Author Archives: admin

Webcurios 01/12/23

Reading Time: 32 minutes

JESUS IT’S FREEZING. Or at least it is in London – I have no idea if it’s balmy and tropical where you are, and frankly I don’t care. POOR MATTY’S COLD.

Which is why this intro’s going to be short and sweet – I want to get this done so I can go and sit under a hot shower for 30 minutes and see if I can restore some feeling to my extremities.  I can’t promise that the following 8,000-odd words of the usual b0llocks will provide any protection against the arctic chill, but I suppose in a pinch you could always print this out and set fire to it for warmth.

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and you are now officially allowed to eat your first dozen mince pies of the season.

Image from this isn't happiness.

By David Fullerton (pics in large part via TIH)



  • Public Access Memories: Following on from last week’s link to online art festival The Wrong Biennale, comes Public Access Memories, which is a ‘digital pavilion’ from within the Biennale (yes, ok, ‘within’ is an entirely-nonsensical term to use for something that exists in digital space, but it’s early and I am tired and the least you could do is wait until the third or fourth link before kicking off with the kvetching, thankyouverymuch) – yes, that’s right kids, it’s a VIRTUAL ART GALLERY! “As part of The Wrong Biennale 2023-24, Public Access Memories presents Fields of View, a virtual “pavilion” of 12 digital artists exploring new modes of representing, constructing, and traversing online space…The artists in this exhibition approach the representation of space in ways that acknowledge the materiality of the screen. Whether through the presentation of alternative or extreme perspective projections, isometric diagrams, glitch landscapes, stereoscopic imagery, or simply the textual description of spatial experience, the work in this exhibition expands the space of the computer screen without attempting to erase our awareness of it.” I really enjoy this – the 2d gallery space is pleasingly-00s-ish in aesthetic feel, and the navigation feels oddly-reminiscent of those collaborative social spaces that we all (ok, *I*) thought might become A Thing in the time of Covid, and you can talk to other visitors who are online at the same time as you through a simple chat interface, and the works…well, the works, based on my relatively thin exploration of them, are an intriguing mishmash of digital collage and video and lightly-interactive work playing at the edges of digital visual culture and questions of space and screen. This is a lovely place to just wander round for 20 minutes – click and explore and see what you find.
  • Stable Diffusion Turbo:  When was the last time you were properly amazed by a bit of digital tech? Do you remember that first feeling of excitement when you first typed “sexy broccoli” into Dall-E and saw your wildest imaginings come to life before your eyes? Do you realise how quickly we’ve become jaded? Still, if you want to once again feel the momentary shock of the new, to feel the strange sense of the future rushing towards you at a pace which, frankly, isn’t wholly comfortable, then click this link and BOGGLE AT THE MAGIC! Stable Diffusion – the best-in-class open source text-to-image model, lest we forget – has this week launched its latest update, which you can play with at this link and which basically creates images in realtime as you type and, seriously, this is like witchcraft. Go on, click the link – start typing and watch in amazement as stuff appears and shifts and morphs and the images attempt to keep up with whatever’s currently being typed into the input box…Ok, fine, so there’s no specific *need* for this to be as quick as it is, but there’s something quite unsettling about watching The Machine ‘think’ like this (NB – The Machine is not, of course, ‘thinking’ in any meaningful sense). This is, as you’d expect, guardrail pretty extensively so you won’t be able to go crazy with your perverted demands, but I promise you that there is something honestly quite incredible about seeing it react and reimagine on the fly – it feels like there’s something really quite incredible you could hack together with a version of this, and voice-recognition software and a big screen, so if any of you would like to take that fragment of an idea and run with it then that would be lovely thanks.
  • Drawfast: Via Lauren Epstein’s newsletter and in a vaguely-similar space to the last link comes this fun little toy – tell The Machine what it is that you want to draw and then sketch out a rough outline and watch as it appears before your eyes in (semi-)realtime! This is a strangely-nostalgic callback to early versions of Dall-E from about 2019/20, except now it works at blistering pace – it’s slightly unsettling to think that this is basically what MS Paint is going to be like in ~6 months time, as AI gets baked into everything and even the most entry-level software products achieve the ability to, I don’t know, paint the sistine chapel or decode the Voynich Manuscript. Can everything maybe stop speeding up just for a couple of months, please?
  • The AI Garage Sale: This is a genuinely smart idea (found via Andy) and a really nice, fun use of an LLM as a ludic interface (ludic! Ffs! It’s 730am Matt, STOP IT), and if you work in advermarketingpr and can’t think of a client or project for whom you could pretty much rip this off wholesale as a clever bit of promo then, well, you should probably think about switching careers tbh. The premise of this site is simple – the site is offering a bunch of stuff for sale, and you can attempt to get a better deal on the price of the various bits of tat on offer by engaging in some light bartering with the AI doing the selling – can you get a good deal on (for example) a Big Mouth Billy Bass? The nice twist here is that all the goods are actually on sale (although I don’t imagine they’ll ship outside the US), so you can actually follow this all the way through to the point of purchase – if you’ve spent any time GPT-wrangling over the past year then you will probably have a few tricks up your sleeve to convince the AI that you’re worthy of some pretty special discounts (clue: sick kids tend to really pull at its cold, unfeeling binary heartstrings), and for any of you reading in North America this could be a decently-cost-effective way on stocking up on tat to gift to people you don’t really know or like. Seriously, though, this is SUCH a smart idea and such an obviously-repurposable one that I’d be slightly amazed (and, honestly, quite disappointed in you) if I don’t see it redone by a retailer as some sort of promo.
  • GPT Monkey Island: Ok, fine, so this is literally just a prompt, but it turns out that it does a really good job of turning GPT into a genuinely fun (if low-stakes) roleplaying game. The prompt basically instructs the LLM to act as a sort of Dungeon Master figure for a Monkey Island-esque tale of YOU – the HERO – arriving in a city of your choosing to seek fame and fortune; the prompt’s structured in such a way that you’re offered options in terms of where you take the story, choose your own adventure style, but I found when messing around with it that it will take a significant degree of improvisation, meaning you can basically take the story wherever you feel like pushing it. In the 20 minutes or so I spent messing with this this week I ended up owning a tavern and managing a network of spies and informants through the secret brothel I’d opened upstairs (all very vanilla, obvs, this is still GPT and, also, I’m not some sort of sweaty-palmed pervert) – the system seems to be able to keep track of what you’ve done, and what you’ve achieved, and your inventory and health and all sorts of other things, and in general this is the first one of these sorts of things that has felt like it *worked* in any meaningful sense – if you’ve ever fancied the idea of playing around with the whole ‘AI as DM’ idea then this might be a decent place to start. TBH the Monkey Island comparison doesn’t really stand up here (although the prompt’s coded to include insult swordfighting), but that’s pretty much my only quibble – this is a lot of fun.
  • Anna Indiana: We delve deep into the musical uncanny valley now – Anna Indiana is an ‘AI singer-songwriter’, who this week went a bit viral when its first song was shared online and the world…well, the world reacted with predictable horror, but click the link and see what you think – go on, I’ll wait. *WAITS* Horrible, isn’t it? There are no details available, or at least none that my cursory research has been able to uncover, as to exactly what tech stack the people behind this are using to spin up the ‘melodies’, but the lyrics are a predictably-bland parade of bromides as you’d expect from an LLM, and the accompanying avatar is exactly the sort of cookie-cutter AI waifu you might expect, and, honestly, the whole thing is just a bit depressing – as is the insistence of whoever is running the whole project that ‘Anna’ is a sentient creature with thoughts and feelings and which sees her complain on Twitter that ‘many humans don’t seem to like me’. Still, to every single person who listens to this and thinks that it provides incontrovertible truth that The Machine will NEVER be able to replace human artists, I would like to point out that whilst the song is horrible and the ‘melody’ is garbage, the whole thing literally could not have existed as little as six months ago, and, as ever, THIS IS THE WORST IT IS EVER GOING TO BE. BONUS AI MUSIC LINK!: AI music toolbox Okio lets you effectively apply style transfer to music – as you can see in this clip of ‘remixes’ people have been making with their tech, which includes such bangers as ‘Wu Tang, but dubstep’ and ‘Old Macdonald, but death metal’.
  • Visual Anagrams: This feels like something that you might be able to have some SEMI-VIRAL SUCCESS with if you get in early enough – the link takes you to Github page for the code, but you can see plenty of examples which will give you an idea of what’s going on here, which is good because I’ve been trying to work out how best to explain it to you via the medium of words for the past three minutes and, honestly, I’m fcuked if I know how. Basically this is a load examples of slightly brain melty visual illusions created by AI in which one image MAGICALLY becomes another via the medium of slight visual tweaking – I suppose the best description I can give you is ‘you know that old image of a rabbit which if you squint at it becomes a duck? Yeah, well that’. Seriously though, click the link – I reckon you’ve got a fortnight or so in which this stuff will continue to be genuinely jaw-dropping.
  • Trash Baby: CAVEAT EMPTOR: this app is iOS-only and as such I haven’t been able to actually try it out, and as such Web Curios takes no responsibility for any weird sh1t it ends up doing to your phone should you decide to install it. Now that’s out of the way, Trash Baby is a fun-looking little app which basically does photo mashups – select two images from your phone’s camera roll and get the app to style-smoosh them together and see what happens. Literally just that,but from what I’ve seen online you can get some pretty fun visual styles out of it if you play around enough. Pleasingly, this app was just an idea that someone had which they got GPT-4 to code up and which now, six months later, is available in the app store – the future in action, right there.
  • Operator: I haven’t featured anything NFT-ish for a while because, well, it’s all awful bullsh1t and the world has thankfully moved on – but I will make an exception for this, because I think it’s sort-of beautiful and I rather like the high concept. Operator is an art project in three parts – I missed the first, but the second is now ongoing – which is all about capturing human movement and translating it into data, and then visualising that data. Yes, fine, it involves MINTING and THE BLOCKCHAIN, but it’s worth bothering to read the spiel that accompanies the project because, honestly, I think it sort-of makes sense (insofar as anything involving web3 can ever be said to ‘make sense’).
  • Palestine Online: This is a gorgeous project. “Palestine Online is a collection of webpages creates by Palestinians, primarily in the late 90s and early 00s, sourced from the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. Included here are personal webpages, news websites and online magazines, sites showcasing Palestinian art and culture, and homepages compiling and linking out to other relevant pages. Many of the pages here were created during or shortly after the Second Intefada, and demonstrate the rich history of Palestinian internet presence, showing the use of the web as a tool for resistance, connection, and expression under ongoing occupation. Palestine Online is a mirror to Palestinian internet presence and resistance today, highlighting the history of resilience and anger under occupation, as well as the immense pride, love, and joy for their ancestral land, no matter what the internet has looked like and has been technologically capable of.” I present this as a piece of internet history rather than as some sort of STATEMENT about anything, fyi.
  • Bitkraft: Would you like to ENTER SYNTHETIC REALITY? No, I don’t know what it means either, but WOULD YOU LIKE TO????? That’s the question asked of you upon loading up this site for the first time, and I strongly suggest you grasp the opportunity with both hands because this really is a doozy of shiny, meaningless but VERY PRETTY webwork. I think the company behind this is something to do with videogames and web3 and THE BLOCKCHAIN, but, honestly, who cares? They’ve chosen to spunk a chunk of time and cash on this beautiful, silly website and we should all be grateful. “GAMES ARE A FOUNDATIONAL CORNERSTONE OF THE HUMAN EXPERIENCE!”, screams the copy, and “THE PAST IS A PROLOGUE!” and, honestly, who are we to argue? NO FCUKERS, etc! Baffling, but SUCH nice animations!
  • The Open Source Munitions Portal: This is both sobering and also a quite astonishing example of the sort of information about conflict which can now be gathered and shared through open source means – launched by Kings College this week, “The Open Source Munitions Portal is a tool for researchers, journalists and practitioners trying to learn more about munitions and their use and impact in conflicts.” It contains hundreds of images of spent munitions in the field, mainly from the current war in Ukraine, as a record of what is being dropped on who and where – there’s nothing obviously distressing here, but it’s hard not to look at all these images of gunmetal casings and twisted metal and think about what these munitions do to people (your regular reminder, by the way, that if you work for an agency and your agency works for, say, BAE Systems, or Raytheon, that your agency is a collection of amoral cnuts and you should be ashamed).
  • Spotify Visualised: DID YOU GET YOUR WRAPPED WAS IT WHAT YOU WANTED DOES IT ACCURATELY CONVEY THE NUANCES OF YOUR PERSONALITY VIA THE MEDIUM OF FIVE ARTISTS AND SONGS? Ahem. Sorry, it’s just that as a non-Spotify person I always get a slight ‘nose pressed up against the window of a party I’m not invited to’ vibes from the Spotify Wrapped stuff – this year’s celebration of individual taste (or, alternatively, demonstration of the crushing dominance of half-a-dozen artists and the impossibility of making a living from music for 99% of people working in the industry) has, as ever, been everywhere this year, but if you’d like to take a slightly more granular dive into your music and your tastes and what you listen to and WHAT IT MEANS then you might enjoy this webapptoy thing; plug in your account, let it crunch the numbers a bit and then enjoy your musical tastes presented as a galaxy of artists with CLUSTERS and CONSTELLATIONS and all sorts of nicely-visualised gubbins that will let you work out exactly where in musical latent space your tastes sit (by the way, my single TAKE on this year’s Wrapped numbers – noone seems to be talking about the fact that Beyonce is nowhere to be seen in the global top 10 artists list, which I think is super-interesting considering her insane sociocultural heft anbd footprint; anyone have any idea as to why this is?).
  • Progressively More Intense: You will doubtless have seen the AI image trend this week of ‘X, but getting progressively more intense’ – the indefatigable Rene over at Good Internet has collected literally every single example of these spotted in the wild in one place, for your delectation and enjoyment. So many of these are joyous, but I don’t think I am going to see another sequence of AI-generated images this year that will make me as fundamentally happy as “Jesus is baptised by John but they get progressively more excited”.

By Camille Brasselet



  • Brarista: One of the odd side-effects of being brought up by a single woman is that I think I possibly heard more complaints about the irritation caused by ill-fitting bras than most young men (I can’t pretend that I was in any way happy about this), and as a result am a firm believer in the importance of getting properly measured and fitted (but I appreciate that this is now veering into slightly-weird territory, and I shan’t mention it again). Brarista (can we just pause to acknowledge the brilliance of the name, please?) is a new startup from the UK which aims to use machine vision to help people buy bras that fit them properly – they’re currently very early stage, and are looking for help testing and developing the tech, so should any of you be a) in the UK; and b) in possession of breasts then you might want to take a look.
  • COP28 Adventures: What do we think – will THIS be the global conference that sorts everything out and secures our collective futures against the droughts and the rising seas and the shortages and the fires and the floods? Erm, look, it was a rhetorical question, don’t think too hard about what the answer is and instead enjoy the OFFICIAL GAME APP OF COP28! I have no idea if this is any good – although I have not-insignificant doubts – or indeed why an ostensibly-serious conference debating the steps we need to take to save our species from fcuking itself irrevocably via the medium of climate change requires an OFFICIAL GAME APP in the first place, but I am including it because I find the fact that the game is developed by the Dubai Police Force incredibly, darkly funny.
  • Image Upscaling: You know the long-running joke about CSI and shows of that ilk and the MAGICAL TECH that they have which lets a forensic pathologist shout ‘ENHANCE!’ at a screen and watch as a previously-unreadable mess of pixels resolve themselves into the label on the perp’s underpants? Well this is that, but it actually works! Ok, fine, there’s no voice command (yet), but the rest is pretty much the same – upload an image, tell the software which bit you want it to ‘enhance’ and watch as it uses AI to basically imagine the detail. This is, I think, intended to allow for simple drawings and images to be rendered more complex, but I had quite a lot of fun using it to mess with random images I had sitting around on my phone – if nothing else, though, it might be interesting to scan and upload any old family pics you have into this to see what it can do with them (as long, obviously, as you don’t mind your loved ones being ingested into the maw of a future Machine – you don’t, do you? GOOD!).
  • Brickelo: Have you ever wondered to yourself “of all the LEGO minifigs that have ever been released, which is the BEST EVER?” No, I can’t for a second imagine that you have – but SOMEONE has, and that person has created Brickelo, which is seeking to sever that Gordian knot once and for all. “Every LEGO minifigure is awesome, but have you ever wondered which is the best? If so, this website is for you. Brickelo takes a mathematical approach to determining the best LEGO minifigures, by using an ELO rating system. Each minifigure’s rating is calculated based on the outcome of comparing two minifigures against one another.” I got a bit sucked into this, mainly because I had no idea that LEGO had made so fcuking many tie-in figurines.
  • The Fabulous Cartier Journey: What would induce YOU to drop several thousand pounds on some jewellery for Christmas (or, frankly, any other time – diamonds are, after all, forever, darling!)? Is the answer ‘a really, really nicely-designed and very soothing web-based clone of a decade-old videogame? NO OF COURSE IT ISN’T AND YET HERE WE ARE. Continuing the luxury world’s continued, baffling obsession with ‘making really simple reskins of old games as a marketing tactic I cannot even pretend to understand the ROI of’, Cartier brings us THE FABULOUS CARTIER JOURNEY – guide the lovely Cartier airship through the equally-lovely pastel-shaded skies, collecting gems and generally having a pleasant and soothing time, which is pretty much the antithesis of the original, intensely-enervating Flappy Bird experience. I really, really hope that the legendarily-plutocratic brand chucked the game’s original designer, Dong Nguyen, a few quid, but I bet they didn’t, the fcuks.
  • The Royal Court Living Archive: I am a miserable joyless husk of a man, but one of the few things in life which give me genuine pleasure is going to the theatre and London’s Royal Court is somewhere I probably visit at least half-a-dozen times a year; despite its location in London’s somewhat-fancy Sloane Square, it’s a venue which over the years has showcased new writing by up-and-coming playwrights (Carol Churchill, Mark Ravenhill, etc) and which regularly puts on small experimental shows that wouldn’t ordinarily find space at ‘mainstream’ theatres – the theatre has recently created this WONDERFUL online archive which collects information about shows across the theatre’s history; you can search by work, or playwrite, and discover all sorts of wider information about works and their performances and their reception. The archive’s described as a ‘living work in progress’ and it’s still growing and being populated, but I love the ambition and the ethos behind it.
  • Learn Morse Code: You may not THINK you need to learn Morse, but I promise you’ll be grateful for the knowledge when civilisation collapses  – this is simple, but surprisingly fun and quite intuitive once you get into it. .. / -.-. .- -. .—-. – / -… . .-.. .. . …- . / -.– — ..- / -… — – …. . .-. . -.. / – — / – .-. .- -. … .-.. .- – . / – …. .. … .-.-.- / – .- -.- . / .- / .-.. — -. –. –..– / …. .- .-. -.. / .-.. — — -.- / .- – / -.– — ..- .-. … . .-.. ..-.
  • Offscript: This is an interesting idea (whose actual, practical working I can’t quite figure out) – as far as I can tell, Offscript is a bit like Old Web darling Threadless, the tshirt company which let anyone submit designs and then ended up printing and selling the ones that the community decided it wanted to buy – except here, you don’t actually need to have any sort of design talent whatsoever, because you can COLLABORATE WITH AI to design things that will eventually get made! No word on exactly how the manufacturing process will work when The Machine starts imagining trousers with nine knees in the left leg or similarly-baroque design flourishes, or indeed how rights will work – but this is all very new, so I’m sure that it will all get ironed out sensibly (probably).
  • Dioramas: Via Kris, I don’t really know what this is but I would probably (inadequately) describe it as ‘a series of digital postcards’ – regardless, these are lovely and there are 30 of them for you to click through and explore.
  • Dot Meme: THERE IS A NEW DOMAIN NAME AVAILABLE! Yes, thanks to Google you can now, should you desire, register a web address at [yourURLhere].meme – ISN’T THAT EXCITING? Admittedly there is something almost painfully-Muskian about the idea of a ‘’ address – “Groimes, meems are hilleeriyas ind oi im king of the meems!” – but if you can think of a decent reason for getting one then, well, now you can.
  • Rebookify: I haven’t actually tried this and so have no idea if it actually works, but, well, let’s take it at face value and assume it does exactly what it says on the homepage, and that all the endorsements are from actual, real people rather than the fevered imaginations of the dev team. Rebookify basically works to help you get the best deals on hotel rooms – you book a room, you tell the site which hotel it’s at and how much you paid for it, and it will alert you as soon as it finds the same room for the same dates at a cheaper price. You’ll have to handle the rebooking yourself, but this seems…useful? Also the fact that it doesn’t take any of your data is pleasing and non-nefarious, so double points to this site.
  • Raindrop: I have long-since realised that I am never going ‘improve my workflows’ or ‘optimise my browsing’ or ‘take an extensive series of notes which I will network and connect and turn into some sort of semi-extension of my brain’ – I write Curios, that’s it, don’t try and improve me, it won’t work. I appreciate, though, that there will be some of you out there who want to do things like ‘get better and more efficient’ or ‘keep track of stuff’, and whilst I can’t pretend to understand this ameliorative impulse I can at least acknowledge it. Via Dave Briggs’ newsletter, Raindrop looks a bit Evernote-y and seems to be a really smart way of keeping track of and organising bookmarks – even better, it saves copies of every Page you visit which is a fcuking BOON for anyone attempting to keep track of fast-moving things. I think this is a paid product, but it looks like it could be quite powerful for those of you with a need for this sort of thing.
  • Track AI Answers: This is an interesting idea – not the product (which isn’t really a product) so much as the question / problem it highlights. The idea here is that you type a brand or individual name into the platform and it will run regular checks on the major LLMs to see exactly what they throw up when you plug said terms in – the sense here is that this should be used as some sort of reputation monitoring and management tool…except, well, what are you meant to do, exactly, if this tells you that, for example, Claude has started associating the name “Matt Muir” with “excellent and renowned creator of bespoke Sentex products to the discerning terrorist community” (am I going to regret committing that sentence to the web? TIME WILL TELL!)? I genuinely hadn’t considered this as a possibility, but now I am half-interested in the idea of a fiction based around what would happen if The Machine decided certain things about you – how might you deal with it, and how the fcuk would you go about changing it? INTERESTING QUESTIONS.
  • Pronouns: A well-meaning and entirely benign guide to pronouns and non-binariness, which also made me laugh A LOT when I scrolled down and I reached the bit about ‘Emojiself Pronouns’ because, well, lol. This is the sort of website which I can imagine would cause a Certain Type Of Person to dissolve in paroxysms of fury.
  • Language Transfer: This is a genuinely odd website – you know how everyone in the world basically uses Duolingo to convince themselves that they are learning a new language whilst at the same time not in fact learning anything meaninful at all? Well other language courses are available – one of which is Language Transfer, which has apparently existed for about a decade, and is the work of ONE SINGLE PERSON. There are, understandably, a limited number of languages here – but Swahili is one of them, in case you were curious – but there are also courses on Introduction to Music Theory and ‘Methods of Thinking’, and while I can’t vouch for the content of any of these I am absolutely staggered by the endeavour here. There’s perhaps a *touch* of the ‘odd’ about this – I did raise a slight eyebrow at the assertion that there’s a film about the site’s founder and their ‘journey’ coming out next year, but I suppose you never know – but in general this is a pretty incredible (and, fine, odd) corner of the web.
  • Neglected Books: “Welcome to the Neglected Books page, edited and mostly written by Brad Bigelow. Here you’ll find articles and lists with thousands of books that have been neglected, overlooked, forgotten, or stranded by changing tides in critical or popular taste.” THANKS, BRAD BIGELOW! This is genuinely fascinating – I could honestly just abandon you all here and just dive into the stacks here, because there are SO many interesting and curious and weird old novels discussed, and there’s a real sense that Brad (THANKS BRAD) absolutely knows his sh1t when it comes to the shifting literary tastes and mores of the 20thC. Bibliophiles will adore this.
  • The Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards 2023: You will almost certainly have seen this year’s selection already, but, in case not, HERE YOU ARE! The best image in the 2023 selection, by the way, is of the small fox (he is called Keith – all foxes are called Keith, it is the law) who appears to be smoking a cigar.
  • Drumhaus: Browser-based rum machines aren’t exactly new, but this one is a particularly-nicely-made example of the genre and it’s the work of but a few moments and clicks to create a track that’s genuinely pretty good, even if you’re me.
  • NSFW History: “What’s a NSFW fact about history that most people don’t know?” asks the prompt at the top of this Reddit thread and WOW do people deliver in the comments. There are some wonderful anecdotes in here, although I didn’t spot my personal favourite which is that the reason that Macau belonged to the Dutch for so long was that it was traded by the Chinese for a metric-fucktonne of ambergis, very much the balene viagra of its day, so that the ageing Emperor of the day could have a better chance of ‘enjoying’ the 100 virgins he had been gifted by sycophantic regional governers. Ah, history!
  • Perfect Pitch: I am a cloth-eared cnut and as such this is literally impossible for me to play without becoming upsettingly frustrated, but presuming that you’re less tone-deaf than I am you might have more luck – listen to the tune and try and recreate the note progression in six tries or fewer! Honestly, this made me feel SO INADEQUATE – but, er, that’s my problem, sorry.
  • Draknek and Friends: A selection of small, pleasing browser games, all designed and made by one Alan Hazelden. THANKYOU, ALAN HAZELDEN! I haven’t tried all of them, but of the ones that have played I can highly recommend ‘You’re Pulleying My Leg’ (although frankly, Alan, that title is indefensible).
  • Brickception: Finally this week, once again via Andy, comes this insane-but-brilliant game, which is basically ‘Breakout in two separate windows where one window is also the paddle’ – don’t worry, it will make significantly more sense when you click the link. I loved this, and there’s something just challenging enough about it, like rubbing your head and patting your belly simultaneously.

