINESS IN THE WORLD is fcuking things up in some small way.This article massively overstates the importance and role of consultants, but makes some good-if-uncomfortable points about the conversations we should all be having around ‘less’ and ‘no, actually let’s not to that’ and ‘ffs what are you DOING the planet is quite literally on fire’.
  • Selling the Story of Disinformation: A good piece in Harper’s on disinformation, and specifically the narrative that has been established whereby said disinformation is ALL the fault of the social media companies. Let’s be clear, they are very much culpable, but I agree with the central thesis that it is basically a very convenient scapegoat to blame Facebook for everything whilst not looking anywhere near hard enough at questions around people and society. Basically, blaming Facebook lets us continue to believe that people are rational actors when given the opportunity to be such – that doesn’t really feel true anymore, now that we have intimate knowledge of each other’s metaphorical opinionar$eholes and their unique bouquet, and perhaps it’s not helpful to suggest that it’s the internet that’s made us like this rather than thinking a bit more about the fact that maybe we were this way all along and we simply weren’t aware of it.
  • Dead White Man’s Clothes: This is a depressing read – turns out it’s not just fast fashion that fcuks the planet, it’s clothing donations too! There are too many clothes, they are mostly tat, and much of what is donated ends up as landfill in the very countries said donations are hoping to help. “An estimated 85 per cent of all textiles go to the dump every year, according to the World Economic Forum, enough to fill Sydney Harbour annually. Globally, that’s the equivalent of one garbage truck of textiles being burned or going into landfill every second.” STOP BUYING MORE STUFF FFS being the overriding message here.
  • The Sounds of the Subway: This is lovely and cheering – I had never really noticed that different subway networks around the world have different audio stings to accompany the closing of the doors (perhaps because London’s is an aggressive beeping that I couldn’t possible have imagined had been thought of for more than 5seconds), but it turns out that they all have their unique personality. Vancouver’s in particular is lovely.
  • Whistled Languages: I very much enjoyed this article, all about how there are certain areas and cultures where whistling has developed to be an adjunct of language to enable people to communicate over long distances without straining their voices, but when it got to the bit where there weer audio examples of people ‘whistling phrases’ I confess that there was quite a large part of me which wondered whether this was simply an elaborate troll by the residents of the Canary Islands being profiled for the piece. See what you think.
  • Bow Lips and TikTok: This is ostensibly all about makeup trends, specifically related to lips, and the evolution of the cupid’s bow into something more cartoonish and how that relates to TikTok culture. What it made me think of, though, was the perhaps underrated extent to which so much of modern attitudes to costume, makeup and personal presentation (including questions of identity) can be traced back to videogame culture – BEAR WITH ME HERE. Today’s <25s have had an entire life of gameplaying, regardless of gender, and as such are used to being able to choose their own avatars, to customise them, to change and swap and edit to their heart’s content how they appear represented in these virtual spaces, many of which they have shared with other people through online play. Why wouldn’t that extend to real life? Why wouldn’t you expect to be able to do much the same sort of identity and aesthetic shifting on your corporeal form as you would on your digital form, now that the tools are available to you? Everything is videogames in 2021, basically, is my central thesis (if you want to pay me a fat fee to do a really poorly-argued talk on this, let’s chat!).
  • Small Vehicles of Tokyo: If you are not charmed by this photoessay – which documents the tiny, usually human-powered,vehicles which are used for local deliveries around Tokyo’s tiny and confusing streets – then you’re probably dead.
  • Revenge Compositions: “For a reasonable fee, Mozambique’s Sam Chitsama belts out revenge songs about everything from cheating spouses to family disputes.” This is AMAZING, and I spent a good 10m thinking about all the ways in which this might play out in the UK. I would honestly LOVE this to catch on over here – the small-town teenage dramas of 100k suburbia played out over trap beats, “Tony’s a melt and Leanne’s a cheating slag” going viral in 6th forms across Basingstoke…Can we get the kids from Blackpool Grime a secondary career composing ‘sends’ on demand? Can we?
  • What Mike Knew: This is quite a piece of writing. Anna Sproul-Latimer is a literary agent who (I am making a leap here, but it feels fair to say based on this article) quite fancies herself as a writer too. This is her tribute/elegy/weirdly-aggressive celebration of the life and career of her client, Mike Rose, who recently died. It is in parts very funny, though the style is a touch…relentless, and I don’t think I have ever read anything quite like it before.
  • What Landlords Really Think: Linking to Joel Golby feels like a bit of a waste – I mean, he’s really famous and loads of people read his stuff anyway – but occasionally you get a reminder of the fact that actually he’s just a really good prose stylist. This is one of his ‘appalling London flat listing review’ pieces for VICE, but it’s also a really rather brilliant Bateman-esque analysis of the internal monologue of the sort of estate agent whose life consists in showing nervous 20somethings around borderline-criminal listings like the one in this piece.
  • Soft Corruptor: Finally this week, the second piece of writing by Everest Pipkin this week – this is part-poetry, part-interactive fiction, and it is beautiful and masterful in its marriage of form and function (/pseud). Honestly, this really is exceptional and even if you don’t normally bother with poetry I promise you this is worth your time.

By  David Fullarton