By Sylvia Sleigh



  • My Ad Journal: Not actually a Tumblr! Still, it’s a great project which I personally very much enjoy – one anonymous internetperson documents some of the ads they are served on a(n almost) daily basis. “the ads are tracking me, but i am also tracking the ads! Yeah! follow my ad journal and learn more about me and my desires. it’s a curated selection, because there is way too many ads for me to put them all here. i mostly post weird or very specific lo-fi ads and never big brands like H&M or HBO, because i guess their target group is everyone, so it’s not as fun.. and they recieve enough attention already… i also blur out or remove any text, because i don’t actually wanna advertise.” I think there’s a bigger project/exhibition in here, but it’s sort-of perfect as-is.


  • Nick Heer: To be honest I am not quite sure how I came across this feed, but I am very glad that I did – I have no clue who Nick Heer is, but they take really lovely photographs. God, an Insta account that’s just…photos? HOW QUAINT! Anyway, Nick has a great eye and I think his feed contains some beautiful images.


  • Website-As-Home: A short essay by Nico Chilla (you should check out the rest of their site while you’re there, by the way, it’s lovely) about the concept of the website as a ‘home’, of sorts, an owned, curated space that in some way houses and defines and reflects and individual and their shifting, evolving interests and tastes and general SELF-ness – I am finding myself thinking more and more about the ways in which the web acts as SPACE, and how we define the limits of it (and our own), and I found this a really interesting addition to ,my reading on the topic. A taste: “Still, a website and a home are importantly different in that the former is intended for public exposure, whereas the latter is grounded in private life. But maybe we can relate the public nature of websites to a public dimension of homes: hosting visitors. Typically we don’t show our house guests everything — we keep many things private and clean up before they arrive. Moreover, we’ve made prior decisions about our furniture and decor with future guests in mind. So homes can certainly be curated for the public eye; but crucially, they maintain their function as living spaces. I find it generative to consider websites as a similar conjunction of public and private activity: by thinking about how visitors will receive the things that I publish, I’m compelled to produce more and refine the things that I make. At the same time, the website remains my space and is subservient to no other end.”
  • The Tyranny of Structurelessness: Ok, this is LONG and QUITE SERIOUS, but it’s also really, really interesting and a proper artefact of political organisational thinking from The Past – it’s an essay which started as a talk, first delivered in 1970 as part of the debate around second wave feminism and how to drive the movement forward – basically it’s a long meditation on the problems with structureless organisations, and the inherent limitations (and contradictions) that a ‘leaderless’ movement will necessarily face, and it’s interesting both as an historico-political curio and as a sort of manual for people looking to organise, whether politically or otherwise (but probably politically).
  • The Nature of Bee-ing: Yes, ok, fine, the ACTUAL title of this piece is the far superior and far more descriptive ‘what is it like to be a bee?’, but I couldn’t possibly resist the tired, lazy wordplay (it’s what you come here for!) – this is an extract from a forthcoming book on ‘The Mind of the Bee’ by one Lance Chittka and it is SO INTERESTING; there’s a long and noble history of ‘try and imagine what it would be like to be an X’ in philosophical writing (starting with Thomas Nagel’s ‘what is it like to be a bat?’) and this is another GREAT example of the genre, what with bees being so, well, bee-zarre (I am really sorry, I don’t know what’s come over me – it’s a mid-morning slump, I’ll try and power on through). It is, obviously, impossible to imagine what it would be like to ‘see’ electricity like what bees can do, but I love writing that attempts to bridge that (uttterly unbridgeable) gap – “To start, imagine you have an exoskeleton—like a knight’s armor. However, there isn’t any skin underneath: your muscles are directly attached to the armor. You’re all hard shell, soft core. You also have an inbuilt chemical weapon, designed as an injection needle that can kill any animal your size and be extremely painful to animals a thousand times your size—but using it may be the last thing you do, since it can kill you, too. Now imagine what the world looks like from inside the cockpit of a bee.” Honestly, this is WONDERFUL.
  • Effective Altruism vs Accelerationism: I have to say, I personally think that the PHILOSOPHICAL SCHISM which everyone has been claiming has been at the heart of the whole OpenAI thing has been somewhat mischaracterised, but if you want an overview of what people currently seem to think are the twin poles of ‘go slower!’ and ‘go faster!’ from within the AI development space then you could do worse than read Molly White’s account.
  • Corporations Did More To Kill Us That AI Ever Will: I want to caveat this link with two things: 1) I think the website it’s hosted on is…a bit mental, frankly, and I don’t quite know who’s behind it, and I wouldn’t necessarily recommend reading anything else on there; 2) the writing is…a bit overblown (yes, I know, pot/kettle, fcuk off why don’t you?). That said, I found the basic premise here – that we can probably stand to learn a few things about ‘the dangers of AI’ from the way in which corporations have behaved over the course of the post-industrial age, and that there are certain parallels in terms of the way in which companies already behave and the way in which we are currently being told to worry that AIs might one day behave which we possibly ought to pay a bit more attention to – reasonably-convincing. I am not *totally* convinced that the whole site this sits on isn’t some sort of AI project itself, mind.
  • When AI Comes For The Elites: I don’t, to be clear, necessarily buy the central premise of the article, but I did find it both interesting and quite funny in a sort of weird way – basically the theory here is that we’re on the cusp of some sort of lawyerly uprising, as all of the paralegals and junior solicitors whose jobs are being replaced by The Machine at a rate of knots use all that spare brainpower to FOMENT REVOLUTION! I have my doubts, but if the revolution starts with the layoff of a bunch of trainees from Slaugter & May then, well, you heard it here first!
  • Making God: Ok, this is VERY LONG, but it’s also super-interesting and discursive and covers a huge range of topics, linking mythology to faith to AI to the far-right to neoliberalism to NFTs to the metaverse, and as an overview of some of history’s mythologising (and weaponisation) of tech this is frankly superb by Emily Gorcenski. Honestly, if you only pick one non-fiction piece to read from this week’s edition I would totally pick this one, it’s DIZZYING in scope.
  • The Digital Election: This was picked up in Private Eye this week, but it’s worth reading about in full – recent changes to UK electoral legislation have seen the upper limits for spending on political advertising revised upwards, which means a LOT more advertising, specifically digital advertising. “Since buying digital ads became commonplace in British political campaigns in 2015, spending on them has increased at each election. Electoral Commission records show that the main party campaigns have, in that time, spent around £13m on Facebook, Google, Snapchat and Twitter ads. Given the extra headroom the new spending limits offer, we wouldn’t be *that* surprised if one of the big parties spent more than £10m on digital ads at the next election. If they do, their opponent will want to try and do the same. Such is the logic of political campaigns (and it’s going to be a great couple of months for the political ad sales folks at Facebook and Google.) If that happens, voters in marginal seats will notice a big difference. In the space of a few weeks, roughly 5 million voters, in around 100 seats, will see approximately 2 billion political ads (a very back of the envelope calculation, but of those orders of magnitude).” I don’t mean to keep on banging the same (tired, threadbare) drum but when you add AI-powered content creation to that it starts to look…potentially quite mad.
  • Rebuilding Organisations for AI: I’ve become slightly bored of telling you all to go and sub to Ethan Mollick’s newsletter this year, and of constantly linking to it, but it continues to be one of the best resources for anyone interested in the practical side of ‘making AI do useful things for you in the professional space’. Here Mollick discusses how AI tools, specifically LLMs, can be integrated into working practices, and the sorts of tasks they can usefully be asked to perform, and how to build this into workflows on a day-to-day basis – if any of you are in the invidious position of being in charge of ‘using AI to save us money and, eventually, sack half of the workforce’ then this will be useful (but, you know, your soul will never know peace).
  • Generative AI Comes To Search: Specifically, visual search – this is actually a really interesting use case for it, and something that hadn’t occurred to me at all. Those of you with access to Google’s experimental ‘Search Generative Experience’ trial (so only those in the US at present) will now be able to ask The Machine to imagine something you might want to buy, and then use that generated image as the starting point for a search for real-life products; the idea being that you might have an image of your ideal purchase in your head but no idea of how or where to find it on search, which image you can now bring to life via the medium of AI. I appreciate that this might feel like something of a banal or uninspired use case, but I found this REALLY exciting – not in terms of what’s happening here or the AUGMENTED RETAIL EXPERIENCE, but in the sense of The Machine acting as a sort of bridge between our desires and our ability to articulate them.
  • The Product Model at Spotify: Yes, ok, I can’t imagine that any of you read that headline and thought ‘wow, thanks Matt, that sounds FASCINATING’ – but I promise that this account of how the people who built it went about designing, developing and rolling-out the Spotify Discover Weekly discovery playlists is genuinely interesting (or at least it is if you’re interested in the practical aspects of how people go about doing and making things, which I personally am; your mileage, as ever, may vary).
  • Don’t Keep ‘Em Crossed: Or, perhaps more helpfully, “A really good takedown of a recent campaign in the UK aimed at encouraging more women to have cervical screenings and why it’s depressing, reductive, sexist claptrap” – this, by Debbie Cameron, is both a good dissection of why the campaign doesn’t work, and more generally of an advermarketingpr environment in which it’s still possible for work like this to get signed off.
  • Driverless Cars Stress Cities: The past month or so’s news from the US, where various driverless car firms have seen their licenses to operate cabs been either removed entirely or seriously curtailed, has suggested that the age of the self-driving car is still a little way away. This piece is a really interesting look at all the other, unexpected ways in which cars without drivers mess with the functioning of urban environments as they are currently designed, and is a generally useful reminder that it’s rarely, if ever, possible to fully predict and model the impact of new products or systems on behaviours. The point about not being able to communicate with the cars, for example, in the same way one driver might signal to another with hand gestures or nods, had literally never occurred to me (which, fine, is probably a side-effect of my being a non-driver and a moron, but).
  • China’s Mosque Crackdown: An excellent bit of reporting by the FT, which used satellite imagery of China and image analysis software to determine that a significant number of mosques across the country have ceased to exist over the past decade or so as part of the country’s quiet policy of attempting to ‘sinify’ Islam (and, one might argue, effectively persecute the country’s Muslim population) – this is a really good article which uses dataviz and scrollytelling (sorry) to powerful effect.
  • Summer England’s TikTok Romcom: Another one for the ‘every platform eventually gets the same content and ‘innovations’ as all the platforms that preceded it’ file, this – Summer England is a character on TikTok who over the course of the year has been telling a long, first person, scripted-but-designed-to-look-real story of her romantic entanglement with her hot neighbour, using all the now-traditional TikTok tricks and tells, but doing so in a way that’s reminiscent of old school early YouTube fictions like LonelyGirl15; I am slightly surprised that there’s not more of this sort of stuff, but I imagine that, in much the same way that literally EVERYONE working in TV for about 6 years in the mid-2010s had by law to reference Skam in every single conversation about new formats ever, we are about to enter an era in which every single production company will be thinking ‘so what’s our fictional diary TikTok show, then?’.
  • Cookie Monster’s Cookies: I did not know until this week that I wanted to read a thousand-odd words about exactly how the cookies that Sesame Street’s Cookie Monster devours are made, and yet it turns out that I really, really did. I think it’s impossible to write ANYTHING about Sesame Street without it being basically entirely charming and adorable, and this is no exception.
  • Banal Utopias: A brilliant article in Vittles, exploring the history and evolution of the food available at the UK’s motorway services – which, I concede, doesn’t necessarily sound promising but really is properly interesting. No, really, look!: “The source of the very British fascination with MSAs is, according to Randall a feeling of anonymity that can be experienced when driving: ‘[At the service station] you can walk around tired and hungry and that’s all OK, because you’re surrounded by strangers on the outskirts of an obscure village that you’ve otherwise never heard of. It might as well be a different planet,’ he says. This sense of dislocation has been described by the anthropologist Marc Augé as ‘the emptying of the consciousness [and an] ordeal of solitude’ in his theory of ‘non-places’ – transitory yet somehow alluring spaces, like motorways and airports, where people move en masse through a series of efficient transactions, optimised by turbo-capitalism. In our collective experience, the separate province of the motorway is distinct from real places, and provokes the widely held fascination that comes with being in a ‘banal utopia’, as Augé suggests.”
  • London’s Mansion Blocks: Specifically, the design of London’s mansion blocks, how they came to exist and the social history behind them – I’ve personally always found there to be something intensely, weirdly, almost-frighteningly miserable about these buildings whenever I’ve stayed in them (something to do with the near-total absence of natural light in certain designs), but anyone who’s lived in the city and who’s walked around, say, Marylebone or Edgware Road will recognise the designs and the aesthetic at play here.
  • The Frog That Couldn’t Jump: This is a fascinating account of the author’s stint living in North Korea and working as state-approved writer and creator of party-sanctioned cultural materials – honestly, this is SO interesting: “Since its founding, North Korea has always had an elaborate bureaucracy for artistic production organized within the Korean Workers Party’s Agitation and Propaganda Department. This framework was set up in emulation of the Soviet system of artistic production under Stalin. Over time, this artistic bureaucracy has been increasingly adapted to promote the cult of personality surrounding the first leader Kim Il Sung and his descendants. Among the many cultural products designed to promote the regime, one of the most important is literature. Aspiring writers in North Korea must register with the Korean Writers’ Union and participate in annual writing workshops. The KWU has offices in every province in the country. KWU editors evaluate each work on its ideological merits before allowing its publication in one of the Party’s own literary journals. There are particularly strict rules regarding how the leaders and the Party may be depicted in literature. A writer’s life is highly competitive. Literary success means becoming a “professional revolutionary” with lots of perks: a three-month “creativity leave” every year, permission to travel freely around the country, and special housing privileges. Kim Ju-sŏng was one such aspiring writer. A zainichi (Japan-born ethnic Korean), he “returned” to North Korea in 1976 at age 16 as part of a wave of emigration encouraged by pro-North Korean groups in Japan and lived in the country for 28 years before defecting to South Korea. The zainichi returnees were an important propaganda tool as well as a source of income and foreign technology for the North Korean regime. Due to their foreign connections they enjoyed a relatively higher standard of living, but they also faced suspicion from the regime and prejudice from ordinary North Koreans.” This feels like a film waiting to be made.
  • Vegetation: Another week, another essay from the increasingly-essential Dirt Magazine; this is by Evan Grillon and it’s all about his heart operation and what it feels like being confronted VERY HARD by your own mortality, and being sick, and contemplating death, and helplines and grief and trauma and, I promise, it is SUPERB and nowhere near as miserable or horrid as the selection of terms I’ve chosen to pull out as descriptors might make it sound. ““Things are in the saddle, and ride mankind,” wrote Emerson. What can a person do about their fear but turn to face it and praise the mystery at the bottom of every fear? I say what I am afraid of so I may, if not move past it, live beside the fear: I am afraid of hemorrhages, hematomas, heart infections. I am afraid of sudden death, of slumping over in the supermarket line while holding a bouquet of vegetables, I am afraid of a humiliating death: an aneurysm dissecting while on top of a lover, slipping on wet stairs and hitting my head. I am afraid of flossing too aggressively. I am afraid that I will die without telling the people who I love what is really on my mind. I wake up sometimes, late at night, to the wailing of sirens, only to find that familiar ticking prevails when the sirens subside.”
  • Last Week at Marienbad: I confess to really not having enjoyed Lauren Oyler’s novel, but this essay in Granta, in which she and her partner take a visit to Marienbad, partly in homage to the 60s arthouse film ‘Last Year at Marienbad’ and partly to take the waters – it is very sharply observed, and very funny, and not-entirely-unreminiscent of Patricia Lockwood which is pretty much the highest recommendation I can give it tbh.
  • Ice Cream, Alone And With Others: Our final longread of the week is this beautiful series of vignettes from a life, whose unifying theme is icecream. I think this is lovely, and I hope you do too.

By Maria Siorba


Webcurios 24/11/23

Reading Time: 30 minutes


Of course, if you’re in North America right now you’ll already be in the middle of an extended period of having a bad time with people you don’t like who you’re nevertheless compelled to spend time with by accidents of birth, but for the rest of us we’re into the FINAL COUNTDOWN to the festive season and that weird period of time when everyone loses the ability to imagine that life will continue after the holidays (I feel the whole November/December period of work is the real-life embodiment of the sowing/reaping meme, basically).

Effectively what I’m saying is that you’re entirely-entitled to down tools from hereon out – noone’s going to notice, and according to Rishi the economy’s going really well ACTUALLY and so we can probably all rely on things just sort of magically picking up next year…so click ALL the links in this week’s issue because, honestly, who the fcuk cares anyway?

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and you have my permission to open the Bailey’s and drink so much that you see God.

By Seth Becker

(images as ever via TIH)



  • Diesel Vert: Or is it ‘Diesel Metamorph’? The homepage and url say ‘vert’, the hoverover on the tab says metamorph…but, fundamentally, it doesn’t matter either way because (get ready everyone) WE’RE BACK IN THE METAVERSE! Yes, that’s right, 2022’s wasted marketing budgets keep cropping up here in the wild future that is the fag-end of 2023 – will this be the one that finally persuades me of the compelling benefits of branded activations in poorly-rendered virtual environments? Er, no – but I will concede that this is by FAR the shiniest bit of metaversal w4nk I’ve seen so far, and I was genuinely impressed by the CG and animation on display here. Diesel Vert is…oh, look, I don’t know, there’s some absolute hokum up front about some sort of ANCIENT PEOPLE who HARNESSED THE POWER OF TIME and who we MUST HELP (but…why? Who are they? And, honestly, why were they fcuking with time? Did they not know to leave well enough alone? And if I help them, will they have learned their lesson or will they simply start again with the ‘harnessing the power of time’ fcukery that got them into this mess in the first place? There’s a lack of detail here, is what I’m saying), but the ‘interactive’ portion of this literally involves guiding your (admittedly nicely-rendered) little avatar through a series of (equally-nicely-rendered) environments, occasionally pressing ‘E’ in order to get an ANCIENT PERSON to move you from one bit of scenery to another. And, well, that’s it – you do this a few times and then the website tells you to buy a pretty nondescript-looking watch, and you’re left with the sort of generally sad and empty feeling that everyone involved in the project would probably have been better off just spending some more time with people they loved than making this utterly-pointless bit of marketingw4nk. Still, it really is VERY PRETTY, so there’s that.
  • Atmospheric Agency: HELLO ADVERMARKETINGPRDRONES! Do any of you happen to work for McCann? If so, this one is firmly aimed at YOU – or rather, the people within your organisation who make the decisions about what clients are ethical to work, and who are apparently currently considering pitching for the Saudi Aramco business. Atmospheric Agency is a spoof ad firm website, presenting a firm that is PROUD of its work for the world’s oil and gas giants and which has been put together by campaign organisation Clean Creatives, presumably in the hope that it will do the rounds of the world’s adland creatives who will feel TERRIBLE about the clients that their paymasters work for and protest or quit or something. I’m slightly conflicted about this – on the one hand, I am a big fan of internal rebellion about stuff like this, and of staff making their voices heard about what a business should and shouldn’t do for money; on the other, I’ve been writing about this sort of stuff for over 10 years now, and not once have I ever seen one of these sorts of spoof campaigns achieve any sort of cut-through or impact whatsoever. Still, if you happen to work at McCann (or one of the other agencies pitching the Aramco business) – or know anyone who does, who you want to gently bully into making some sort of PRINCIPLED STAND – then you might enjoy this; if nothing else, the ‘creative ideas’ in the spoof pitch deck on the site are literally no worse than some of the things I have heard in real-life PR brainstorms.
  • Music League: Music is wonderful, glorious, emotional, HUMAN stuff – so what better way to celebrate and enjoy it than by reducing it to a two-dimensional means of accruing and flexing social capital? Welcome to Music League, in which you compete with a bunch of friends in music-themed challenge rounds – basically the game gives you all a bunch of prompts (“the happiest song in the world”, “clear the dancefloor”, “song most likely to cause sudden, ruinous, mid-coital impotence”, that sort of thing) and each player can submit a track in response – you all get to listen to the submitted songs, chat about them and vote on which is the ‘best’ response to the challenge prompt. This goes on over a number of rounds until someone is declared THE WINNER and…well, that’s it, unless you decide to craft some sort of elaborate crown out of cardboard and tinfoil and award it at some sort of regular presentation ceremony, or you take the additional step of instituting running league tables with relegation from the friendship group as a penalty for poor performance, but I figure this could be fun with the right group of people, and you might too.
  • Galerie: I think we’re all in agreement that the age of streaming and infinite, on-demand entertainments hasn’t quite worked out in the way in which the idea was sold to us back in the late-90s/early-00s. “Everything will be online!”, they said, “and you’ll have low-latency, high-bandwidtch connections that will enable you to seamlessly stream the infinite quantity of digitised media from any point in history direct into your eyeballs at the push of a button!”. And to an extent they were right, but THEY (the b4stards) forgot to mention the fragmented streaming landscape, and subscription fees, and, most irritatingly of all, that the complicated mess of international media rights, coupled with the rapacious and insatiable nature of, well, CAPITALISM, would mean that if you want to watch anything other than mainstream content from the past 40 years or so then you are basically fcuked. Still, there are smaller streaming services available that attempt to offer a slightly more curated selection of films than Netflix et al – the latest of these is Galerie, billing itself as ‘a new type of film club’, which comes from a bunch of FAMOUS PEOPLE (Ethan Hawke! Maggie Gyllenhall! Wes Anderson!) and which, for $10 a month, will offer you essays and film screenings and exclusive content and – I presume you’ll also get a selection of actual films you can watch, otherwise it feels like something of an unsatisfying film club. Frankly details as to what EXACTLY you get for your money are sketchier than I’d like, but I suppose they’re hoping that the star power of ETHAN AND MAGGIE AND WES will get people paying up regardless.
  • The Museum of Menstruation: Before the Vagina Museum became an online cause celebre and got its permanent home in East London there was the Museum of Menstruation, a website created and maintained by one Harry Finlay – there was apparently also a physical version of the museum which existed, er, in Harry’s house (details on exhibits and visiting protocols are a bit sketchy, which, honestly, is a shame, as I have QUESTIONS), but the main bulk of his work is preserved on this site, which appears largely-unchanged since its early web heyday. There is a LOT of content on here, from a section of ‘famous women in ads for menstrual products’ to some really detailed information on how past cultures related to the concept of menstruation, but I really encourage you just to click and spelunk around and generally just enjoy the vibe of the site – and, if you do nothing else, PLEASE click here and read the ‘About’ page which, honestly, I think could possibly inspire a book or short film in itself.
  • The Natural Landscape Photography Awards 2023: Would you like to see some glorious photographs of our beautiful, dying planet? OF COURSE YOU WOULD! I am very much a sucker for this sort of environmental photography in which physical geography attains a sort of abstract quality; there are some images in here that remind me of paisley, almost, in terms of the way they use colour and geometry. My personal favourites here are the frankly ridiculous shots of burning lava from the Fagradalsfjall volcano, but, as ever, these are all rather wonderful.
  • Hope Sogni: ‘Football’ can probably be placed on the long list of ‘things which are conceptually good but which are increasingly being rendered bad by the actions of a small group of men’ – which is why this campaign exists. Hope Sogni is a fictional woman presenting her vision for the beautiful game – designed to be a contrast to the testosterone-y posturing of current FIFA President Gianni Infantino who’s in semi-dictatorial charge of the sport’s governing body for at least another 3.5 years. You can read a bit more about the campaign in this article, but the actual execution…oh, look, I don’t want to sh1t on poor Hope Sogni, but it’s all built on a platform called Twise which basically cobbles together a sub-GPT LLM and an Elevenlabs-esque voice model, and…it doesn’t really work to be honest. There’s meant to be the option to ‘talk’ to Hope using voice recognition, but the audio detection’s seemingly a bit iffy which means you’re effectively reduced to having a conversation with a chatbot which is obsessed with telling you about the importance of diversity in promoting the beautiful game. Which, you know, I agree with, but doesn’t feel like it needed an AI bot to communicate. This has all the hallmarks of an idea that smacked hard against the realities of TIME and BUDGET, which is something of a shame – it does, though, present a good argument as to why you shouldn’t do shonky ‘AI’ stuff as, well, it’s just a bit sad and disappointing.
  • The Information Is Beautiful Awards 2023: Want to see the year’s best examples of infoviz work, as selected by David McCandless and team? OF COURSE YOU DO! So many wonderful bits of design and visualisation here – many of which I’d seen over the course of the year, but the vast majority of which were entirely new to me. From pure dataviz to design to interactive webwork, the range of styles and techniques here is dizzying – my main takeaway was how much I want one of the Jesus Christ Superstar posters in my flat.
  • The Pudding Cup: I saw another one of those ‘wow the web has gotten really boring, what happened to websites, we used to have websites?’ Tweets yesterday doing numbers – approximately the seventh variant of that sentiment I’ve seen expressed in semi-viral terms over the past few months. On the one hand, I am sort-of glad that we’re seeing the pendulum of digital culture swing back towards the vague idea of ‘small and handmade and personal and fun’ as worth pursuing; on the other, HOW CAN YOU BE SO BLIND AND LAZY AND BOVINE AS TO THINK AND THEN TYPE SOMETHING LIKE THAT? THE WEB IS FULL OF BOUNDLESS CREATIVITY AND MAKING AND DOING AND WEIRD, MAD, HUMAN MESS! DO YOU NOT READ WEB CURIOS, YOU TOTAL CNUT?!?!? Ahem. Anyway, that’s by way of increasingly-spittle-flecked preamble to the sixth Pudding Cup (run by the people at Web Curios favourite The Pudding), which exists to celebrate non-commercial projects that can be described as ‘visual or data-driven’ – they are currently accepting entries, so if you have a site that fits the bill that you’d like to nominate then you should go right ahead and do just that.
  • Art Terms:Via Jared, an excellent resource from MOMA in NYC – ALL OF THE ART WORLD TERMS presented in helpful alphabetical order. Never again need you be lost for a definintion of Dadaism – instead, you’ll be peppering your conversation with references to the Harlem Renaissance and the Fluxus movement like some sort of awful gallerina (don’t, though, attempt the beret; NEVER attempt the beret).
  • FPV Cheffing: Fallow is a restaurant in the expensive London district of St James’ (it’s just round the corner from the Ritz, to give you an idea), and it’s pretty eye-bleedingly expensive (and, in case you care – which, fine, you don’t – it’s 100% not worth the money) and for a while now its kitchen has been doing a marketing gimmick where they chuck first-person video of its chefs during service. Someone straps a GoPro to their brow and records an hour or so of them, I don’t know, working the sauces station, or worrying at celeriac (I am yet to see anyone actually worrying at celeriacm, fyi). This is REALLY interesting for anyone who enjoys cooking and has a passing interest in the pro end of the talent spectrum – you will pick up some decent technical tips from this, and it’s pretty entertaining (if, again, you REALLY like cooking), but the main takeaway is that the reason everything tastes so nice in restaurants is the fact that it’s cooked in approximately a pack of butter per dish.
  • Gehry: Oh this is SO SO GOOD – a wonderful bit of scrollytelling (sorry) from Getty here, telling the story of the Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall in LA, from design to construction, accompanied by some wonderful music and access to all sorts of footage and archive material to tell the story. Gehry’s style is almost familiar now, so it’s nice to be reminded of quite how architecturally bold he was – this is such a glorious piece of multimedia storytelling and design (and I don’t care how old the term ‘multimedia’ makes me sound). BONUS SCROLLYTELLING: this piece about the James Webb telescope in the New York Times is also rather lovely and contains lots of gloriously-violet images of the cosmos.
  • BigRat: Yes, this is a single-page website. Yes, that page hosts only a single image. But WHAT an image. And what a big rat!

By Katrien de Blauwer



  • The Fine Water Academy: A few years ago I featured a longread in Curios all about the very specific and rarefied world of the water sommellier and the luxe H20 market – now I am proud to present to you the world’s PREMIERE organisation for the accreditation and recognition of aquatic expertise! The Fine Water Academy is a VERY SERIOUS institution, consisting of two water experts who are willing to share their hard-won expertise on all things watery…for a price. “We have been asked many times in the past to share our knowledge and excitement about Fine Waters. We have both done this through all possible media channels, from tastings to seminars, speeches and training. We both have an extensive online presence and knowledge base as well as and a large audience. The Fine Water Academy LMS (Learning Management System) will now allow us to do this in a structured way and educate and certify the next generation of Water Sommeliers and train HORECA for a proper water service. Anyone. Anywhere. Anytime.” Leaving aside the…slightly sinister vibe given off by the last three words there, and the frankly-risible concept of a somehow-bespoke ‘learning management system’ for, er, what water tastes like, this all seems like good, clean fun – for just $120 you can take their ‘Fine Water 101’ class, while a Water Service Certification is just a shade under $500. Prices to get certified as a Fine Water Sommelier (what do they wear instead of the grapes, do you think? A small silver water molecule?) are on application only, but, frankly, WHAT PRICE THAT SORT OF EXPERTISE?!?!
  • The Social Justice Kittens Calendar 2024:I don’t know about you, but it doesn’t feel to me as though the festive season has really started until I see the first mention of the Social Justice Kittens calendar for the coming year – 2024’s selection of cats saying preposterous things is a classic bunch, and I am already looking forward to enjoying next December alongside a sad-eyed kitten bearing the legend: “I exist in the space beyond your expectations. My queerness threatens your hierarchies”.
  • Dear AI: A personal, small, modern bugbear of mine – the death of epistolary correspondence. I don’t mean physical letters – there is literally noone left alive under the age of 50 with hands strong enough to compose more than approximately three lines of cursive, based on my own personal (painful) experiences last time I was forced to write anything in longhand – but even just the habit of long, rambling, one-side-then-the-other email chats has sort of died down. Or maybe I’m just a really fcuking boring correspondent, I don’t know (but if you *do* know, please don’t tell me). Anyway, if you need to write someone a letter or ‘proper’ missive, one that requires you to use all the letters and none of the emoji and to write in full sentences, then why not…outsource that to AI! Obviously this is a useless service that is just a GPT addon and which won’t exist in a few months’ time, but I found quite a few things to be sad about and hate here which I want to share with you because, well, that’s what I do.  The idea that you can ‘add a personal touch’ by integrating the recipient’s social channels into the response is SUCH a risibly bad and clunky idea – you just know that you’ll end up with something like “I find you so inspiring, like that post you made on Instagram about flowers!” – but the real, proper ‘oh god this really is so bleak’ moment came when I looked down the page at their proposed ‘coming soon’ features and discovered the promise of ‘Fully Automated Correspondence’, described as “Our AI agent learns who and what is meaningful to you and preemptively writes and sends letters without you having to lift a finger. So you can focus on what’s important to you.” So, er, WHAT IS THE POINT OF ME, THEN?! Does anyone really *want* a future in which The Machine does all the heavy lifting of, you know, communicating with the other people in one’s life? Eh? Oh, ok, fine.
  • TIME’s Top 100 Photos of 2023: TIME Magazine’s annual roundup of the best photojournalism from the past twelve months – these selections are always rather wonderful (if quite dizzying), and the range and breadth of topics and subjects covered this year is no exception. There’s a predictable quantity of human suffering on display – you may have heard, there are some wars going on – but many of the best shots are smaller and quieter; grapefruits split from crates in an earthquake’s aftermath, people watching Pride in New York, bulldozers moving in to level a German town…being alive is, mostly, maddening and awful and confusing and a bit scary, and these images capture all of that.
  • X100: Do you feel that there’s something holding you back from achieving your personal fitness goals? Is that something…COUNTING???? Well FEAR NOT, as x100 is here to help – never again need your prsuit of MASSIVE GAINS be stymied by pesky contiguous numbers! X100 is an app which, er, counts your reps – set it up so your workout station is within your phone camera’s field of vision, tell it how many lifts or squats or prolapses (can you tell I don’t gym?) you want to achieve and then OFF YOU GO, focusing on your posture and your technique and on not tearing anything and letting The Machine take care of the tricky business of remembering what comes after ‘17’.
  • Code For Text: Yes, ok, that’s not technically what this is called, but it doesn’t seem to have a proper name and it’s quite hard to describe and…you don’t care, do you? You just want me to get on and tell you what the fcuk this is, and stop with the tedious stream of consciousness authorial schtick? OH OK FINE. This is a link to a code project which basically exists to let you run analysis on words – to quote the project, it’s “a set of tools and standards -to mess with text. like a crowbar, for words. pull a chunk out- and get something back from your text.” So this will let you easily sort the adjectives or verbs from a corpus, say, or isolate sentences of particular length, or all sorts of other clever things which would otherwise be tricky or time-consuming – and none of which, fine, I can think of any practical NEED for, but I really like the idea of being able to have a setting on a website which (for example) removes all the adjectives at a click, to give you the most pared-back explanatory experience, say (actually that’s not a wholly terrible idea for a particular sort of company). If you do anything that involves wordwrangling then you might find this curious and vaguely-inspiring.
  • Italian Poetry: Via Giuseppe, Italian Poetry is a lovely little project by a MYSTERIOUS PERSON WHO LIKES POEMS and which self-describes as “my answer to the question: “If I were an English speaker trying to get an idea of how Italian poetry sounds, what tool would I like to have?” Well, I would like first of all to hear the poems recited out loud. Then I’d like an easy way to go back and forth between English and Italian without opening a dictionary. Also useful: some context on the choice of vocabulary, and maybe a guide to the most salient technical aspects of the Italian language.” The site presents a selection of poems which you can listen to and read along with – the words are highlighted as they’re spoken, making this helpful not only for poetry enthusiasts but also for anyone learning Italian and wanting help with listening comprehension or pronunciation – and the site’s seemingly updated regularly with new verse; this really is rather lovely.
  • Eternal Sunset: This is a nice idea which almost feels like it could be bigger – the website’s basic premise is that whenever you log on it will display a livestream of a sunset happening somewhere in the world (at the time of writing I’m enjoying a slightly-underwhelming one over Taipei, albeit one with a very pleasant lounge jazz soundtrack), but I would quite like to see this jazzed up slightly and, I don’t know, used as a premise for a wall in a bar or a meeting room or something. In fact, what this reminds me of most is an exhibition I saw at MOMA in San Francisco in about 2011 which pulled images of sunsets from Flickr – GOD I AM OLD. Anyway, this is pleasing and who doesn’t like a sunset? NO FCUKER, etc! This came via perennially-interesting Nag, btw.
  • Choose Your Own Threadventure: One of the curious things of having been A Weirdo Who Spends Far More Time Than Is Healthy Online for more than a decade now is that I am now starting to see past internet trends coming round for the third or fourth time (and this is one of the many, many reasons why I don’t want to live until I’m 100+ – can you imagine how incredibly fcuking tedious it must be watching the same arguments and conversations and trends and themes come back over and over and over again? It’s…it’s almost like we’re moronic hairless apes who will never learn!) – I’ve recently seen a spate of pieces talking about the TREND for old influencers on TikTok, just like we did on Insta in about 2012, and moral panics over THE KIDS and social media, just like we’ve been doing…well, annually, since about 2006 tbh, and here we have someone doing a Choose Your Own Adventure game… on Threads! Just like what we used to do on Twitter in 2015! And on YouTube in 2009 (RIP annotations)! Anyway, this works in exactly the same way as they did on Twitter, and it’s a gentle 5 minute timewaster with nice little graphics to accompany it, and if you’re in the invidious position of having to be in charge of some awful company’s pointless Threads presence then here’s an idea you can lob at your paymasters in order to maybe leaven the dreadful tedium of your professional existence for a few seconds.
  • The Ship Handling and Research Training Centre: I don’t mean to laugh at this – I don’t, really – and this is obviously no particular shade on Poland as I imagine that actually this is a pretty standard way of training ship’s captains in-waiting about the basics of maritime safety and seafaring, and I appreciate that this may still be the best way of doing this sort of educative work…but, also, just take a moment to imagine what you THINK a nation’s centre for training its future naval captains might be…are you imagining? ARE YOU? Good. Now click the link, Now click around the site. Now…now try not to laugh as you understand the scale at which this is all operating at. Honestly, I have cried actual tears of laughter every time I’ve clicked on this.
  • Nights on Earth: This is SUCH a great website, and is definitely worth bookmarking if you’re the sort of person who likes craning their neck to look at the sky at night – Nights On Earth is a calendar website which, based on where it thinks you are, will give you a reasonable idea of what sorts of things you might expect to see in the firmament (presuming you’re living somewhere without light pollution, or clouds). If nothing else it’s worth looking at before you go on holiday – you’d be surprised (or maybe you wouldn’t, I don’t know you or indeed your level of familiarity with astrology, who ARE you?) at the frequency with which visible meteor showers happen in parts of the world that aren’t the UK (although apparently we might be able to see shooting stars in London on Tuesday, so shut my face).
  • Closer: With the holiday season coming up, those of you whose relatives aren’t all mostly dead will likely be spending it with family – if you’re after a game to play which might BRING YOU CLOSER and HELP YOU LEARN AND GROW then, well, you’re a very different sort of person to me and we probably wouldn’t really get on, but, also, you might like Closer, a card game which is designed to, er, bring its participants closer (DO YOU SEE?) via the medium of asking everyone playing to share personal stories based on prompts and themes suggested by the cards – players vote on which stories were ‘best’ to add a small element of competition to the whole affair, but as far as I can tell this is mainly about giving everyone an opportunity to share stories and REFLECT and stuff like that. I would imagine that the likely appeal of this will be split pretty much along national lines, with North Americans (and frankly most of the rest of the world) approaching this with healthy interest, and the English instead thinking ‘the only way I could possibly countenance playing this is if I were very drunk, and if that happened it would inevitably end in murder or divorce’, but see what you think.
  • Retro: YES I KNOW NOONE WANTS ANOTHER PHOTO SHARING APP…but, in its defence, I think Retro looks reasonably interesting. As far as I can tell, its particular gimmick is that it encourages you to upload photos into weekly albums which you can share with friends and family – it’s designed to be a known-network rather than a ‘strangers and the world’ platform, and there’s something rather nice about the idea of using it as a small, shared visual diary and a light-touch way of keeping in touch. Admittedly there’s little here that you couldn’t probably also achieve with a bunch of other existing apps but, well, I quite like the feel of this for reasons I can’t quite articulate.
  • Plotthread: You know the ‘Wall’ game from Only Connect? Or, for the arrivistes among you, the NYT’s daily ‘Connections’ game? Well it’s that, but for films – you have 16 films each day and you need to group them by common plot thread. Given my previously-chronicled lack of interest in cinema this is basically the quiz equivalent of quantum physics for me, but you may have more success.
  • DoodleRiddle: This is an interesting idea – the game here is to draw something, anything, which is then compared against what that day’s target object is. How much does The Machine think the thing you have drawn looks like the thing it wants you to draw, and can you use that information to get closer to drawing what it wants you too? Which, dear Christ, is a truly appalling attempt at explaining how the fcuk this works. Sorry. You’ll just have to click the link and play – it’s fun, promise, although it’s also totally fcuking impossible if you ask me.
  • The Roottrees Are Dead: Ooh, this is fun – and has a slight whiff of cult 90s police procedural videogame (and covert recruiting device for the LAPD) Police Quest for good measure. In The Roottrees Are Dead, you play as a detective investigating the demise of the titular family – your job is to examine the evidence, do some light sleuthing and piece together the pieces of the mystery to discover what happened. “The year is 1998. A private jet belonging to the Roottree Corporation has crashed. On it were The Roottree Sisters and their parents. Combined, they were worth over a billion dollars. Now, due to the eccentricities of their great, great grandfather, Elias their money must be redistributed to the rest of the family. But who’s actually a BLOOD RELATIVE? That’s where you come in. Armed only with the power of your mighty dial-up modem, you’ll scour for photos, books, articles, and other evidence. Then, you’ll make connections and deductions based on the family relationships you uncover. With every spot on the tree you fill in correctly the names and photos left in your possession will have fewer and fewer places to go, but the evidence will also be harder and more obscure to find.” This really is very good indeed, and suprisingly involved – I won’t say it’s hard, exactly, but I had to think more than I have had to do in most white collar desk jobs I’ve ever had.
  • A Bull In A China Shop: You are a bull, You have 20s to smash as much crockery as you can. BULL SMASH!
  • Dr Ludwig and the Devil: The winner of this year’s Interactive Fiction Contest (which I seem to have unaccountably missed, FFS Matt!) is this charming and very funny text adventure in which you play Dr Ludwig who has, possibly unwisely, summoned the devil. “Join esteemed mad scientist Dr Ludwig as he faces the greatest challenge of his nefarious career: making a deal with the Devil and coming out on top. Research demonology! Read legal documents! Face off against the world’s least effective torch and pitchfork-wielding mob! All this and more!” This is excellent, and the amount of attention to detail alongside the quality of the writing make it a real gem, even if you’re not a particular fan of IF and text adventures as a rule.
  • Dreamcore 95: Finally this week, an idle clicker game of genuinely exceptional quality – it has a soundtrack! It has actual, light gameplay elements! It has penguins and dolphins and palm trees, and a genuinely-soothing vaporwave aesthetic! It’s basically a bit like a bath bomb for your brain, except with the added benefit of not smelling like the inside of Lush!

By Boris Pelcer




  • ArcX1000: I don’t tend to feature meme or ‘aesthetic’ accounts on here, but I will make an exception for this, partly because I just like the vibe and partly because of this specific image which speaks to me in ways I can’t adequately explain to you.
  • PaperMeister Hackney: The Insta feed of a bloke in Hackney who has, apparently, the largest rolling paper collection known to man. Why? I HAVE NO FCUKING IDEA WHY NOT ASK HIM? Lots of photos of obscure international rolling paper brands interspersed with unremarkable photography of Being A Young Man In Hackney makes this feel weirdly like a fashion lookbook, and I rather like it.


  • Logic Is Reality: My first year of undergraduate study were characterised largely by indolence and uncertainty – I did fcuk-all work, obviously, and I wasn’t entirely certain that I wanted to be at university anyway. My ambivalence was such that when I got to the end of the first year I decided that the fate of my entire degree rested on the result of my ‘Introduction to Formal Logic’ exam, a subject that I had…struggled with, and which I felt broadly embodied my struggle to really give a fcuk about what I was meant to be there to study. If I passed formal logic, I went on and did the second and third year of my degree; if I failed, I quit and moved to London to live with my Dad and seek my fortune (my dad, his wife and their family had not been informed of this decision, but obvs they would be thrilled). Results came out and it transpired that I had achieved the miserable, pathetic, lowest-possible pass of 40%, condemning me to two more years of rain-drenched academic mediocrity and depriving London of my presence for a while longer (London, it turns out, could not have given less of a sh1t either way). Which is by way of long, unasked for and entirely-uninteresting preamble to this excellent article which neatly sets out why logic is THE FUNDAMENTAL BUILDING BLOCKS OF EVERYTHING and which I really do recommend to anyone who’s not already familiar with the field. Despite the fact that this is an area of thinking which is, if I’m honest, far too close in nature to maths for me to ever feel comfortable with it, and despite my p1ss-poor exam performance, I’ve found what little logic I have retained immensely useful in life – if nothing else, in an age in which so much of what we experience is dgitally mediated it feels sort-of important to get a vague handle on the rules that underpin every single aspect of ‘digital life’ and without which you wouldn’t be reading these words right now.
  • The OpenAI Thing: In a year which has already been a bit of a nightmare from the point of view of ‘attempting to keep up with tech news’, last weekend was very much a new nadir – not least because it suggested that as a culture we have learned the sum total of fcuk all lessons from the past couple of decades of ‘treating people who have earned a lot of money in tech as though they are visionary gods who have the secrets of the universe at their fingertips and following their every move and utterance with the same degree of rapt revenance as was once reserved for the scrying of entrails’. I personally am singularly uninterested in the boardroom power struggles at the top of OpenAI, but if you really want a one-stop-overview of EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENS and WHAT IT ALL MEANS (at least up to about 22 November) then you could do worse than read this very readable summary by Paris Marx which cocks a reasonable snook at the whole thing, while neatly explaining why this is probably very good news for Microsoft and anyone who’s bullish on AI.
  • The Billionaire Problem: On the one hand, an article whose central premises are ‘hang on, maybe it’s not strictly necessary for any single individual to amass a quantity of wealth so vast it could never be spent’ and ‘hm, maybe being that rich does not-generally-wonderful things to people in terms of empathy’ probably doesn’y really need to be written in the here and now (although on reflection the fact that despite…well, despite EVERYTHING there are still people caping for the plutocrat class perhaps suggests that the message could do with reinforcing; on the other, this is a readable (if occasionally a *touch* precious in tone) overview of all the reasons why being a billionaire is BAD, written by Geoff Mulgan who has known a few and therefore HAS OPINIONS.
  • The TikTok Osama Thing: Did TikTok send Osama Bin Laden’s 2002 ‘Letter To America’ viral among teens? No, not really, but that didn’t stop that angle being reported all over the place for about 48h, thereby neatly Streisand-ing the issue into the popular consciousness and ensuring that Bin Laden was current again for the first time since he got shot a few years back. This link is to Ryan at Garbage Day who devoted a whole edition to investigating how ‘viral’ the whole thing ever got on TikTok – the main point of this, to my mind at least, is less the general ‘the media makes a thing on TikTok seem far bigger than it is in pursuit of a story’ and more the deeper ‘it is literally impossible to have any idea any more what anyone is watching or listening to, or where they are getting their news, or what they are being told is true, or by whom, or why, and frankly that feels quite unsettling in a way that feels weirdly new’.
  • Del Harvey Speaks: Del Harvey was Head of Trust and Safety at Twitter up until a few years ago – this is her first interview since she left the post, and it’s a great read for anyone interested in the difficult, important and far-from-decided questions around platform moderation and ‘free speech’ and the boring, technical, practical ways in which you try and manage the behaviour of millions of people in a way that balances rights and responsibilities…I found this fascinating, and it made me really really wish that I had worked with or for the interviewee (or, frankly, just anyone that smart).
  • The Cameras Are Too Good: On the very modern, very first world problem of smartphone cameras now basically being TOO GOOD, and the fact that they basically now give every single one of us the same kick in the metaphorical self-esteem gonads experienced by famouses when they saw themselves in HD for the first time. Interesting partly because it’s relatable – we all love relatable content, right kids?! – and partly because it feels like this is a new but emergent category of ‘problem’ where the increased speed or fidelity or frictionlessness of products or services throws up unexpected wrinkles in the user experience.
  • The Machine Killer: Or, “How AI Coming To Search Is Going To Fcuk Journalism”, specifically games journalism per this article, but, frankly, lots of other bits of it as well. This is a really good piece, mainly because it takes the time to talk through the logical steps of what ‘LLM-enabled search results’ means for the publishing industry as it’s currently set up and why it’s bad – and why that means a necessary move towards subscription models, a trend which I think we can all agree is firmly in-train thanks to 404 Media, Second Wind and the rest.
  • The Haunting of Modern China: A beautiful bit of writing about the changing way in which urban and rural populations in China deal with the concept of ghosts and the supernatural, and how an increasingly-technological and sanitised and isolated style of urban life is leading to a rise in superstitious beliefs and interest in the paranormal amongst city dwellers; there’s something ghostly about the piece itself, in places.
  • The Year in TikTok Drama: I’m including this mainly as a) who doesn’t love a little bit of gossip? This is literally like finding a copy of ‘Closer’ or ‘Chat’ on the train and reading it – you don’t know who anyone is, fine, or why they have all chosen to buy the same face from the plastic surgeon, but for the 15 minutes you’re reading you are WHOLLY INVESTED in whether or not Kayrin is going to give Andrey another chance; and b) because it was a nice reminder that however weird and pointless and exhausting and dispiriting your job may be, at least you’re not the person who has to spend their days and nights keeping up with the TikTok Industrial Beef Complex for a living, because DEAR GOD CAN YOU IMAGINE?
  • TikTok P1ssers: Callum Booth doing god’s work here, digging into the apparent (thankfully niche) trend that has seen men filming themselves on TikTok p1ssing absolutely EVERYWHERE. It’s fair to say that there are no great revelations here, but, well, it’s sort of compellingly-dreadful.
  • The Sound Of Your Voice: I think I first heard of the trend for using WhatsApp voicenotes as a means of communication in about 2014, in a piece about how it was taking off in Brazil – I recall thinking at the time that that sounded VILE, and nothing about the current state of the world, in which people think it absolutely fine to just leave you a three minute voicemail like it’s the most natural thing in the world and you don’t have better things to do with your life, has changed my mind. Except, well, there are some people who it’s obviously really nice to receive voice notes from, and certain tones and nuances of conversation that simply don’t get conveyed in text, and sometimes hearing someone’s voice is just *better*…this is a gorgeous article by Erica Berry about a friendship that exists solely as voicenotes, about how “In that contained space, floating in the digital world, I’m more able to be myself. It’s something about not being physically seen. Like asking someone to turn their head in the other direction when we sing.”
  • Click Pray Chat: Another piece from Dirt now (currently publishing some superb writing about digital/culture), this is a paean to Chatroulette and the beautiful, temporary, evanescent moments of connection forged between the bored, the drunk, the horny and the terminally-online in the pale blue glow of a 3am laptop screen.
  • The Strangest Gift Ideas of 2023: Leaving aside my personal sense of horror at a world in which we can simultaneously talk nervously and anxiously about our constant and repeated failure to hit climate change targets AND spend several months of the year encouraging the creation and eventual disposal of several million tonnes of plastic tat, there is always something pleasing about a good old list of ‘weird sht available to buy from obscure corners of the internet’, and this is no exception. Whilst obviously I am a joyless husk of a man who hates Christmas and basically just wants to hibernate until March, I can’t help but feel a small frisson of joy at the fact that it is apparently possible to buy ‘Heroin Smell’ online and apply it to someone’s suitcase to ensure that they have a VERY UNPLEASANT TIME at the next major airport they visit, or a small scale model of the naked torso of Jason Statham (with or without tattoos). This is both a GREAT list and a source of content for every single groupchat you’re in between now and Christmas Eve.
  • Can’t You Take A Joke: Jonathan Coe reviews A History of British Comedy by David Stubbs in the LRB, and in so doing takes the reader on a whistlestop tour of the postwar entertainment landscape in the UK, through the postwar vaudevillians to Ealing, to the Goons and Python and the alternative scene of the 80s and beyond –  this in particular made me fall into a short reverie to imagine what the current equivalent would be…it would be Gervais, wouldn’t it? “By the early 1980s, however, voting Conservative had become a more strident ideological statement than it had been during the previous decades. The Young Conservatives’ conference during the 1983 general election campaign offered the unappealing spectacle of Kenny Everett, wearing a pair of gigantic foam-rubber gloves, bounding on stage and shouting ‘Let’s bomb Russia!’ and ‘Let’s kick Michael Foot’s stick away!’” This is a bit parochially English, so apologies to all the people from other countries who will read this and, not unreasonably, wonder who the fcuk Eric Morecombe is and why they should care.
  • Bravocon: By way of redress and counterbalance, I don’t think there is ANYTHING more North American in this week’s Curios than this profile of Bravocon, a multi-day event in Vegas which exists to celebrate (and further monetise) the network of shows run by the Bravo TV Network which boasts the ‘Real Housewives Of…’shows and which seemingly exists as a sort of mad chardonnay-and-tweakments WWE of domestic kayfabe and inexplicable arguments and premium mediocre product endorsements. I confess to understanding about 7% of what is happening or who any of the people mentioned in this piece are, but it does feel rather zeitgeisty in terms of the whole ‘product and artist and audience and content, and the weird and increasingly symbiotic relationship between each of those elements in the world of parasocial fandom’.
  • The 56 Best/Worst Analogies Written by High School Students: Yes, yes, I know – you’re rolling your eyes at the prospect of a cutesy ‘kids say the funniest things!’ lineup, I can tell, but DO NOT BE SO QUICK TO JUDGE. These are BRILLIANT, and you will want to work at least one of these into a conversation before the end of the year.
  • Williamstown, Summer 2003: This is short – more a fragment or vignette than a fully-fledged story – but it is BEAUTIFUL. “We had famous on credit: Chris’s dad was on the TV show Chips, Katherine’s dad was on Law & Order, my dad was dead, six years, famously dead—rapt audience every time I told it.”
  • Patricia Lockwood Meets The Pope: It’s Lockwood, it’s superb, what do I need to say? So many wonderful lines, such wonderful STYLE, and, annoyingly, a pretty much perfect ratio of gags-to-profundity. Also, the closing line will change the way you think of the Pope’s face forever (or at least it will if you’re me).
  • The Hofmann Wobble: Our last longread of the week is possibly the best thing I’ve read all year – novel, article, whatever, this is just superb. I don’t think I have ever read anything by Ben Lerner that isn’t exceptional, and this is another practically-perfect piece of writing from someone who seems to never miss; I mean, look at this third sentence, the ‘wrongly’ just casually fcuking with you: “I remember, wrongly, that I was listening to a book on tape, a work by a prominent linguist, as I moved through the alien landscape, jagged formations of red rock towering against a cloudless sky.” This is about writing and information and truth and ‘truth’ and ideas and thinking and how language and words work, and contains the single best use of GPT-generated copy (or is it GPT-generated) I have yet seen. This is astonishingly, perfectly good, please read it.

By Lui Ferreyra


Webcurios 17/11/23

Reading Time: 36 minutes

Hello everyone! Hello! Normal service is once again resumed after last week’s minor, prose-free aberration – thanks for your patience and for the fact that the vast majority of you managed to resist the temptation to email me with a pithy ‘it was better without the words, you cnut’ message.

Anyway, I am once again in something of a rush due to the fact that I owe my girlfriend several hours of domestic labour and need to get my marigolds ready – while I accumulate cleaning products and worry about their effect on my delicate hands, why don’t YOU sit tight with this week’s selection of top-quality webspaff and click and read and smile and laugh and cry and wonder and hope, and generally enjoy the whole gamut of human emotion that I am slowly trying to eliminate from my life via the medium of persistent substance abuse?

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and you might well end up being Foreign Secretary of the UK if you hang around long enough (and if you went to Eton. And Oxford).

By Carla Sutera Sardo



  • The Wrong: We begin this week with one of those links where quite honestly I could just leave this here and go back to bed and feel that, broadly-speaking, I had  probably provided enough internet to be getting on with for the next seven days (but I am NOT doing that because of my now-legendary stakhanovtite dedication and the increasingly-worrying extent to which my self-worth is bound up in ‘spaffing out one of these every week’) – The Wrong Biennale is…well, it’s basically a digital arts festival that exists solely online, and contains a dizzying range of works by a host of artists (most of whom I confess to not having heard of before), and which has apparently been going for almost as long as Curios has, and now I am embarrassed that this has totally passed me by for a decade. OH WELL. “The Wrong Biennale is an independent, multicultural, decentralised and collaborative international art biennial founded in 2o13 by David Quiles Guilló, and organised by The Wrong Studio. The Wrong has grown to become a massive international community and a global reference in the art scene, bringing together curators, artists and institutions, online and offline, every two years, garnering praise from worldwide press, art community and public, and rendering institutional recognition and awards like SOIS Cultura 2o19 and the honorific mention by European Commission S+T+ARTS 2o2o prize. A melting pot for the established, the emerging and the underrepresented, to explore creativity and digital culture in a positive and constructive way, The Wrong showcases a wide range of cultures, styles, and mediums to a global audience, fostering a more inclusive and diverse digital art scene, and encouraging artistic growth and experimentation.” It’s not the *nicest* site to navigate, and if I’m being pernickety I might have preferred all the exhibits to exist on a single URL rather than throwing you around the web, but I suggest you just scroll down the homepage, pick a name that sounds interesting, click and just see where it takes you. There’s a LOT of odd stuff in here just waiting for you to stumble across it, from glitched-out vaporwave stuff to entire exhibits that exist solely on TOR – this really is a fascinating snapshot of The State of (Some) Digital Art in 2023.
  • NASA +:. This is basically ‘NASA TV’ – an online hub for all the space agency’s videos and livestreams, and a lovely place to hang out online when you want to once again use the infinite majesty of the cosmos as a distraction from the somewhat-more-pedestrian concerns of the quotidian. There is some amazing footage on here, as you’d expect, but also a lot of interesting-looking documentaries and general science-y/space-y stuff (can you tell that my engagement with the sciences stopped approximately 28 years ago? You can, can’t you?) for you or the aspirant astronaut in your life to get involved with.
  • Eyes On Russia: It’s a truth universally acknowledged that we’re basically incapable of focusing on more than one major international conflict at a time, and that as a result the eyes of the world have wandered away from the ongoing war in Ukraine in favour of focusing on what’s happening in the Middle East (and while totally ignoring stuff that’s happening in all sorts of other places, as per) – but as the conflict rumbles towards its third year it shows little sign of slowing, and there’s no indication that Russian retreat is imminent. Eyes On Russia is an interesting site that pulls together verified information about What Is Going On on the ground from a variety of OSINT sources – it’s a project that’s been going for about a year, and “draws on the database of videos, photos, satellite imagery or other media related to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that CIR’s Eyes on Russia project has been collecting and verifying since January 2022. CIR has verified the authenticity and location of all information contained in the database.” You can read a whole ‘how to use this site’ breakdown on the ‘About’ page,but effectively you can go back through the past 12 months of the war to see what happened where, alongside documentary evidence (for which, obvs, caveat emptor) and it’s both a miserable account of a lot of things being blown up and a superb example of what it’s possible to do with crowdsourced information when you have proper verification and factcheckers and noone’s making stuff up in the vague hope that Uncle Elon’s Virality Colosseum will chuck them a tenner.
  • Draw My UI: Via Andy, this is effectively magic. You know how when you’re mocking up a webpage or app or something and you draw wireframes that are basically simple outlines of where all the on-page bits and pieces will sit? Can you imagine how great it would be if you could just do one of those sketches and then just press a button and HEY PRESTO some sort of code genie would just sort of magic it into functional existence (and when I say ‘great’, I obviously mean ‘really really bad for a whole bunch of people who make a living from getting you from wireframe to website’)? WELL MERRY CHRISTMAS TO YOU! The first link takes you to a Tweet which shows a video of the tech in practice – if you want to try it yourself you can do so here, though you’ll need an OpenAI key which is only available to Pro subscribers. I’m yet to give this a try because it only showed up overnight and I refuse to get up earlier than 6am to write this fcuking thing thankyou very much, but it really does look quite remarkable, and while I obviously do feel for all the people who look at this and feel the cold, bony hand of the career change reaper on their shoulder it also feels like this sort of tech could usher in quite a fun new era of lightweight, easily-accessible digital creativity. Now, if only we could do something about UBI so we can all spend the rest of our days playing with these fun toys rather than worrying about how we’re going to pay the mortgage, that would be lovely.
  • Cobell Energy: Given that TikTok is basically just TV (TV with a ridiculously low barrier to entry, fine, but TV nonetheless) it seems surprising to me (a know-nothing bozo who has literally never attempted to launch an entertainment product and who really doesn’t know what he is talking about) that noone’s yet tried to do a BIG SCALE commission of scripted entertainment on the platform (although possibly everyone remembers the dreck that was commissioned by Snapchat during its brief, abortive, ‘we can be BBC3!’ phase) – still, that’s what we seemingly have hear in the shape of Cobell Energy, an episodic sitcom-ish show which is currently only two shows in and which I don’t really feel capable of judging because a) see my ‘two episodes’ caveat; and b) I simply don’t have the patience for or interest in this sort of thing (sorry, sorry, sorry). BUT! There are a few more details about the business model here should you want to read them, and if you fancy giving a VERY MILLENNIAL North American scripted comedy series about someone starting a new job as the social media person at an oil company then, well HERE YOU ARE! It feels very much like whoever’s scripting and shooting this has watched every single episode of The (US) Office multiple times, which may or may not make you tumescent with comedic anticipation.
  • Nosy: You know how there are some aspects of certain more non-traditional lifestyles that give you pause? Like, I don’t know, how one of the (many, frankly near-infinite) problems I have with the concept of polyamory and open relationships is the sheer quantity of *other people’s intensely banal  sh1t’ you will have to deal with when you’ve got multiple partners with whom you are developing AN INTENSELY SPIRITUAL INTIMATE CONNECTION THAT TRANSCENDS MERE SEX? Well Nosy is very much in that camp of apps, which seems designed to not so much make your life better and easier so much as to detonate a selection of social grenades in the middle of it. Can you imagine how much more ‘intertesting’ your social life would be if, rather than everyone having their own, private messaging conversations on their own, private devices, instead all your mates had a shared ‘anonymous’ messaging feed in which every now and again some random chats between two or more of you would be presented for all to see, but with the names redacted, so you can all have a fun time guessing exactly who it was who messaged someone at 23:11 with an eyeroll and “I am never watching another one of their stories ever again, they make me want to disembowel myself with a spoon”? CAN YOU? Honestly, unless I am massively misunderstanding how this is meant to work I think this might be the most ‘chaotic’ (sorry) app I have seen in YEARS, which itself is some sort of minor achievement I think – there’s even an additional option to make your chats available to THE WHOLE WORLD, which is giving me the howling, sweaty fantods just thinking about it.
  • Triniti: While LLMs have for the moment plateaued slightly – the news that Google’s new model is delayed til 2024 isn’t a huge surprise – music and video AI are improving at a rapid clip at the moment, and this is something of a leap forward for the tech. Triniti is developed by the same people who created Grimes’ vocal model (“GROIMES, NO WUN WUNTS TO RIMMIX YOR VAUCALS”) and who have now launched what looks like a genuinely ambitious new suite of products for artists and enthusiasts alike to work with. There’s a bunch of stuff in here about creating models of your voice and licensing them for others to work with, along with tools to help artists manage rights and collaborations and that sort of thing, but the real draw for dilettantes like me (lol, even ‘dilettante’ is a generous description of my musical non-talent) is the pair of toys you can play with – one is a text-to-audio model which sounds to my inexpert ears like the best one yet, and which was able to deliver a better attempt at d’n’b than any of the previous ones I’ve tried (and there’s an ‘explore’ section which lets you listen to all the other things people have been making, which is quite fun), while the other lets you sing to it and then get whatever vocal aberration you’ve fed in sung in the style of Grimes’ AI bot, or any others that you’ve trained, for effectively no-effort vocal style transfer. WHICH IS AMAZING, honestly – it’s a bit creepy and weird and horrid too, but SO MAGICAL! Honestly, this feels like we’re on the cusp of quite a seismic change when it comes to the audio side of this stuff – see also this new toy from Riffusion, which does the whole ‘sing us 12s of melody and we will turn it into an ACTUAL SONG’ thing, and the Deepmind/YouTube announcement which is bringing AI music creation tools to a bunch of ‘creators’ so they can use them to soundtrack their shorts. Oh, and while we’re doing ‘new and shiny AI tech’, here’s some Meta news about their own text-to-video model and a forthcoming ‘edit images and videos with natural language commands and AI’ tool – while neither of these are public-facing yet, they’re both a neat reminder of the fact that this stuff is being added to everything WHETHER YOU LIKE IT OR NOT. There’s an interesting question about the extent to which anyone actually *wants* this stuff, but, well, who cares? IT’S-A-COMING!
  • Sustainable Horizons: Would you like to experience a cutting edge experiment in storytelling born of a collaboration between Dow Jones and ‘AI’? No, of course you wouldn’t, noone in their right mind would ever look at that ungodly concatenation of words and think ‘YES THAT IS WHAT I MUST HAVE I NEED IT I WANT IT GIVE IT TO ME’ – and yet that is what a bunch of people have evidently spent a lot of time and money building, and so in tribute to their efforts let’s all click the link and ENJOY! What does ‘revolutionary storytelling’ look like? Well, er, it looks like a voice over, and a video that looks a bit like the sort of thing that people were doing with Kinect a decade ago, and some generic waffle about how ‘ the world is changing REALLY FAST’ and ‘HARNESSING THE AWESOME POWER OF AI’. They used PROMPTS, you know! This is a classic example of ‘something that the CEO will think looks cool but which does and says literally nothing at all’, so well done, as ever, the people who got paid for selling this in because it is a GREAT bit of grifting – even better, there’s a button in the bottom right that you can click to be taken to ‘The Lobby’, which is…A PSEUDO-METAVERSE SPACE! All the points for this one, it really is a DOOZY.
  • Netwert: Can you imagine doing something consistently for 25 years? No, of course you can’t, that sort of dedication and commitment is surely anathema to people like you and I, attention spans fractured by years of webspaff and distracted clicking. David Wertheimer, though, is BETTER than us – Netwert is his website which has been maintaining since 1998 and which recently celebrated its 25th birthday and which contains David’s archive of blogposts going back all the way to the very beginning and I honestly believe that there’s almost no sort of diary that isn’t in its own way fascinating and important, and this is no different. As you might expect from someone who’s been blogging for two and a hald decade’s, David’s interests tend towards the technical and geeky, but regardless of the degree to which you give a fcuk about, I don’t know, David’s job changes, or his thoughts on Photobucket’s software updates, it’s 100% worth just clicking around and seeing where you end up – I found myself reading a post from a decade ago celebrating his tenth wedding anniversary and while I am admittedly a sucker for this sort of sanctioned voyeurism I would also say that there are few things more wonderful and sort-of-amazing than going and rummaging around inside someone else’s head and past like this.
  • The Taylor Wessing Prize 2023: The National Portrait Gallery’s annual prize for photographic portraiture rolls around again – this year’s selections include a gorgeous picture of Ncuti Gatwa (possibly the most photogenic person in the world, I think) and an amazing/slightly-disturbing shot of some teen girls doing the TikTok thing, but you will, as ever, choose your own favourites.
  • From One Bank To Another: Was it…2014 that Honda did their then-revolutionary digital ad where you held down ‘R’ to SEAMLESSLY shift perspective in a streaming video (you know the one I mean, don’t you? YES YOU DO)? However long it was, I remain slightly surprised that that riff hasn’t been explored a bit more fully – it’s still a fun idea, and I bet everyone other than tedious advermarketingpr weirdos like me has totally forgotten it meaning you can pretend it’s ORIGINAL THINKING. Anyway, this video is, er, basically that idea – so perhaps this ISN’T a good time to rip it off after all – except this time you get to shift from the left bank to the right bank of the river, using your arrow keys, which shift perspective in this, er, promo for a winery. Look, this is VERY SLICK but I do rather feel that ‘the wine is lovely and isn’t the river picturesque’ is perhaps a bit of a low-stakes waste for what I still think is a pretty fun tech-gimmick.
  • Common Errors in English Usage: Would you like access to a genuinely-exhaustive list of all the different stupid errors that people are wont to make when speaking and writing in the English language? OF COURSE YOU WOULD! This is the personal website of Professor Paul Brians at Washington University, and I once again could quite happily knock off here and just spend the rest of the morning reading about, say, the fact that using the phrase ‘time period’ is in fact a redundancy. You want to make yourself hate everyone in your life (and, especially, on social media)? Memorise all of these and it seems reasonably likely that that will indeed come to pass.
  • AISplash: An AI-only stock photo site, with all images free to download and use freely – not ENTIRELY sure why this exists, other than perhaps to show off the prompting skills of the people who wrangled the AI in the first place but if you’re in the market for a wide range of pictures that all bear that uncanny ‘made by machine’ sheen, categorised by content and style and type, then, well, FILL YOUR BOOTS. Have to say, there were quite a few on here that looked…nearly-real, maybe?
  • Bikini Bottom News: As yet more news emerges this week that people in the US are getting even more of their news from TikTok, and in a week in which Osama went posthumously TikTok viral, it feels important to point out that there are SOME quality providers of facts and information on the platform, that not everything is part of the horrid morass of liars, grifters and, frankly, double-figure-IQ-morons SPEEKING THARE BRANES down the camera – welcome to BIKINI BOTTOM NEWS, a channel which delivers largely-small-scale stories about US celebrities, but via a news anchor who is also a poorly-animated fish wearing a tie. I like this, but, equally, feel that every single person under the age of 40 should have a crash course in The History of News, and, very specifically, The News Bunny.

By Maisie Cowell (via)



  • Message In A Bottle: Would you like to issue a desperate ‘come and get me!’ plea to the little green men out there in the vastness of the cosmos? DO YOU REALLY THINK THEY WILL CARE? Regardless, EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US has the theoretical opportunity to send a small record of our existence our into the inky black infinity that is SPACE thanks to this initiative by the NASA – you have until December this year to join the apparently 700,000 people worldwide who have already put their names on the list to have their identity engraved in TINY TINY TINY LETTERS onto a piece of metal that will be fired into space next year as part of the forthcoming Europa Clipper mission in 2024. Sadly there don’t appear to be opportunities to add any additional messages to any eventual readers, but you may still have time to change your name by deedpoll to, I don’t know, ‘save me from this dying planet before it’s too late’ which might be a suitable workaround.
  • What Is My Cookie Cutter?: I was until this week unaware that there was such a proliferation of differently-shaped biscuit-cutting stencil shape things – BUT FCUK ME THERE REALLY ARE A LOT OF DIFFERENT ONES. As with everything else in life, there is a subReddit dedicated to the very specific question of ‘what the everliving fcuk is this shape meant to represent’, although (disappointingly to my mind) there is limited follow-up discussion on ‘yes, but WHY though?’.
  • RoastPlug: This is, fine, a BIT rubbish, but I like the fact that it exists – using what I presume is an opensource multimodal model, this website invites you to upload a photo of yourself so that it can make fun of your hideous countenance. The humour isn’t exactly what I would call ‘sophisticated’ (I am of course the best person in the world to arbitrate what is and isn’t ‘sophisticated’, as those of you who’ve spent a decade or more wincing every time I type the word ‘teledildonics’ can attest), but I confess to letting out a small, shamed laugh when it told me that I was obviously someone who had mistaken superglue for hair gel. Again, you won’t be able to do this sort of thing with any of the big models due to tedious safety concerns, but it’s an example of the sort of fun/weird things that you will be able to make (for better or worse) with all the open source stuff.
  • Scrolly Animation Styles: Would you like a webpage that demonstrates a whole host of different ways in which webpages can animate on scroll? IT’S LIKE CHRISTMAS HAS COME EARLY! This is really nice – hover over each example to see it in action, and there’s even links to download code examples should you want to try implementing any of them yourself.
  • Oculi Mundi: MAPS! LOVELY OLD MAPS! “Oculi Mundi is a digital heritage destination: the home of The Sunderland Collection of world maps, celestial maps, atlases, globes and books of knowledge. The Collection was built out of a personal passion for travel, history, and the imagination. We seek to make it as accessible as possible — for study or for pure joy. Oculi Mundi takes a fresh, innovative approach to presenting antique material online…Explore mode presents beautiful images in a cluster, where you can browse and filter. You can peek inside the atlases and books to see internal maps and plates; you can view items at scale, and you can zoom in at super high resolution. An overview of each object is provided in text. In Research mode, the Collection’s objects are displayed in a more traditional way — but the functions are the same. You can filter or browse, view internal pages, and see items to scale. In this mode, full catalogue information is provided about each object.” This is really very nicely-presented – perhaps a *touch* fiddly in terms of UX/UI, if I’m being a pr1ck, but in general this looks gorgeous and is a pleasure to explore. Also, who doesn’t love old maps? NO FCUKER, etc!
  • AI Voiceovers: More fun with multimodal – this is a proof-of-concept demo that shows how you can get AI to effectively create a(n admittedly not very good) voice over for whatever video you feed it – the machine effectively ‘watches’ the film you feed it and produces a v/o based on what it thinks is in it. Which, obviously, is only of use if you want a voice over which describes what is happening in the images which is…possibly unlikely, but it’s really not hard to see how this is going to be used at scale for product tutorials, sports highlights and the like in relatively-short-order.
  • Mouchette: Via Kris, the website of Mouchette – ‘little fly’ in French – a digital artist who is almost certainly not a 13 year old girl, despite what the homepage here says. This is, I think, part of the body of work of Martine Neddam,  “an artist who uses language as raw material. Since she began as an artist, her favourite subjects always were “speech acts”, modes of address, words in the public space. Since 1988 she exposed text objects (banners, plaques, shadows on the wall) in museums and galleries. She also realized many large public commissions in several european countries: Netherlands, France, Great Britain Since 1996 she created on internet virtual characters who lead an autonomous artistic existence in which the real author is never disclosed.” – this is weird and baffling and labyrinthine, and if you are interested in following the threads there is a whole afternoon’s worth of reading and exploring to be found here.
  • Omeleto: This site bills itself as home to ‘the world’s best short films’, which, honestly, strikes me as unlikely, but I was intrigued by the tactics on display here – each short is between about 8-12m long, and they are all, as far as I can tell, decent-quality and well-produced, and each is accompanied by a VERY SPECIFIC description of what you will get if you watch it – “A man who stutters is forced to drive a voice-activated car”, for example, or “A traumatized man tries to convince his girlfriend to keep their unborn baby” – and the description box for each video feels very much like an AI-generated summary of the script…I am fascinated by this. Is it just a reaction to the fact that a whole generation of people seemingly really, really dislike surprises in their fiction and want to know exactly what they are getting before they consume it? Are all these videos by the same production company? Are the plots AI-generated? Am I just assuming AI here when it’s just a standard, human-issue bit of growth-hacking? No clue whatsoever, can any of you tell me?
  • Lightning: Apologies for the second ‘I…I don’t really know what this is’ link in a row but, well, I don’t really know what this is (and I was hoping one of you might be able to help me understand). Lightning is…a self-help movement? A cult? Some sort of awful cryptononsense? POSSIBLY ALL OF THE ABOVE!!! All I can tell you is that there is a webpage, and the promise of ENLIGHTENMENT, and a lot of very weird and oddly-shonky-looking images in which, for reasons that escape me, Vermeer’s ‘Girl With A Pearl Earring’ appears to be sitting at a laptop in a nondescript coworking space. There is an ‘About’ page, but, well, listen to this: “Lightning is dedicated to harmonizing the timeless wisdom of ancient philosophy with the transformative power of modern technology to cultivate vibrant communities, nurture personal and collective growth, and ignite the flames of inspiration. We believe that by seamlessly integrating the profound teachings of the past with the cutting-edge tools of the present, we can create a dynamic environment where individuals and groups can thrive. Lightning is to be a catalyst for connection, growth, and enlightenment, offering innovative solutions that bring people together, empower them to reach their full potential, and infuse their lives with purpose and inspiration.” LOL! Oh, no, hang on – here we go: “Lightning is a digital-first learning community; an immersive Encyclopedia that competes with Penguin, Wikipedia, and Kindle; a curator of sages, living, dead, and AI-resurrected; and, above all, an actual treasure hunt, threading tech and IRL, allowing you to choose your own learning adventure over the course of decades. In 10 years, anyone who reads the Great Books will be reading them on Lightning. Anyone who wants to chat with Socrates, Hammurabi, Keynes, Anselm, Virginia Woolf, Thucydides, Walter Benjamin, Marie Curie, Rabia, Rumi, Spinoza, or Suzuki, will be doing it on Lightning. Anyone who wants to travel the world, guided by the great texts and ideas of their destination will do so with Lightning in their pocket. The PhDs and would be PhDs who cannot make tenure or no longer want to because Humanities Departments are done for will work for Lightning—as spiritual Uber drivers, Charons taking you just beyond the bend of the familiar.” HM. I am going to suggest that in ten years time this is VANISHINGLY-UNLIKELY, but if any of you want to hand over your hard-earned (although I don’t know why but I imagine that the market for this sort of guff tends to be ‘inherited’ rather than ‘earned’ wealth) cash then please do let me know how you get on (if you can bring yourselves to descend from your intellectual eyrie).
  • 7 Frames of Film: Thanks to reader Darren, who sent me this project with the following self-deprecating writeup: “just a little time-waster that shows my love for those parts of movies that most people don’t pay much attention to. It’s NOT cutting-edge technology, it’s NOT important, it’s NOT even that well-designed (as a former graphic designer I see the flaws), but it IS just a little fun.” DO NOT BE SO HARD ON YOURSELF, MYSTERIOUS READER DARREN! The game here is, in Darren’s words, “The rules are simple: every day a new puzzle is posted, and each new puzzle involves a new film. You’ll be presented with seven frames from the film, one at a time, starting with something extremely obscure and leading, eventually, to something that most people would recognize. Your goal is to correctly name the film as early as possible, earning as many points as you can. The number of points for that frame are shown at the bottom, so it’s easy to keep track”. Now I am so much of a film refusenik that this is basically impossible for me to play, but presuming that you don’t have my inexplicable-and-frankly-borderline-pathological aversion to watching films then you might find this a lot of fun.
  • Chaptr: I am slightly surprised that none of the platforms have really leaned in to the whole ‘death’ thing – although perhaps that’s a factor of their own relative youth, and possibly the relative youth of many of the people that staff them. Still, it seems an odd oversight that Meta et al are continuing to cede territory to entrepreneurs attempting to solve the problem of ‘how do we deal with death in the post-digital/social era’ – which is exactly what Chaptr is attempting to do, letting people who sign up use the app to canvas memories and tributes from friends and relatives, and helps map the contours of a person’s life through the relationships they built along the way. There are multiple versions of this sort of thing out there now, but this looks like a decent addition to the range should you be in the market for such a thing.
  • 150: I don’t, based on when this was seemingly launched, think I have featured this before and it doesn’t come up on the site search – but it does feel VERY familiar (though that might have more to do with the fact that the central conceit here, the “INSIGHT”, if you will, feels unpleasantly-familiar from far-too-many idiotic advermarketingpr ‘strategy’ conversations). 150 is a social network (Apple only, to date) which lets you have upto 150 connections and NO MORE THAN THAT – the idea being that 150 is more than enough people based on actual, real-life connections, and any more than that is basically getting into the realms of WEIRD ONLINE VANITY SH1T. I have just realised that there’s a lot of ‘PROUDLY TEXAN’ guff on the webpage which always sets my ‘potential fash’ alarms going, but I am quite interested in the idea here and whether they can find enough (or indeed any) people willing to pay $2 a month for what looks like, basically, the sort of service you could easily replicate with a well-curated WhatsApp group.
  • Nervous System: The arrival of Christmas Advert Season here in the UK has once again given me the horrible seasonal whiplash that comes from the annual juxtaposition of ten months of ‘you know, we really ought to take some actual practical steps to mitigate the increasingly-terrifying-looking effects of humanity and capitalism on the planet we are still juyst about lucky enough to call home’ messaging followed by six weeks of constant exhortations to BUY MORE STUFF NOW BUY MORE THINGS LANDFILL ALL OF THE PLASTIC NOW! – and, as such, I’m unlikely to be doing much ‘festive gift guide’ content in Curios in the coming weeks. Still, I did think this company was interesting – Nervous System is “a generative design studio that works at the intersection of science, art, and technology. Drawing inspiration from natural phenomena, we create computer simulations to generate designs and use digital fabrication to realize products”, and they sell all sorts of procedurally-generated jigsaws and jewellery which you might like the look of (and obviously please ignore me and my tedious ‘buy less stuff’ moralising, and feel free to live however the fcuk you see fit because, honestly, I’m just some cnut sitting in his pants typing at you and you owe me literally nothing).
  • The New Public Directory: This self-describes as “Products designing for a prosocial internet: As the social media landscape changes and a new wave of digital spaces emerges, this Directory is meant to be a resource for our field — a jumping-off-point for further exploration and research for anyone who’s interested in studying, building, stewarding, or simply using digital social platforms. We hope this will inspire creative exploration, spark new collaborations, and highlight important progress.” You want to find tools for community-building, activism, collaboration and communication? You want somewhere where you can explore solutions that are bottom-up and open-source and largely free or not-for-profit? GREAT HERE YOU ARE THEN!
  • Ping: A few years ago my friend Simon (HELLO SIMON!) had an idea for an app which would basically have let you send up little ‘hello I am here right now’ location flares, visible on a map either publicly or to a limited selection of people, to help set up serendipitous encounters (and, obviously, as an easy and user-friendly tool for drug dealers) – that never came to anything (though he has a working prototype iirc, so do hit him up if you’re interested in making him an offer), but I see the ghost of it in Ping, a new app out of NYC which effectively does much the same thing – tell your friends when you’re out in case they fancy SPONTANEOUSLY MEETING UP WITH YOU. Which basically doesn’t really do anything you can’t do with Snap Maps (although in fairness there are better privacy controls here), but with the bonus that you don’t have to use fcuking Snap.
  • The MiniZine Library: A collection of small zines made by kids as part of a multi-year project that has been taking place for a few years now – from its descriptor: “a community art project that aims to create zines and wall newspaper‚ simple home-made publications in different shapes and sizes, during customised art-making workshops with children of all ages‚ on subjects related to their specific contexts and interests. The workshops are essentially resources oriented, meaning that they are specifically designed for participants to be able to identify their internal and external resources through the creative process, play and sharing. Ultimately, they allow for an experience of the life affirming qualities of art-making without the pressure or expectation to produce anything. The fact that something wonderful stands at the end, namely the library, something collective albeit with individual efforts, is both empowering and humbling. With editions in Switzerland (Giswil and Langnau), Pakistan (Lahore) and India (Kolkata), we aim to create a growing Mini-Zine-Library that visits more cities and countries, broadening the range of local expressions to include different languages, cultures and ways of thinking.” I love this, and the window into international kids’ heads that it provides, and I would happily spend an hour or two hanging out in a physical library of these (which is weird given I can’t muster any enthusiasm at all for praising my mate’s kids’ scrawls).
  • The Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards 2023: Yes, I know, but YOU NEED THESE IN YOUR LIFE. I feel the memetic potential of ‘incredibly defeated-looking owl’ (trust me, you’ll know him when you see him) has not been fully explored yet, FYI.
  • Mechanical Creations: Yes, ok, fine, I know I said I wasn’t going to include loads of ‘here’s some Christmas tat you can buy!’ links, but this is DIFFERENT. How happy would you be if some mysterious benefactor were to commission you your very own mechanical wood-and-metal toy based on their own specific design? I obviously have no idea – I don’t know you or who you are or what you are into FFS! – but, speaking personally, I WOULD BE FCUKING DELIGHTED, so if any of you fancy clubbing together and commissioning, I don’t know, an emaciated and slope-shouldered webmong tapping away at a low-end laptop in his pants, then I would be HUGELY GRATEFUL. This is the website of one Oliver Pett in the UK, and he is very talented indeed.
  • Suspense Accents: A little soundboard website with a selection of buttons which, when pressed, produce a selection of small, suspenseful audio stings, which will be PERFECT for irritatingly soundtracking your significant other’s progress around the house/garden centre/soft play area (delete per your own personal flavour of domestic horror) this weekend.
  • Bake Off: The Recipes: Ok, this might be old news to all of YOU, but I had literally no idea that every single recipe they have ever had on Bake Off is available on their website…BUT THEY ARE, ALL OF THEM! I appreciate that I might be a bit more excited about this than is strictly necessary, but I have made a yoghurt and orange cake AND some guinness and treacle bread this week and basically feel like some sort of gluten god, and basically just want to the rest of you to feel the same sort of carbohydrate glow that I am currently basking in.
  • Nail Studio: You may not think that a small browser toy in which you get to paint the nails on a disembodied hand, in a graphical style reminiscent of 80s Apple, would be soothing, but you would be WRONG and that is why noone listens to you any more.
  • WikiWho: Finally this week, a lovely link from last week’s B3ta – can you guess whose Wikipedia entry is being referenced from the drip-fed selection of biographical facts you’re presented with? If you’re anything like me, the answer will be ‘lol no of course you fcuking can’t’, but here’s hoping you’re less stupid than I am.

By Leonard Baby



  • Forgotten Flickr: Old photos, sourced from Flickr. No context, no overriding theme from what I can tell – just photos, curated with an eye I personally rather like.


  • Targz: Do you like spirographs and pen art? Good, so does Targz, you will get on.
  • Where Is Carrot Man?: I was not previously aware of this, but it turns out that there is a local celebrity in Melbourne – CARROT MAN! To quote from a small profile I found, “the man known only as Nathan, explained his reason was pure and simple – to make people smile. His choice of large vegetable hasn’t always stayed the same – at first he carried around a giant turnip he found at an op shop. “I was carrying it home and noticed how much it made people smile. That made me feel really good. So I decided to try carrying other giant things around,” Nathan said. He decided to trial a giant octopus and a giant squid, but neither attracted the same volume of smiles as his giant carrot. “The diversity of people smiling and the number of people smiling was much greater. So I just kept carrying the carrot around because it was the most successful thing at making people smile,” he said. Nathan, who is on a disability pension, said he would have preferred continue carrying around his giant squid, but in the end it was the smiles that spoke for themselves.” Which, I think we can all agree, is HEARTWARMING. This Insta account shares photos of Nathan and his carrot – if you don’t find this at least a tiny bit cute then, honestly, even *I* think you’re a miserable, dead inside cnut.


  • Only You Can Tell Us Why This Is Happening: Yeah, ok, sorry, so I can’t not ‘do’ the war anymore – this is the only link on it this week, but it devastated me when I read it and I think the past couple of weeks in particular have made the questions raised by the testimonies here, collected from people currently living in Gaza about the circumstances in which they are existing, rather urgent.
  • The Westminster Brits Are At It Again: I appreciate that, for those of you not currently existing on this beknighted isle, the latest tedious bit of internecine conflict from the assorted inbreds, racists and lunatics we like to call ‘our Government’ is perhaps not all that compelling – but, I promise, this writeup in the London Review of Books of Where We Are Right Now is both an excellent overview of the situation as well as a series of excellent reasons to be furious at How We Got Here. I know I keep on saying this, but if you can look at everything that has happened in this country over the past 15 years and still think ‘yes actually, the incumbent Conservative and Unionist Party definitely *is* the collection of people who I want in control of our present and indeed future!’ then, well, you’re a fcuking moron or a fcuking cnut and I think I would like you to unsubscribe please. SPECIAL BONUS BRITISH POLITICOLOL CONTENT!: this is a nice piece in the Economist about the return of everyone’s favourite Bullingdon bacon-botherer David ‘Call Me Dave’ Cameron, which does a good job of reminding the reader of all the exciting ways beyond the mere Brexit thing that he managed to fcuk up his brief, unimpressive tenure in charge (also, amusingly, it reminded me of the fact that I wrote one of the very first editions of Web Curios in the immediate aftermath of the coalition victory in 2009, which you access via the Internet Archive if you fancy a hit of Early Matt Nostalgia).
  • Peter Thiel Again: Look, I know that I am possibly slightly-obsessed with Peter Thiel and his role as ‘shadowy libertarian eminence grise pulling the strings of civilisation and bending it to his evil, vampiric plutocratic will’, to the extent that I have basically had to stop mentioning him in the context of politicis because otherwise people just start rolling their eyes at me, but, well, I challenge anyone to read this Vanity Fair profile of the man and not come away thinking ‘you know what? I don’t think that this person is very nice, or indeed that he ought to have the degree of seeming control over the warp and weft of the culture wars that his billions, and his access to the billionaires, afford him’. I mean, if nothing else the stuff about women in here is…somewhat eyebrow-raising, to say the least.
  • A Syllabus for Taking an Internet Walk: I think it’s fair to say that the general thinking around the idea of a ‘local’ or ‘tiny’ or ‘artisanal’ or ‘small-scale’ or ‘homebrew’ internet (other, potentially-less-irritatingly-hipster-ish terminology is almost certainly available) has coelesced over the past couple of years, and that there are a number of people and communities who are working at the edges of the general digital ecosystem to try and build a different way of considering of, and relating to, the web – of these, Kris of Naive Weekly is one of my personal favourites and as such I love this essay which he has written in conjunction with Spencer Chang, all about how to explore the web in smaller, more intentional, more guided, more, weirdly, *analogue* ways than you might be used to in this algomediated age – I think everything in this essay is TRUE, specifically what it says about the importance of THINKING about where you browse and what you see and think and leave behind as you do so – and as a bonus, it contains loads of interesting links to online spaces where you can find more work and writing and CULTURE that fits with this broad way of thinking. BONUS SMALL INTERNET THINKING!: Brian Lehrer writes at GREAT LENGTH about his experiences with marginal, new internet communities, specifically “the reformist and reactionary technology movements that began to bubble up in the early 2010s and could be unmistakably felt over the last five. I’m talking about the pushback by various groups of actors against social media, tech monopolies, platform capitalism, and the attention economy; the counter proposal of an indie web, a decentralized web, a Peer-to-Peer web, a permissionless web, even erasing the web entirely. Of course I am also pointing towards the whole monolith that is crypto. On an even more diffuse level, I’m thinking of the cultural backlash against ‘tech bros’ and startup culture; the call by many for slow, open, and humane technology. I’m thinking of the people who likened computers to gardens.” (this one feels a BIT like you might benefit from a degree of familiarity with the people and platforms involved, but if you’re a long-time follower of this stuff then it’s definitely worth a read). BONUS BONUS CONTENT!: a list by Rachel Kwon of similar bits of thinking on this topic from across the web.
  • The Living Dead: I found this SO interesting, and it’s a really cogent bit of writing/thinking about how we think about life, death and personhood in an age in which one’s ability to impact and interact no longer necessarily ceases at the point of physical demise and decay – how do we need to think about and characterise rights and responsibilities in an era in which our digital selves may never truly die?
  • AI is Just Big Data 2.0: I didn’t agree with 100% of this piece, but I did find myself nodding along a lot with the central thesis: to whit: “Generative AI owes more to this history of data analytics than to any history of AI. It is less about figuring out autonomous systems and more about automated pattern analysis. Those patterns strip away much of the world.”
  • Mums In The Metaverse: OK, so the original article is American and so this should probably read ‘moms’, but, well, no. The piece, though, is an interesting look at the unexpected boom in VR fitness among middle-aged, middle-class American women – obviously the term ‘boom’ here is relative because, let’s be clear, this is still a SMALL sample size and most people are still much more likely to put on some ill-advised lycra and shuffle around their local park than they are to strap on a headset and play some Beat Sabre, but it’s still a useful corrective to the widely-held ‘noone uses VR’ narrative that prevails (and I am always interested in the ways tech gets used vs the way its inventors and marketers THINK it’s going to be used).
  • Drone Delivery Problems: Despite the fact that literally no details were given about exactly where and when it would come to pass, the papers were FULL of headlines earlier this year when Amazon made its nth announcement about drone deliveries coming to the UK, neatly illustrating exactly why companies like Amazon keep making vague, tech-related promises despite their lack of practical relevance to real life. Which, basically, is what this piece is saying – the NYT looks at the practical realities of drone deliveries currently happening in the States, and points out, not unreasonably, that they don’t really work (unless all you want to buy is single quantities of goods that won’t break when dropped from a height of about 12ft). The main story here, though, to my mind, is how fcuking terrible the vast majority of journalism around technology is, and how good tech companies have become in ensuring that the stories that they want to push out get sent to, I don’t know, consumer reporters or political correspondents and as such don’t get the degree of technical scrutiny that they really ought to.
  • The Global Rise of Chinese Shopping: Rest of World contyinues to be the best English-language publication on global tech right now, as amply demonstrated by this really good exploratrion about the current state of Chinese retail giants and the steps that they are taking to expand their reach and increase their dominance in online shopping. Covering Shein, Temu and others, this told me lots of stuff I didn’t know – I had totally missed the Gacha-like mechanics some platforms use to keep people online, for example – and offers a good overview of how terrifyingly dominant we can expect Chinese-run shipping operations to be for the foreseeable future. BONUS REST OF WORLD CONTENT: a semi-related piece looking at the way in which Chinese-made knock-off goods find themselves playing a huge part in the economy of Nigeria (and by extension a lot of other African countries too). If you read stuff like this and manage to continue to believe that The West Is The Future then, well, I have a bridge to sell you.
  • The New Golf: I can think of only a few things more dull than playing golf (and at least one of those is ‘talking to or spending time with anyone who likes golf’), but I was fascinated by this article which explores how the sport is attempting to REIMAGINE (sorry) itself, in a not-dissimilar way to the post-TikTok/FIFA ‘King’s League’ football product in Spain – except this involves Tiger Woods and, as far as I can tell from the article, a game which resembles Robot Wars a lot more than it does a traditional pitch-and-putt. I would love to talk to someone who actually understands this stuff about whether they think any of these new formats have a chance of succeeding, or whether they’ll just end up being half-remembered like the mercifully-short-lived ‘Lingerie Football League’ of the early-00s (no, really – you can google it yourself, though).
  • The Soapification of F1: Or, ‘how everything needs a Stan Army and parasociality in 2023’ – this article looks at how Formula 1, a sport which is up there with golf in terms of how interesting it is to watch, or talk about, or listen to other people talk about, has broadened its appeal over the past few years thanks to a very smart strategy of ‘turn the whole circuit into a vaguely-soap-opera-like production’, which frankly, given F1 is literally a bunch of incredibly rich people flying around the world, hanging out with other incredibly rich people and the inevitable parasites that surround them, isn’t too much of a stretch.
  • Algorithms Hijacked My Generation: Part of a series of essays that are being commissioned by Jon Haidt about young people’s experiences of the web, in their own words, this essay by Freya India is a potted runthrough of What The Web Has Done To The Young, in their own words, presented as advice to the next generation. This is unlikely to tell you anything you don’t know, but it’s persuasively-argued, and sad, and makes the point that the problem with social media is that, at heart, it is always nothing but a sales funnel and at some point it’s going to end up with someone selling you a product or an idea or an ideal or a body image, and that it’s that has basically fcuked things.
  • The End of Retirement: I am 44 years old. Realistically-speaking, I am likely to have to engage in some sort of exchange of labour for pennies until I literally snuff it (please God not too long now), and I am one of the lucky ones who doesn’t even have dependents and whose family is almost all dead – lol at you poor fcukers with kids and siblings and stuff! Would you like to read several thousand words about how we got here and what that means? Well I don’t care, you really SHOULD.
  • Space Living: This is so so interesting – a wonderful piece in the New York Times looking at the tedious, practical, ‘we’re all made of meat and gristle whether we like it or not’ elements that one has to consider when thinking about space travel, and all the different ways in which designers work to accommodate the annoying, well, fragility of our corporeal selves. This is honestly fascinating, not least because it makes the whole often-very-scifi concept of space travel feel more grounded and real – oh, and if you’re interested in this sort of thinking I can highly recommend the novel ‘In Ascension’ which addresses quite a lot of this stuff at the intersection of experience design and space travel.
  • Learn To Code, They Said: NGL, if any of you reading this making a living doing a lot of reasonably-simple WP work then you’re probably not going to enjoy this piece – still, THE BELL IT IS TOLLING. This is actually a rather lovely essay which is far from as self-pitying as you might think from its general premise (programmer talks openly and honestly about what they think the latest and coming wave of AI tools mean for the profession), and ends on a genuinely hopeful note about how we might usefully think about ourselves and our skills in the coming ‘Age of Copilot’ (and this applies much more widely than ‘just’ to code).
  • Sphere and Loathing: Charlie Warzel visits The Sphere in Vegas, in a piece which has been widely shared as much for its title as for its contents – it’s a decent piece, and Warzel is an engaging writer, and he does a good job of rendering the uncanniness of a place that is perhaps designed to exist more on screens than IRL, but I personally preferred this version of the same story in the Wall Street Journal – your mileage, as ever, may vary.
  • Miller & Power Vs Turner: I don’t as a rule feature court judgement papers in Curios, but I will make an exception for this because it is honestly BATSH1T and also unexpectedly very, very funny. The TL;DR here is that there was a falling out between a bunch of VERY ONLINE digital artists, that ended up in the High Court here in London, and this is the final judgement which dismisses all claims and, basically, sounds like everyone in the court was VERY TIRED of all their bullsh1t. You will have heard of at least one of the parties in here – Luke Turner was briefly real-world famous through his involvement in Shia Lebouf’s early-00s artw4nk projects – but, really, I think it’s best just to go in cold and ENJOY (via my friend Jay, whose book is out in the US this week and which all of you North Americans might want to check out).
  • A History of NoFap: On the one hand, a serious look at the history of the online men’s movement known as ‘NoFap’, which encourages men to refrain from committing the sin of Onan lest they waste any of their magical, precious seed (I am, honestly, only half-joking) is obviously a VERY FUNNY read; on the other, the amount of time and space dedicated to this does rather reinforce the idea that we men take our penises and testicles FAR TOO SERIOUSLY. Still, if you want to read an exhaustive history of all the idiots over the past decade or so who’ve attempted to persuade you that actually all your problems will be solved if you just STOP TOUCHING IT then, well, here you go!
  • Lil Tay Is Back: I had, I confess, completely forgotten the existence of Lil Tay, who got very famous very quickly a decade or so ago by posting videos of her being, basically, a horrible, foul-mouthed plastic gangster on video, despite also being a standard-looking suburban white teen of about 8 years old – well, it turns out that she is MAKING A COMEBACK and has, inevitably, a rap career…but that’s not really the point of this piece, which is one of the most dizzying examples of ‘well, it’s very clear that none if the adults in this profile should ever be allowed to be in loco parentis of this kid ever again’ that I have seen in years. Maybe Lil Tay will be ok – I mean, Bhad Bhabie is sort-of doing ok, I guess, if you consider ‘grifting on OnlyFans’ as a step up? – but based on this profile it does rather feel like someone might want to step in because this is…insanely bleak tbh.
  • Holly Herndon: I have featured musician and atrist Holly Herndon repeatedly on Curios over the years – both her work, and more recently her projects helping artists better manage and control their work and identity in the post-generative-AI era. This profile in the New Yorker is PERFECT, and, honestly, effectively a distillation of all the questions around AI and art and creativity that I, and by extension Curios, has been interested in over the past few years – honestly, even if you don’t really know Herndon and her art, this is one of the best discursive pieces about how artists can come to terms with the future in a way which feels less parlous and exploitative than that possibly imagined by the MegaCorps.
  • Flipping Grief: James McNaughton writes about his brother and addiction and death, and about the hustle-and-grift-and-shortcut culture sold to men through podcasts and self-help networks, and this is both intensely personal and very sad and also weirdly, and also sadly, incredibly universal-feeling.
  • The Thanksgiving Rider: This is very funny but also not funny at all – this is about the experience of going to visit one’s family for Thanksgiving, but, honestly, the experiences it describes are universal enough that you can sub ‘Christmas’ or ‘Hannukah’ or ‘Diwali’ for Thanksgiving and the point will very much still stand.
  • Don’t Create The Torment Nexus: Finally this week, this is actually the transcript of a speech given by Charlie Stross a week ago and which he has kindly made available online – it is all about why scifi writers make terrible future creators, and why listening to them was a mistake, and is funny and erudite and smart and interesting and is SUCH a wonderful overarching argument for why actually the tech-utopian, tech-accelerationist viewpoint is stupid and wrong – and Stross should know, because it’s writing like his that is forming the blueprint for so much of the dominant Andreesen-inflected vision of the future we’re being foie gras-ed with every day. Superb – honestly, I can’t recommend this highly enough as a ‘where we are now’ piece.

By Patrick Leger


Webcurios 03/11/23

Reading Time: 36 minutes


Except, sadly, that’s in the future and noone has quite worked out what happens between the here and now and the ‘magical, tech-greased future’. Still, let’s not worry about that too hard – let’s focus on the Terminator sh1t instead!

(as an aside, it’s been interesting to see the lack of references to EA, longtermism and accelerationism in any of the coverage of this – it seems like a not-insignificant oversight if you’re trying to understand where the various conflicting ideologies at play here are coming from)

Anyway, I imagine you’re all still desperately trying to digest the three tonnes of orange confectionary you extorted from your neighbours earlier this week and probably feeling a touch under the weather – what better way to sort yourself right out than with approximately 100 links with literally no overarching theme whatsoever?

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and if you print this all out you can probably use it as reasonable kindling for your weekend bonfire so never say I don’t do anything for you.

By Afarin Sajedi



  • Israel Truth: I was in two minds about including this this week, what with my general stance that this particular conflict isn’t something you need to hear more about in this particular corner of the web; I will, though, make an exception for this link, because it is a really interesting indication of How Campaigning Is Likely Going To Start Working – or, if you’re a specific type of person who earns a living doing a particular type of communications work, how you are going to start running a lot of your ‘let’s mobilise the public’ activity in the next year or so, if you’re not doing so already. To be entirely clear, though, WEB CURIOS DOES NOT ENDORSE THE PERSPECTIVE AND OPINIONS BEING ESPOUSED AT THIS LINK. Anyway, to explain what is going on here – every day this website will, should you choose to sign up, email you a selection of the ‘most biased’ (THEIR OPINION) articles about the Israel/Hamas conflict, along with a bunch of pre-written rebuttal lines which are designed for recipients to cut and paste and post to their socials to ‘redress the balance’ (THEIR OPINION) when it comes to online discussion of what is going on – the interesting bit here is that a) the social media copy is being spun up by AI for ease of use; b) this is actually a sort of promo by a company which sells communications software – there’s no obvious link on the homepage, but this came to me via a friend who saw it on LinkedIn. So, well, this is…interesting. Whatever your thoughts about this specific instance of this sort of tactic/technique – and I’ll be honest, it makes me…massively uncomfortable – you can very much see the appeal for people looking to mobilise their own grassroots campaigns on social, and with a bit of imagination it’s not hard to envisage versions of this that are significantly more sophisticated in terms of the crafting of mass quantities of significantly more tailored messaging – there’s no excuse for bot armies all using exactly the same form of words when you can LLM an infinite variety of rebuttal lines, after all. Specifically, though, does it feel ok that this can exist with no indication of who is behind it and who’s paying for it? I am not totally sure it does. Anyway, interesting in theory if, obviously, immensely fcuking bleak and not-entirely-ok-feeling in practice, as is what happened on October 7th and everything that is currently happening to the people of Gaza and the surrounding areas.
  • Dot: Elon, as we all now know thanks to his latest pronouncements having been endorsed and ratified by the latest in the long line of contenders for the crown of ‘least-effective Prime Minister the country has ever seen’, is bullish on the concept of ‘AI personal assistants who will know us better than we know ourselves’ (we’ll need someone to guide us and tell us what do do when all the jobs have been majicked away, after all) – and here’s a prototypical version of that very thing for you all to gawp at in awe and wonder! ‘Dot’ is the product name of the inaugural device being produced by a company called New Computer, and the basic idea is that, yes, it really is a talking personal assistant AI which you can chat to and which will remember things about your life and your wants and your needs and desires and fears and the things which wake you up at night sweating and hyperventilating, and which will use all this information to make your life BETTER and MORE EFFICIENT and to almost certainly smooth the edges of your existence to a point of frictionless perfection such that you will never want for anything ever again…probably. All that this is, at present, is a homepage which takes you through a selection of use-cases for the device, presented through the lens of the life of a fictitious user called ‘Mei’, whose Dot device helps her overcome a selection of small challenges whilst also encouraging her to GROW AS A PERSON, by suggesting she take classes, complimenting her progress as a calligrapher, reminding her to change her pessary, etc etc (one of the preceding examples may have been made up). I mean, look, I can’t pretend that the idea being presented here isn’t a lightly-seductive one – who wouldn’t want an omniscient, omnibenevolent personalised God-companion with perfect recall to manage one’s life? NO FCUKER, etc! But, er, just remember my perennial warning that whilst there will obviously be products like the Dot – the mass-market, normie companions for the UNIMAGINATIVE SHEEPLE – there will also be an infinite variety of jailbroken open source variants of these with ‘fun’ personality archetypes and goal profiles acting as perennial personal companions, AND YOU WILL NEVER, EVER KNOW WHO HAS DECIDED TO HAVE ‘NAZI NICK THE FRIENDLY WHITE SUPREMACIST AI’ AS THEIR PERSONAL VIRGIL UNTIL THEY ARE SHOWING YOU THEIR PERSONAL COLLECTION OF SPECIALIST MEMORABILIA.
  • Silent Hill Ascension: This is interesting – do you happen to recall that during lockdown I linked to a new, experimental entertainment format being trialed by Meta, which basically ran a sort of semi-interactive narrative videogame-type experiment in which viewers could vote to influence the actions of a selection of characters in a ‘kids camping in the woods’ scenario – it was called ‘Rival Peaks’, in case you’re struggling? No, of course you don’t, and why would you? It was a bit shonky and didn’t really work, although according to the Wiki it had over 100m viewers so, well, what do I know? Anyway, that’s by way of preamble to this link – which is basically a similar sort of premise, except this is the first step in the full-franchise reboot of ‘legendary’ videogame series Silent Hill and as such there is a LOT more money invested and the whole thing looks a lot more polished. How does this work? Ok, so…basically there are several months of daily episodic programming planned which will tell a CREEPY STORY about families riven by secrets and lies and THE OCCULT, and who, if previous games in the series are anything to go by, will at some point have various parts of themselves flayed and stretched and possibly salted by EVIL ELDRITCH FORCES and a very tall bloke with a pyramid on his head. You can watch these episodes LIVE each day, and when you do you can influence the course of the action by collectively taking decisions, collectively playing QTE-style games to help save (or doom) various characters, and generally take a community-led approach to how the story develops and which characters live or die. Of course, because this is 2023 this is also tied to a monetisation mechanic – your ability to affect the course of events is determined by the number of ‘influence points’ you have to spend, which points can be accrued either by participating in the show (playing minigames, ENGAGING IN THE COMMUNITY, you get the idea), or, of course, by paying cold, hard cash. I tried watching the first episode (you can watch everything on catch-up too, should you have better things to do than schedule appointments to view a shonky webseries aimed at teenagers) but, honestly, it’s…not great, and the whole thing is quite clunky and feels a bit ‘HOW DO YOU DO FELLOW KIDS?’ in places – but, equally, I admire the ambition in terms of interactive narrative stuff, and I do broadly think that there’s something in the wider idea. You can read a bit more details about how it all works in this article, if you’re interested. DON’T BE SCARED!
  • 3d GPT: Only a research paper, this, but contains some neat little examples of how the current best-in-class ‘text to 3d environment’ software is working – ‘surprisingly well’ is the answer, at least cosmetically. While you wouldn’t necessarily suggest that any of the scenes rendered here are anything other than rudimentary, I feel obliged to once again drone on tediously about how ‘this is only going to get better’ and ask you to think about what’s likely to be possible here in a year or so, presuming the pace of change is maintained.
  • Del Complex: I confess to not *really* understanding what the fcuk is going on here, but I am INTRIGUED and as such I will count this mysterious project as at least a qualified success. You might have seen a story doing the rounds this week, in the wake of the US’ scene-stealing executive order on AI, about a company offering to set up server farms in the ocean as a way of neatly sidestepping any regulatory burden from the US on the development of AI systems – that company was Del Complex. Except when you do some digging on the site, it seems that the company isn’t in fact real at all, and this is all some sort of…I don’t know, elaborate fiction? ARG? Performance project? Elaborate branding exercise to sell some vaguely-apocalyptic merch? I honestly have no idea, but the project self-describes as “an alternate reality corporation. Our mission is to accelerate human potential through the symbiosis of AGI, neural prosthetics, robotics, clean energy, resilience solutions, and fundamental scientific research” – and there’s an ‘intranet’ bit on the site which requires a login, which is CLASSIC ARG fodder, and there is definitely merch that you can buy…I haven’t had enough time this week to properly investigate this, but I think there might be something moderately-fun hiding under the hood and if you’re the sort of person who can still hear the letters ‘ARG’ without rolling their eyes and muttering ‘fcuking useless transmedia cnuts’ under their breath then, well, you might enjoy this (and you can read a bit more here if you’re curious, although it doesn’t exactly shed a lot of light on what the everliving fcuk is happening).
  • Tirazain: It looks increasingly likely that whatever territory emerges from the current horror in the Middle East will bear little resemblance to what went before it, which made this initiative particularly poignant to discover this week. “Tirazain is a digital archive and library with the aim to digitally document, preserve and reclaim Palestinian embroidery. While participating in tatreez initiatives, we noticed a recurring challenge: limited access to high-resolution, easy-to-follow and affordable patterns. This obstacle is especially pronounced in underserved communities who often rely on photos of patterns shared via social media which are typically pixelated, cropped or black and white. This access inequality is further exacerbated by the fact that Palestinians in the Arab world are often excluded from international museums where tatreez knowledge is shared. In other words, access to tatreez knowledge has become a privilege.” Click the ‘library’ tab at the top of the page and browse through hundreds of gorgeous embroidery patterns, preserved and communicated for centuries – this is lovely and not a little sad.
  • Love Letters To Places I Will Never Meet: My very favourite sort of digital project, this – small, intensely-personal, vaguely-elegiac and a bit wistful, Love Letters To Places I Will Never Meet is Elan Ullendorff’s tiny memorial and tribute to businesses which existed in the neighbourhood in which he now lives before he lived there. “When I walked around South Philly I could feel the ghost places haunting me. So I embarked on a mission to summon them, or at least their simulacra, back from the dead: a digital seance, if you will. Map apps do not think you should care about shuttered stores, so they don’t tend to offer an easy way to browse them. But I paid a data broker $5 to let me download a spreadsheet of local closed businesses and cross referenced those with their Google Maps listings. I pulled testimonies of those places in the form of positive reviews and turned them into an interactive map I’m calling love letters to places i’ll never meet. I hope you enjoy it.” Honestly, I think this is SO LOVELY, and I would love to be able to automatically pull this sort of information for any small geographical area you choose, so if someone could make that happen for me that would be great thanks.
  • Fresh4Trash: How are you enjoying your collection of expensively-assembled 2000-era jpegs? LOL! Whilst, obviously, there is nothing funny about a bunch of poor, lockdown-addled morons getting scammed into spending hundreds of pounds on John Terry-endorsed infant simians, one does rather wonder what’s going to happen to all those colourful 1s and 0s currently taking up valuable space on your hard drive – which is what makes this initiative by German supermarket chain Kaufland so smart. For the month of October (the initiative is now sadly finished) anyone who so chose was able to hand over their NFTs to the supermarket in exchange for vouchers which they could redeem in stores for fresh fruit and vegetables, thereby turning something useless and crap into NUTRITIOUS FOODSTUFFS. A really smart gimmick, this – eye-catching, silly, funny and, crucially, reasonably-limited liability vs the publicity it will have garnered (because, obviously, most people weren’t stupid enough to buy NFTs in the first place).
  • TV Memorabilia: Do YOU want the chance to spend a bunch of your hard-earned cash on some assorted tat from television shows you half-remember from your past? OF COURSE YOU DO! Next week a whole MOTHERLODE of bits and pieces from old films and TV – mostly scifi, from what I can tell – goes under the hammer in London and OH MY GOD if you are a specific type of person with a specific type of house and a lot of disposable income/shelf space and a very forgiving partner then WOW are you going to be very poor after clicking this link. ‘Stunt Facehugger’ from Aliens? A guide price of £20k for that one. One of the horrible Cenobite murderboxes from Hellraiser? £24k and it’s yours! THE SANKARA STONE FROM TEMPLE OF DOOM? £40k! GET IN THERE INDY! This is INSANE, and there are 75 pages of lots to wade through meaning there should be something in there for everyone.
  • AI Film Awards: These are put together by leadin purveyor of text-to-video software solutions RunwayML, and while the techniques and styles here displayed won’t amaze anyone who’s been paying any attention to the tech (SO YOUNG AND YET SO JADED!) it’s a decent place to look if you want a rough overview of ‘the current state of AI-generated video’.
  • AI Football Analysis: So when I wang on about how AI is going to eat all the desk jobs, noone listens to me, but when ELON wangs on about it…FINE, WHATEVER, I AM NOT BITTER. Ahem. Anyway, I stumbled across this this week and was interested as it was a field I’d not seen getting the AI treatment before this point but which is a decent idea in theory, applying generative AI to the player data to produce fast analysis of strengths, weaknesses, etc – effectively this is just providing a multimodal GPT layer on top of third party data from people like StatsBomb and the like, and as such I am…uncertain of what the long-term competitive advantage is for these people, but it’s good to know that ‘data and stats person for sports teams’ is another role in the imminent firing line.
  • Long-running paywall-evading website was shut down this week as the hosting company that had previously housed the domain decided that it didn’t want to deal with the hassle anymore – so inevitably it has sprung up again elsewhere under a different name, but with the same excellent functionality. To be clear – I believe in paying for journalism, and I do, repeatedly; equally, though, not everyone can afford to pay hundreds of quid a year on subscriptions, and I don’t think in an ideal world access to information should be a function of wealth (and now I will stop pontificating, sorry about that).
  • The Internet Phonebooth: Would YOU like a service which lets you set up a free, 45m, encrypted video chat with anyone you like – one which has screenshotting disabled by default? WHY WOULD YOU LIKE SUCH A THING WHAT ARE YOU PLANNING ON DOING? Ahem. Web Curios does not judge, Web Curios merely provides links (and, yes, fine, judges a *bit*).
  • A Story With Borrowed Words: I think this came via Kris, though I can’t recall exactly – regardless, I love it and I am genuinely interested to see how the project works out. “will you help me find new words? my sentences are growing lonely and desire the company of others. other than these words i am writing to you now, i seem to have lost all my words, somehow. beginning december 1, 2023, i will share a piece of writing using the words you’ve gifted me on the first of every month until i am exhausted or the words exhaust themselves.” Submit some words and see how they get used – this is such a sweet idea.
  • The Extremely Detailed Map of New York: I don’t love New York – sorry, but I don’t, and given the city’s pretty much total indifference to *me* I don’t see why I should feel bad about this – but appreciate that for many people it’s the ne plus ultra of urbanity and inspires STRONG PASSIONS; this new project by the New York Times is a gorgeous bit of city-servicing journalism, creating a street-by-street map of what local residents call their neighbourhoods which produces a beautiful ground-up pathwork picture of the way in which the people who live in a place define its edges more than the planners that name and zone it in the first place.
  • Dutch Cycling Lifestyle: This is another simple-but-neat ‘how to use AI in a consumer-facing campaign 101’ idea – bizarrely, this is a campaign by the Dutch government, seemingly designed to promote the general idea of ‘Dutch people having a lovely time on bikes’ to an international audience (is this stage one of some sort of sinister clog-based uprising? JUST ASKING). Input your address and WATCH IN AWE as your grey, dirty, car-clogged and fundamentally RUBBISH anglo street gets transformed into a beautiful, idyllic, utopian paradise in which impossibly-tall and strong-looking people with impeccable teeth and STRONG BONES (YES WE KNOW YOU ALL DRINK MILK FFS) cycle happily whilst expressing STRONG OPINIONS at each other and being unnecessarily blunt in conversation (that’s basically the Dutch in a nutshell, right?). This is lightweight but nicely done, and a simple, easy and cheap way to ‘do something with AI’ so that your moron CMO will finally fcuk off and leave you alone.
  • Not On Amazon: Another year, another website offering you the chance to buy directly from small retailers rather than the evil behemoth that is Amazon this Christmastime – given eBay and Etsy have both rather lost some of that ‘artisanal small business shine’ over the years, it seems timely to introduce Not On Amazon which promises to let you buy a bunch of hand-made things from very small sellers who might not otherwise get the attention. The site’s got about 50-odd retailers selling through it, so it’s worth a look should you want to do your internet shopping in such a way that doesn’t make you feel a bit sick and guilty every time you click.

By Robin F Williams



  •  Let’s Get Creative: I might quibble the title here – this describes as a ‘collection of online creativity tools’, but, honestly, they’re not creativity tools, they’re a selection of gorgeous, silly, fun little internet toys (many of which you will OBVIOUSLY recognise from Curios passim, with about ⅓ of these having featured in here at various points over the past decade or so) – there is a whole afternoon’s worth of guileless play waiting for you behind this link, and were it not for the fact that I have a CAST-IRON SENSE OF DUTY I would totally fcuk off right now and spend the next couple of hours making increasingly-complex courses on Line Rider.
  • Weather Photographer of the Year: A TOPICAL LINK! How are YOU enjoying Cieran? Damp, isn’t it? If you prefer to experience your weather in pixellated two dimensions rather than the cold, blustery reality of meatspace then you will almost certainly adore this selection of fabulous images taken by meteorology enthusiasts over the past 12 months – the snowflake photo is particularly remarkable given it’s apparently taken on a mobile, but it’s hard to argue with the sheer…well, METAL-NESS of the ‘Christ The Redeemer in a lightning storm’ shot.
  • Spaceborn United: Not, sadly, a non-league football team with a remarkably scifi backstory, but instead an organisation that is dedicated to exploring the science that will permit people (or, to use their in-no-way-unsettling terminology, ‘mammalian lifeforms’) to reproduce in space! On the one hand this isn’t a ridiculous proposition – should we eventually decide that we want to export the human virus to other planets and eventually galaxies, it seems likely that these will be multigenerational journeys and that as such we’ll at some point have to work out how to bone, and breed, in no-grav states. I spent a bit of time reading around this this week, and it is genuinely interesting…but at the same time, I don’t know, there’s something about this website (the design, the not-totally-hi-res imagery, the language…) that makes me wonder whether the whole thing isn’t some sort of sinister front for something totally other (to be clear: it almost certainly isn’t a front for anything sinister at all, probably. PROBABLY).
  • Carbon Date The Web: SUCH a useful tool, this, made available by Old Dominion University (no, me neither, but I am grateful) in the US, which lets you plug in any url you like and get a rough idea of when it was first spun up – which is HUGELY helpful for a bunch of different reasons, as you might imagine, and is generally A Good Thing. I tried it on Curios and it was pretty accurate – ymmv, but as a rough way of working out how long a site’s been around, it’s super-helpful.
  • Simply Scripts: Do YOU like films? Do YOU like films scripts? Do YOU want access to a frankly dizzying number of them, all conveniently arranged at a single website for you to browse and read and learn from to your heart’s content? Do YOU want to scrape them all, feed them to an LLM and go about creating your very own Hollywood-grade work in a matter of mere minutes? WELL HERE YOU ARE THEN! Simply Scripts is a website that, well, collects scripts – there are other sections on the site (radio, theatre, unpublished works…seriously, there is a LOT), but the link here takes you to the ‘Film’ subsection where you can find full original scripts for everything from 101 Dalmations to Zootopia, and as a resource for anyone who wants to learn the craft of screenwriting this is pretty much unparalleled (but, er, please don’t do the thing I suggested about feeding this all to an LLM if you don’t mind).
  • MUD Resources: This is quite old school and VERY geeky, but also a bit of classic Old Internet Culture and as such, well, CLICK AND LEARN. The ‘MUD’ here stands for ‘Multi User Dungeon’, some of the earliest shared online spaces ever to be created where people first started to explore how the whole idea of ‘actual people made of meat existing as textually-embodied digital avatars in a nonexistent world interacting with each other’ might actually work in practice (and, as I now feel personally obligated to mention every time this topic comes up, the origin of what is still the best ever thing written about community and society in digital space. “My Tiny Life”) – obviously MUDs are clunky and weird and probably of limited interest to a modern web user, but this stuff is so incredibly significant in terms of the ways in which our present online habits and social mores have developed, and this site offers an excellent way to learn about their history and mechanics, and, should you desire, to play around with a couple of still-extant communities.
  • The QR Code Menu Printer: Ok, this doesn’t actually exist – instead it’s a set of instructions for building your own, which, fine, requires a degree of practical skill far beyond me and which therefore I can’t vouch for beyond the general sense of ‘I like this idea, it amuses me’ – but I very much approve of the concept. One Guy Dupont has hacked together this small device which exists to perform one single, simple function, to whit: printing out menus that restaurants still insist on presenting as digital-only documents via QR code. Basically all this is is an thermal ink printer with a wifi connection, but there’s something so perfectly…well, so perfectly middle-aged-man about the techy overeingineering of the solution here that really appealed to me. It requires 10 components, all of which you could have delivered to you by Monday if you fancied making me REALLY HAPPY and building one yourself.
  • Octostudio: Are we still doing the whole ‘hey kids, learn to code, you’ll have a job for life!’ thing? Hm, probably not. Still, regardless of your bullishness or bearishness at the future job prospects for code monkeys, there’s no denying that a basic facility with the principles of ‘how software works and what it does’ is a genuinely useful thing to have (regardless of whether The Machine lets us touch its software ever again) – and, well, making stuff is fun! If you have young people in your life who you think would enjoy ‘making things with code’ then Octostudio looks like a decent way in – it self-describes as “A free mobile coding app developed by the Lifelong Kindergarten group at MIT Media Lab”, which is decent pedigree, and it seems to offer a pretty gentle introduction to the basic principles of ‘how code works to make machines do things’: “young people can create interactive animations and games using a mobile phone or tablet anytime anywhere. Take photos and record sounds, bring them to life with coding blocks, and send to family and friends.” This could be a fun toy for the right sort of kid, maybe.
  • Cambrian Chronicles: Who doesn’t want a YouTube channel whose sole purpose is  to provide animated explainers of ‘Welsh and Brythonic history’? Who can, hand on heart, tell me that they know off the top of their head what ‘Brythonic’ means? NO FCUKER, THAT’S WHO! You may not think you care about this stuff, but I got surprisingly sucked in by a video documenting extinct animals that might have roamed the Welsh hills some 1500 years ago and it’s entirely possible that you will too.
  • CJS Gallery: I have a particular soft spot for bad, vulgar art – not just unskilled pedestrian stuff, but work that is a combination of horrible AND violently-expensive and ostentatious, the sort of stuff that has come to basically define bits of Frieze to a certain extent, or the kind of work that you find in the ‘art’ section of Harrods (which, by the way, if you have never visited I can recommend unreservedly – it’s a spectacular bejewelled graveyard to taste) or in the shops at the Bellaggio in Vegas – which perhaps is why the TikTok account of this Dutch gallery spoke to me so hard. I don’t want to spoil the joy of this by describing it – it really does benefit from going in blind, so to speak – but I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by suggesting that the likely buyers for this sort of thing are the sorts of people who three years ago would have been loudly trading apes. Imagine if Tony Montana was a) real and b) alive in Miami RIGHT NOW and in the market to redecorate his mansion and c) had just banged about six kilos of his own product – this is EXACTLY where he would shop.
  • Wylder: To be honest, the timing of this link is a bit off – early November is not, to my mind at least, the time when people are desperate to get out into the GREAT OUTDOORS and start rambling and hacking and all that sort of bucolic fun. Still, I found it this week and that’s therefore when you’re getting it – Wylder is an app which is designed to encourage people to get out into the natural environment to walk and explore, and which sets you daily challenges and encourages community and, look, this is TREMENDOUSLY well-meaning and very much A Good Thing, but also rather has the slightly-knitted vibe of a COUNCIL INITIATIVE…because that’s basically what it is. There’s UK Government money in here somewhere, and it’s a Falmouth County Council project, and I really want this to succeed despite the aforementioned wholemeal knitted tweediness of the whole thing because it’s a nice idea and I can totally see the value – I can imagine it being of interest/use/help to people in their 50s or 60s, maybe, although should anyone of that age bracket be reading this, feel free to get in touch and tell me whether or not I am massively misrepresenting you here.
  • GDK: This is the website for a small chain of fast foot restaurants in the UK called ‘Gourmet Doner Kitchen’. They sell kebabs. THEIR WEB PRESENCE AND BRANDING IS SO GOOD! Seriously, what is it this year with fast food chains getting serious about their marketing – I think this is the third or fourth really excellent piece of digital brand work I’ve seen in this sector in 2023. I still don’t want to eat a fcuking doner kebab, fine, but I would like to congratulate whoever’s responsible for this which is just far more fun than it needs to be (and I am a sucker for the juxtaposition of ‘doner’ with ‘lambo’).
  • Restaurants In Peace: Another lovely piece of digital memorialisation in the shape of this project which seeks to keep a record of restaurants that have closed – it’s operating in a couple of dozen cities across North America, but the site suggests it’s planning to expand to more places, and the site’s simple functionality lets you add memories for any restaurant you wish to commemorate, and I would LOVE this for London; I think restaurant memory writing is always evocative and beautiful, and there’s something poignant and lovely about creating a crowdsourced record of the memories people have of places that were special to them (108 Garage RIP).
  • Collaboration Cookbook: I really like this idea, and it’s a nice example of community organisation principles in practice: “The collaboration cookbook is a living resource that includes recipes for real creative projects. Each recipe is an instruction for an activity, initiative, or experiment that is the products of people working together in creative partnership.” So here you’ll find instructions to help organise all sorts of different things – book clubs! Conferences! Record labels! Neighbourhood support schemes – in simple, easy to follow language; anyone can in theory add to these instructions with their own expertise, with the idea being that the ‘Cookbook’ will evolve into a general resource for collaborative action – this is INSANELY hippyish and the sort of thing I would normally be disgustingly cynical about because, well, that’s the sort of miserable cnut I am, but actually it turns out that I can’t be cynical about this at all and it’s just a really nice initiative.
  • Bathmates: Another example of high-end branding coming to…unexpected markets comes in the form of this company, which, er, as far as I can tell sells pumps which claim to help men achieve ‘better’ erections. Which, to be clear, I am including not because I imagine any of you are necessarily in the market for such a thing – NO SHAME if you are, though! We could all use better erections! – but because it has the branding and webdesign of a very different sort of company, one which exists to , I don’t know, sell you tastefully-curated financial services products rather than a penile sleeve which somehow uses…water? to make all your insecurities disappear (there is a real dearth of info on the site as to how the fcuk this is all meant to work – WHERE DOES THE WATER COME IN HERE?!) – and yet here we are! This is really slick, really clean, and makes me wonder whether we’re just at a point now when we’re all relaxed enough about sex and sexuality that we’re going to see mainstream ads for clitoral suction devices on the tube (which, to be clear, would be totally fine, as long as they’re nicely art-directed!).
  • Guess You: A new game by perennial creator of online distractions Monkeon, this lets you play ‘Guess Who?’ against the computer, with the wrinkle here being that, by answering a short series of questions about your appearance, the machine will attempt to identify which of the Guess Who? characters you most resemble. This will be funny for you exactly once, but it’s worth it.
  • QwertyTiles: It continually astonishes me how fcuking terrible so many people are at typing, despite the fact that we all spend so much fcuking time stuck in front of a keyboard-based interface – if you’d like to get marginally better at typing instructions to The Machine while at the same time pretending you’re playing a game rather than effectively doing Mavis Beacon then, well, you will LOVE Qwerty Tiles, which sets you a ‘type the cascading letters in order and in time’ challenge and which will absolutely kick your arse if you put it on ‘Pro’ mode.
  • Neighborle: A daily game where you’re tasked with identifying which countries share a border with another given country – so today, for example, you’re challenged with identifying the border neighbours of Sweden. You might find this incredibly, almost patronisingly, easy – I am some sort of geography untermensch and this left me feeling SO STUPID I actually had to turn off the computer and go for a walk.
  • Angry Pumpkins: On the one hand, this is a shonky Hallowe’en-themed Angry Birds clone; on the other, this has been made entirely with AI, from basic code to assets, and as such is worth a look as a curiosity. As ever, THIS IS THE WORST IT WILL EVER GETzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
  • The Basement Chronicles: Our final miscellaneous link of the week is this truly astonishing achievement – you remember the golden era of point-and-click adventure games, as embodied by LucasArts and titles like Day of the Tentacle and The Secret of Monkey Island? Well imagine those games but NEW and playable IN YOUR BROWSER RIGHT NOW – WELCOME TO THE FUTURE! The Basement Chronicles is a really incredible achievement – a 90s-style point-and-click game, complete with voice acting, all playable in your browser (and I think it works on mobile too); the graphics are great, the animation’s lovely and while the script and gameplay are, fine, not a patch on the actual retail classics of The Past, and, yes, the voice work isn’t exactly stellar (you can toggle this in the top-right if you’d like to turn it off), this is still FCUKING AMAZING and the best way of spending the next hour of your life that I can think of that doesn’t involve a hypodermic syringe and the blank wonder of forgetting.

By Aleksandra Waliszewska



  • Crochet Creep: Knitting and crocheting of the most sinister kind. Disembodied limbs, monsters from dark corners of the psyche, eyeballs and viscera…BUT SO CUTE THOUGH!


  • James Elliott:  James Elliott is a man in Scotland who carves things out of wood, and this is his Instagram feed which is basically a collection of the most satisfying craft-y videos I have seen in months, and which will not fail to soothe you on some fairly fundamental level.


  • Why We Need Utopias: This is SUCH an interesting interview – Kristn Ghodsee who’s written a new book about (unsurprisingly) utopias, in conversation with Nathan J Robinson for Current Affairs magazine about the value that utopian thinking can have in expanding horizons in popular culture, and the importance of reclaiming the concept of ‘utopias’ from technologists who have spent much of the past 20-odd years grasping the idea in their sweaty little palms and telling us that theirs was the only route to the promised land (and that route was paved in silicon). At heart this is a conversation about the necessity for imagination, and the power of ideas to shape realities, and the importance of having a breadth of thinking when conceiving of the future because without that the future calcifies in the hands of the few, and how vital it is to think of social structures in ways that aren’t just focused on ‘private vs public vs state’. Honestly, I am a miserable cynic and even I found this genuinely fascinating and not a little hopeful: “Every single community that I looked at trans-historically and cross-culturally tended to coalesce around a similar pot mix of policies, about where we live, how we live, with whom we live, with whom we share our resources, and how we raise and educate our children. What I find really interesting is these kinds of more futuristic techno-utopias tend to really be policy oriented about things that we can do in the formal economic sphere to make life more amenable to human flourishing, what Noam Chomsky sometimes calls “expanding the floor of the cage.” And for me, I want to think about, what is it about the family and our relations with each other in our domestic private lives that is also playing a role in upholding this system? Are there ways, if we start to change our domestic and private relations with each other, that will ultimately, down the road, impact the system itself?””
  • The Balkanisation of the Web: A wide-ranging essay looking at the history of the web and its evolution and the extent to which the increasingly-fragmented nature of the digital/online experience has changed how we – and, perhaps more importantly, the extent to which we even *can* – meaningfully communicate with each other. This is occasionally a bit wooly (to my mind at least), but raises a lot of interesting questions that have been floating around my head this year as The Web Sort Of Falls Apart – for example, “Our online tools on screens enable completely unprecedented methods for connection. When my mom immigrated to Canada in the early 1990s, she’d go months without speaking to her family because of the prohibitively high cost of long-distance phone calls. Today, online messaging tools make this a complete non-issue. The restrictions placed upon context — distance and cost — have been removed. In the time since, we’ve removed many more context-based restrictions. Today, any individual or actor has access to platforms which can broadcast their message to millions of people overnight. This unboundedness offers us incredible freedom to communicate with anybody, but it also represents a fundamental shift in how we communicate, which ultimately determines our reality. TikTok’s For You page — perhaps the site of the current cultural zeitgeist — is a curated feed made for specifically you by the algorithm based on what it thinks you will engage with. It’s a great departure from a TV channel, a radio station — the centralized broadcast network of yore. After the Fall of the Facebook Wall, we had the “Feed” which kept a semblance of a shared experience but the For You page is a step removed from the “Feed”. It further entrenches the user in an individual algorithmic reality, a reality which is thoroughly divorced from the experience of the Other.” If you’re interested in this stuff, you might also be interested in the concept of ‘the web revival’, which is outlined on this Page and which feels broadly-orthogonal to many of the arguments being made in the essay: the web revival “is about reclaiming the technology in our lives and asking what we really want from the tools we use, and the digital experiences we share. The Web Revival often references the early Internet, but it’s not about recreating a bygone web; the Web Revival is about reviving the spirit of openness and fresh excitement that surrounded the Web in its earliest days.”
  • The AI Executive Order: I appreciate that the vast majority of you will have had it up to *gestures* here with talk of AI this week, but for the few of you who are interested enough to bother digging into the meat of it, the AI Executive Order announced by Biden this week is…well, it’s a start. I strongly encourage you to have a read through it if you’ve the time, as it offers an interesting counterpoint to the more…er…’vibes-based’ schtick coming out of Bletchley this week – in particular, the allusion to a need for union involvement and collective bargaining in the face of the evisceration of the jobs market feels markedly more sensible and real-worldish than the horrid, awkward spectacle of Rishi deferentially-fellating Elon onstage. Gary Marcus’ short take on the whole thing is typically sensible, although if you want an alternative take from someone who is VERY anti the idea of any sort of regulation then you can see such a thing here. Basically, though, this week has gone much as anyone paying attention to this stuff would have expected – lots of noise, lots of handwaving, and nothing meaningful in terms of ‘policies or principles that will go at least some small way to hedging against the mad upheaval of literally everything we’ve come to call ‘the information economy’ that is coming in the next 5 years’. Just because you are convinced that AI is going to (probably) make everything amazing in the future doesn’t ALSO mean that it’s not going to make everything quite spectacularly unamazing for lots an lots of people in the short-to-medium term.
  • Against Open Sourcing: Rene over at Good Internet has been having OPINIONS about the sensibleness or otherwise of fully open source AI models for a while now, and neatly encapsulates them in this post which I basically just spent three minutes nodding along to as I read it.
  • Chatting With The Machine: A useful companion to the ‘Dot’ link in the top section, this – Ars Technica looks at how people are coming to use GPT now that there’s an inbuilt text-to-voice system in the app, and how some users are chatting to it like an actual companion and using it as a way of, I don’t know, venting, or roleplaying conversations, or just staving off the hideous lonely realisation that we are all at heart alone and that empathy is an impossible dream. There’s the obvious comparison to the film ‘Her’ (which, please, can we outlaw? thanks!) but other than that this is an interesting look at some of the emergent usecases for this stuff that at the same time raises one or two interesting questions about the wisdom of just letting this stuff develop with no oversights whatsoever because it’s not ‘frontier AI’ and as such it doesn’t matter.
  • Robots That Chat: I must grudgingly admit to a degree of admiration for the Boston Dynamics PR team who this week seemed to undo about 5 years worth of ‘dear God the killer robots are getting better’ negative buzz by, er, fitting one of their Spot models with some Googly eyes and an LLM-enabled text-to-speech interface with some predefined personality traits, and letting us watch as ‘Sassy Robot Dog’ threw shade at a bunch of human interlocutors. This is less interesting in terms of the specifics – I am personally unamused by ‘Sassy Robot Dog’, joyless fcuk that I inevitably am – but significantly moreso in terms of the explanations here about how they cobbled this all together from a bunch of existing free tools; I can’t stress enough how much SURPRISE AND DELIGHT mileage you can get out of stuff like this at the moment, and it’s really not that complicated to make something quite fun, so pull your fcuking fingers out advermarketingprdrones and, er, accede to my entirely unreasonable demands for branded AI entertainments.
  • Some Useful Thoughts On Working With AI Right Now: Another week, another superb essay by Ethan Mollick which I will link to here despite the fact that if you have any interest in this stuff you really ought to have subscribed to his newsletter directly by now – this one’s about how to usefully think about ‘prompting’ as a thing in the current iteration of AI models, and why (per what I’ve been saying for 9 months fwiw) ‘prompt engineering’ is not in fact going to be a ‘thing’ in the future.
  • AI Seinfeld Is Broken: Do you remember the heady days of…oooh…March, was it, when AI Seinfeld appeared and it was a genuinely weird and exciting and novel thing to watch a ‘show’ (loosely defined) that was ALL machine-created? I imagine that after your initial burst of interest (or, more likely utter indifference) you promptly forgot all about the existence of the AI Seinfeld Twitch stream and went back to watching stuff that was, well, actually entertaining, but the stream kept on streaming to dwindling viewer numbers…until this week when it basically just seems to have broken in ways that its creators claim to not really understand, devolving into a surreal stuck-loop-state which, perversely, saw an uptick in interest again as people flocked to watch the AI flid out. It seems to have righted itself a bit since the initial news broke – you can read a slightly more detailed account here – but there’s something BEAUTIFUL about the decay here and how it has all fallen apart like some sort of weirdly-recursive AI ourobouros eating itself (AIrobouros? sorry).
  • AI Art at MOMA: A review/critique of a recent exhibition at MOMA NYC of a work called ‘Unsupervised’ by artist Refik Anadol – the work’s described in the piece as follows: “The work is not about AI, at least not intentionally. Anadol is using AI to mediate the building in which it is displayed — the Museum of Modern Art. It’s a GAN trained on the MoMA’s holdings. The core structure of the visualizations we see are a “latent space walk,” a video that interpolates points in between all of the data points inside the network.  Those “data points” are 180,000 images from the MoMA archive, clustered into smaller bits by visual similarity. So, drawings and sketches, for example, may be in one cluster, while photography is in another, oil paintings and pop art in others, etc. Between these, there may be some kind of overlap, but when I was there the cluster size was just 606 images. The model then interpolates new images — imagine a “slider” that phases one image into the other. The GAN can render these “in between” images across 606 images. Even a small cluster of 606 (out of 180,000) has a vast magnitude of possibilities: every image can move in 606 directions.” So effectively the work exists at the intersection between work and data and classifier and curator and audience (/pseud!) – the critique here is both about the piece’s effectiveness as a means of casting new light on established work, but also about the ways in which it communicates and presents the role of the AI to the viewer, and I found it a really interesting critique of how we think about – and present – the work of The Machine, both in and out of the context of ‘art’.
  • AI Has A Hotness Problem: This struck me a few months back, and still feels like FERTILE TERRITORY for a brand campaign for the right sort of cosmetics/lifestyle company, so feel free to remember me and where you heard this first when you’re drowning in metal on the Croisette next year. This piece in the Atlantic riffs on something I’ve been thinking of for a while now – to whit, that the nature of aesthetics is going to change in not insignificant ways with the growth of machine-generated imagery, specifically based on the materials said machines have been trained on, and even more specifically the fact that those images tend to be of beautiful people and things. Think about it – the vast majority of the images of people on the web are of VERY BEAUTIFUL people (often naked, but let’s not worry about that right now), and as such The Machine will, not unreasonably, tend towards the creation of images that reflect said training set. Which means that it is LITERALLY IMPOSSIBLE to create things that are genuinely ugly from AI machines – you can, fine, create stuff that looks like it’s from a horror movie, or from war photography (in both cases with the right sort of jailbroken or open source models), but that’s not quite the same thing. Ask Midjourney, say, to produce an image of an ‘ugly’ person and you will instead get, at worst, people with the sort of ‘interesting’ faces that see them celebrated by internationally-recognised photographers rather than the sort of quotidian hideousness that we see every day on the streets or when I make the mistake of looking into a mirror. WHAT DOES THIS MEAN AND WHAT WILL IT DO TO US? I have literally no idea, but it’s a fascinating question and made me think that there is a REALLY easy win for Dove (or some other similar horrible FMCG brand) to ‘make AI see REAL people’ or somesuch crap.
  • The Singing Modi: Rest of World looks at the recent spate of ‘fun’ AI-juiced clips of famously-cuddly Indian Premier Nahindra Modi, specifically those of him singing popular tunes, and asks some interesting questions about the ways in which tech such as this is going to affect political campaigning and propaganda in countries such as India where literacy levels are low and video and audio can have a transformative impact on communication and impact, and where you can basically create a video of any politician saying anything you like, to be shared on tiny screens on low bandwidth, thereby making it incredibly hard to determine whether or not something’s been spoofed or not because the overall quality is basically potato.
  • The New News: A decent overview by Taylor Lorenz of some of the ways in which ‘the news’ is being reported and consumed in this era of all video, TikTok first communications. In common with much of Lorenz’s output, she’s exceptional on detail and knowing her beat and, to my mind at least, significantly less exceptional when it comes to asking critical questions about What This All Means – still, there’s some interesting material in here about the different ways in which people are exploiting the TikTok niche when it comes to packaging and delivering news to an audience that simply won’t ever click a WaPo url.
  • The Tragically Millennial Vocabulary of the FTX Trial: Yes, I know, ANOTHER SBF link – but I promise it will be the last one now that he’s going to the Big House for a very long time. I did enjoy this article, though, which focuses specifically on the linguistic tics that are revealed through the court transcripts and subpoena’d documents that were shared as evidence, and which basically makes the broad thesis that the only significant and lasting contribution that the millennial generation have made to society to date is the pollution of the language thanks to terms like ‘YOLO’. Which, to be clear, is obviously rubbish – no, people between the ages of 30 and 42, you HAVE accomplished something, I promise! There would be no mattress landfill without you, if nothing else! – but made me laugh a lot, and has given me an excellent stick with which to (metaphorically, to be clear) beat my girlfriend.
  • Greece, Politics and TikTok: This is an interesting piece, about the recent rise to the leadership of Greek political party Syriza of one Stafanos Kasselakis who came seemingly out of nowhere and ran a social media-first campaign whose focus was rather more on image and vibe than on concrete policy platforms. I confess to being largely ignorant of the day-to-day of Greek politics and as such I have no idea how accurate or comprehensive this piece in WIRED is (should any of you have any additional info I would be fascinated to hear it, genuinely), but I’ve thought for a few years now that Greece is an interesting political petri dish for much of the rest of the world and I think the broad trend here – politicians reaching the electorate directly via video through social platforms – is very much one we’re going to see replicated everywhere, for better or worse.
  • The Restaurant Revolution: This is very much a niche piece, I appreciate – it’s about the practical business of running a restaurant, specifically in New York – but I found it interesting less because of what it says about that particular business and more because of the lesson I think it teaches about scale and growth, and that CERTAIN THINGS DO NOT WORK ABOVE A CERTAIN SIZE OR SCALE, AND THAT THAT IS OK! I do honestly think that this is a lesson that needs to be internalised more widely – to whit, that not everything can or should exist at vast scale, and that perhaps it is actually better on a human (if not, fine, a Venture Capital vampire) level if in fact they don’t.
  • Big John Fury: If you want a practical example of the extent to which ‘crossover boxing’ has taken hold of a certain swathe of culture in this country it can be found in the fact that this is the third (excellent) longread I have featured on it in the past month or so. This one, though, is included less because of the subject matter (Tyson and Tommy Fury’s dad John) and more because it’s Joel Golby and he’s on excellent form, and the first ⅔ of this are genuinely superb writing about England and culture and WHO WE ARE AS A NATION – frankly the piece falls off a bit when we have to start listening to Big John himself because, well, I could not possibly give less of a fcuk about the thoughts and opinions of the man, but Joel’s writing is always a joy. The b4stard.
  • Flambee Confessions: A lovely essay about the particular experience of being one of the people whose job it is to man the flambee cart at one of those insane New York steakhouses (all dark wood and pieces of meat that weigh about as much as a small child and seemingly retail at $300, a price at which, despite its patent ridiculousness, NOONE EVER SEEMS TO BAULK) – this is beautifully-observed throughout, and will give you a small craving for a dish you have probably never eaten (in this case, Bananas Foster – apologies if you’re more cosmopolitan than me and eat this every day, but I had NEVER heard of this).
  • Weird Games Auteur: There’s a new videogame out called Alan Wake 2 – you don’t really need to know or care very much about that to enjoy this piece, though, which is less about the game than it is about the studio (and the individual) behind it. Videogames is one of the final industries, other perhaps than luxe fashion, where the idea of THE AUTEUR is still indulged in maximal fashion, and that’s what shines through in this piece – the studio behind the game is a small Finnish company called ‘Remedy’, and its visionary head is called Sam Lake…except he isn’t, that’s a constructed identity, and, honestly, that’s one of the more normal things about him. This is a GREAT profile – seriously, whether or not you care about videogames it’s so nice to read something about a genuine creative maverick (and also one who doesn’t seem like they are a total pr1ck, which makes a nice change).
  • The SEO People: Dispatches from a conference of SEO specialists in – where else? – Florida; you may not think that this will be entertaining, but it’s both a slightly sad portrait of the people who’ve sort-of fcuked the web for the rest of us, and one of those classic ‘innocent abroad’ portraits of a specific, very weird, professional sector getting its jolly on, and I will never ever tire of those.
  • Real Play: I think this came to me via Caitlin’s excellent newsletter – another of those pieces I mentioned last week on people’s relationship with specific videogames, this one about Devon Brody’s memories of playing The Sims, and now that play reflected the specific shape and contours of their life at various moments…honestly, I would read a whole magazine or anthology composed solely of this sort of writing and I can’t be the only person. Can the LRB do a ‘videogames’ issue, please, for the sort of crushingly-pretentious people (ahem) who like to cite Lacan when discussing Mario? Thanks!
  • Eds Things: Beautiful and heartbreaking memorialisation of the artist Ed Aulerich-Sugai by his sometime-lover Robert Gluck – this is an extract from Gluck’s book, and it is so so so beautiful, sad and sexy and poignant and funny, and a portrait of a time in a city that’s been captured many times before but here feels presented as though fresh. Such a gorgeous piece of writing which I promise you will adore.
  • The Tea Table: Our final longread of this week comes from Sarah Lippicott, who died on Sunday – she was an editor of science books, and this piece is WONDERFUL, all about her memories of starting in science as a woman in the 1950s and the attendant, expected sexism she faced…the writing is funny and light and the whole thing reminded me to a remarkable degree of the novel ‘Lessons in Chemistry’ (which I expected to hate, but really didn’t) and if you enjoyed that at all (and even if you didn’t) you will be charmed by this.

By Joakim Eskildsen


Webcurios 27/10/23

Reading Time: 36 minutes


In a departure from recent weeks I am not going to open by talking about how everything is terrible (HAPPY NOW ADAM?!) – instead, I am going to recommend a play to you, should you be in a position to be able to get to a theatre in London in the next month, and then I am going to fcuk off and have a shower and leave you with the links, of which there is a particularly fine selection this week (especially in the longreads, where there really is something for absolutely everyone) (unless you’re illiterate, in which case you may struggle) (and also won’t have been able to read this, rendering this whole, largely unfunny riff entirely otiose).

Is it…is it better when I say everything’s awful? Maybe it is.

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and if you are still here despite that frankly appalling attempt at an intro then, well, I salute you.

By Piero Percoco

(NB – images are lifted from This Isn’t Happiness, about which more in the Tumblr section down there)



  • 1337: Has the concept of ‘leetspeak’ (ask your parents, or someone who was terminally-virginal circa 2004) come full circle and become somehow socially acceptable? I am unsure, which makes me wonder whether the branding for this new…thing (yes, I know, but bear with me, this is genuinely a bit weird and hard to explain) is really going to work. Still, it is VERY futureweird, so perhaps none of the old rules (ie don’t name your business after a widely-derided concept of ‘cool’ created by the least-cool people ever to exist) apply any more. 1337 (hurts every time I type it) is, according to the homepage, ‘a diverse ecosystem of AI entities’ – or, more specifically, a new-ish business which has just received a bunch of additional funding to pursue its vision of a near future in which our social platforms and the rest of the web are increasingly populated by AI-enabled…what do we call them? Avatars? Infomorphs (thanks Marcus for the education on that particular term)? Anyway, digital, non-human actors, for want of a better description, which ‘actors’ will have full, autonomous ‘existences’ in digital social space, posting and commenting and generally giving all the impression of being a creature with interests and desires and motivations while under the hood being nothing but a collection of spicy autocomplete prompts and some light Midjourney wrangling. Why? I HAVE NO IDEA. Still, take a moment to go onto the website and have a scroll and a read – there’s some pretty special copy, as you might expect, including this beautiful few paras: “1337, or “leet”, is a nod to early gaming and hacking culture. Once used to refer to the elite [AUTHOR’S NOTE  – LOL!] —those highly skilled and with access. Now, we’re democratizing that access [AUTHOR’S NOTE – ACCESS TO WHAT?!?!?!]. Inspired by open-source principles. Together with creators we co-create a diverse ecosystem of A1 Entities, living real virtual lives online—human soul, digital pulse. They connect, educate, and inspire niche communities.” Erm, what? The amount of work that’s already gone into this is pretty spectacular, though – there are about 50 individual character profiles, each with a reasonably-fleshed-out backstory and persona and ‘interests’, obviously vaguely designed to tick a specific demographic box or two; you have ‘edgy tattoo egirl’, for example, and ‘sensitive-but-sporty guy’, and there’s a suitably-2023 emphasis on diversity and inclusion and lots of references to the (to reiterate, entirely fictitious and made-up) characters’ DESIRES and WANTS and EMOTIONAL STATUS, and each character has its own social profiles which have already started populating the web with a bunch of AI-generated scurf (profile pictures and some lame captions, from what I can see, along with curated playlists on Spotify and possibly blogs as well…WHAT IS THIS FOR?!?! There’s a bit more detail on the business idea behind this in 
    this TechCrunch profile 
    of the business – I *think* that the end play here is to effectively have these characters working as on-demand microinfluencers to the communities into which they ‘fit’, and monetise the whole thing through brands paying the avatars to shill their tat to actual, real people, but I am unconvinced that a semi-AI puppet is going to be able to persuade kids to part with real money for stuff, however cute and doe-eyed it is and however much it pretends to have feelings and plays the long game when it comes to community participation…There’s some interesting talk in the piece about the way in which the ‘community’ will be able to choose the direction of the characters’ narrative arcs and interests, and eventually be able to create their own characters and monetise them in some ill-defined way (monetising your own AI bots is very much the theme this week, it seems, with Quora’s Poe LLM platform announcing that very thing ), but this overall feels like something that is never, ever going to take off (but which I am intrigued to keep a vague eye on so that I am not totally surprised when I am proved wrong and we’re all chatting with our AI friends on Discord by August 2024).
  • Internet Artefacts: It’s entirely possible you’ve seen this already as it’s been EVERYWHERE this week – rightly so, it’s a lovely bit of webby nostalgia by Neal Agarwal, who returns with a ‘MUSEUM OF THE HISTORY OF THE WEB’, presenting a selection of artefacts which are in some way significant to the development of the internet we know and have a painfully-complicated symbiotic relationship with today! This goes through some classics – the first photo on the web! The Space Jam website! Ishkur’s Guide To Electronic Music (Christ that was a good website)! – and is basically a wonderful, nostalgic trip back through time to an era when all of this stuff felt playful and fun and like we were making and discovering and just sort of messing around in pleasingly-creative ways, rather than, as it often does in the here and now, feeling like we’re worrying at scabs with the compulsive action of a caged and distressed animal (did I say that out loud?). This is not only a great bit of online history and storytelling, but there are SO MANY fun little games and websites preserved in here – the fact that you can play so many of the original games and animations inside the site is a really nice touch. It’s entirely possible that several of you will click this link and get stuck (it’s all I can do not to abandon you right now and just go and play the clicky-hovery helicopter game from 2002 for the next four hours, for example), but I can’t really blame you for that.
  • The Protest in Roblox: I’m presenting this largely without comment, other than to say that this is the most future thing I’ve seen since that period of the Hong Kong protests when all those photos emerged of the protestors facing off against the police amongst drones and neon. 100% the most Gibsonian thing of the year so far (it feels a bit like that ought to be an award, doesn’t it? Someone forward this to Bill and see if he fancies judging it), and the first real example of something I could point at and go ‘see? The metaverse!’ (lol, jk, I would of course never say those words, but you get the vague point I hope).
  • Haunted: It does rather feel like there’s enough real-world horror to be going on with right now so as to not to really need the whole Hallowe’en thing, but it appears to be coming round again regardless of my wishes (so selfish), and as such I suppose I ought to pay at least some sort of small degree of linky homage to the Great Pumpkin. Haunted is a neat little web experience thingy made by a Canadian digital agency called ‘The Digital Panda’, and it’s effectively a variant on those ‘how many scary movie titles can you guess from the clues on the webpage?’ games but with a whole bunch of nice little bells and whistles, from the 3d model of the haunted house which you poke around to find clues, to the lighting effects from the lantern, to the spooky sound effects…click around the house, find the ICONIC (sorry) props and clues from the various horror films, identify the correct movies, win…well, nothing (sorry!), but perhaps you can take a small sense of pride and accomplishment away with you.
  • Five Radio Stations: I think I am slightly in love with this. This is a gorgeous little art project in which five different artists create their own personal interpretations of the idea of a radio station, playing with various idea of narrative and sound design and playing with tech to create a selection of what are basically self-contained audio art projects with a central unifying theme of a shared listening experience – the project self-describes as “a group show comprising five artworks that are also radio stations. Listen to them via this website by clicking ‘play’ on any of the five station pages, or seek out a dedicated listening location. The works can be enjoyed like any radio station, as a focus or in the background, and for a shorter or longer duration of time. Although they are automated, the stations are not on-demand but streamed as live, meaning each listener hears the same thing at the same time as an invisible community of other people.” The five stations are all of the mostly-gentle, a bit ambient variety, but I’ve been enjoying switching between them as I write this morning – currently I’m listening to 24h At The End Of The World, “A radio station by Benedikt H. Hermannsson taking us on a personal, 24-hour tour of his native Iceland. The listener almost forgets they are in his company, or rather, in his ear. They are with the musician-artist and those he meets. The audience hears the sound of his son’s footsteps in the snow, the rehearsals for his concerts, and certain conversations that take place, and so travel across the country in an intimate way”; earlier, though, I was very much enjoying the AI-enabled nonsense warblings of InfraordinaryFM, “A radio station by Daniel John Jones and Seb Emina delivering reliable, real-time information about commonplace and quotidian happenings around the world. Tides, aircraft movements, pinball scores, weather conditions, lost and found items, bird sightings and other ordinary events are gathered from over 150 countries and reported live in the form of spoken bulletins.” Honestly, I really do adore this – there’s something genuinely meditative about each piece in a way you don’t always get with digital art experiences.
  • Just A Baby: I confess to being…unsure as to where I found this, but WOW did it open my eyes to a community and series of lifestyle choices that I wasn’t hitherto unaware of – as ever, I’m presenting this without comment because, well, I appreciate fertility is hard and everyone has the right to do things differently, but also CRIKEY. Just A Baby is a social network-slash-matchmaking-platform which exists to pair women who, well, just want a baby with men who, well, are willing to supply them with the raw materials to achieve that goal – ‘FIND PEOPLE, MAKE BABIES’ runs the strapline, which at the very least has the benefit of being unambiguously clear. You can basically search for donors or surrogates or whatever you think you need, all without the tedious complications of, I don’t know, officially-sanctioned fertility services – there’s a ‘testimonial’ on the homepage which excitedly exclaims ‘no gatekeeping!’ which raises SO MANY QUESTIONS FOR ME – and there’s obviously a bunch of monetisation stuff going on in terms of your ability to message potential donors, etc…I am SO INTRIGUED by this (not enough to download the app and use it, fine, but), specifically about whether or not you can get ‘super user’ designation if you, I don’t know, ‘give the gift of childbirth’ to a particular number of people (is there a ‘SuperSperm’ badge), and I would imagine that if you dig around there is probably some genuinely-eyebrow-raising lifestyle stuff going on at the edges of all this. I bet Musk’s on there under a pseudonym.
  • The Analogue Foundation: Are you a sound person? Do you firmly believe that you CAN tell the difference between a £3,000 and a £30,000 B&O setup, that it really DOES matter if your connector cables are gold-tipped and titanium-corded, and that if someone touches your limited edition vinyl stash without gloves that they really do deserved to be slit from sternum to perineum and left to exsanguinate above a cold, polished concrete floor? If so then you might be EXACTLY the sort of person for whom the Analogue Society is intended – it’s “a creative collective, founded in 2016 by world-renowned engineer and producer Russell Elevado, the Soundwalk Collective, an advanced contemporary sonic arts platform, and Audio-Technica, a company dedicated to high-quality sound and music experiences. They’ve since been joined by Berlin-based recording engineer Erik Breuer, who built the listening bar and recording studios that make up Analogue Foundation Berlin”, and the website offers you a bunch of ways to ENJOY ANALOGUE, through details about international events (focused seemingly on the usual Western hipster capitals) and sanctioned LISTENING STATIONS, and even some mixtapes which you can – HERESY! – listen to online should you desire.
  • Emoji Storm: This is utterly frivolous and pointless and won’t amuse you for more than about 30s or so, but WHAT a 30s – just let yourself go a bit limp and sink into your screen for a short while and let the emoji fountain just sort of wash across your field of vision. Feel better? See? You can even fiddle with the speed and composition of the emoji eruption by clicking the menu icon in the top right, should you want something more particularly tailored to your own specific needs and wants and desires.
  • Doodloosh: Every now and again I stumble across some poor kid who’s being sold as some sort of arts prodigy, with their largely-abstract daubings being held up as masterpieces of form and composition and being sold at auction by wide-smiling and in-no-way-exploitative parents and agents, all of whom DEFINITELY have the child’s best interests at heart (I always wonder what happens to these kids when they age out of being cute, tow-haired art prodigies and the puberty hits and they enter the creature stage of adolescence and they feel the need to explore THE DARKNESS WITHIN THEM via the medium of collage or something – I feel there’s a documentary just waiting to be made about this, seriously)…anyway, if you’ve always thought ‘hang on, little Kaydn’s got real talent and frankly we could do with him paying his way in these straitened times’ then you might be interested in this website, which as far as I can tell exists solely to offer up a marketplace for kids to sell their terrible pictures on. It ‘empowers kids to take advantage of their creativity’, it says here, but offering them the chance to, er, attempt to auction off their pictures. I am going to tentatively say that this might not be around for long – it’s only launched recently, but it doesn’t seem to be a hive of signups at present and the current roster of ‘artists’ is, er, somewhat sparse – but if you’ve ever wanted to offer your progeny a real-life example of the cruel vicissitudes of the market and the painful realisation that noone actually wants to buy what you’re selling (important life lessons both, as I can testify!) then this could well be PERFECT. If nothing else, if anyone does actually end up selling through this I am 100% using it as a source of birthday gifts (really hope my girlfriend doesn’t read this bit).
  • Tennis Video Analysis: I have no idea if this is useful or if it even works (great link quality control Matt, ffs), but I figured there may be a couple of you who play tennis and could find this useful – this webapp lets you capture footage of someone playing tennis and using bodytracking tech and some rudimentary AI to offer analysis of your stance, style and technique based on what it ‘sees’ – there’s a free version with some limited functionality, but there’s also a few paid tier options which apparently will offer ‘coaching’ of sorts; it doesn’t, fine, LOOK super-professional, but this could be what you need to drag yourself from the bottom of the parents’ doubles league (if only your other half would put the effort in, etc etc).
  • Daylyy: I know I am basically the very antonym of the concept of ‘entrepreneurialism’, and that I have all the drive and ambition of celery, but I refuse to believe that ANYONE can launch an Instagram alternative in 2023 and seriously think it has any meaningful chance of taking off (seriously, I have seen DOZENS in the past decade and the only ones still going are the ones like Vero which are backed by seemingly-infinite pools of not-entirely-undodgy money) – still, GOOD LUCK to the team behind the latest attempt to ‘make photo-based social media good again’! Daylyy (looking at that word upsets me) is yet another ‘we’re taking it back to basics!’ offering, aimed squarely at the people upset with the fact that noone sees the photographs they post on Insta anymore re Reels, Stories and the rest – “No filters. No uploads. A social platform for users to casually share pictures and videos like a daily content journal. Daylyy is the opposite of current social media. We are not interested in the edited and polished final product. Daylyy is the journey – all the moments in between” – and, look, maybe it will take off with a niche audience of photography enthusiasts who literally just want to share nice snaps of their life without turning every single moment of their waking day into a poorly-produced piece of reality TV content, but I wouldn’t hold my breath here (based on previous predictive track records of mine, you may want to therefore by stock in this as soon as you’re able).
  • The Black Gold Tapestry: I LOVE THIS! It’s basically like the Bayeaux Tapestry if the Bayeaux Tapestry was about oil and energy and the environment instead of a bloke having his brains rearranged by an arrow through the eye. “Sandra M Sawatzky has made a 21st century work of art relating the saga of oil, global societal change, and energy transition through the power and beauty of 67 metres of hand embroidery” – the site presents it section-by-section, in pleasingly high-res, and it unexpectedly works really well as a means of presenting the work.
  • Groundhop Map: If you’re the sort of person who LOVES FOOTBALL and who thinks that a trip to a new city or foreign country is basically just an excuse to visit an obscure local football team so that you can get drunk and leave YOUR obscure local football team’s club sticker proudly plastered to the cistern of one of the toilets (this is, as far as I can tell, what a significant proportion of lower-league football fandom revolves around), then this is going to change your life (in a good way, although that might not be the case for your long-suffering, football-hating travel companion). Groundhop Map maps football matches taking place on, er, a map – pick a day and you can magically see the games that are on, where they are, with the ability to filter by competition and level – honestly, if you’re travelling and want to find a game to watch nearby then this is GOLDEN. It’s very much a work-in-progress and they only have a limited selection of leagues represented at the moment, but it’s worth keeping bookmarked as it could be REALLY useful.
  • Hospitalithings: I LOVE THIS IT IS SO SUPREMELY MUNDANE! Would you like a website whose sole purpose is to host a range of photographs of very banal objects, taken in hotel rooms over the course of the past 6 years? OF COURSE YOU WOULD YOU ARE NOT MADE OF STONE AFTER ALL! “Since that fateful trip in 2017, my ritual remains unchanged whenever I enter a hotel room. I meticulously photograph the same eleven objects: decoration, door handle, hairdryer, keys, lamp, light switch, personal hygiene toiletries, remote control, shower drain, shower tap and the toilet roll holder. I preserve these moments in the Instagram-friendly square format, embracing the authenticity of the scene, without any embellishments. Over the years, this collection has grown, encompassing hundreds of photos from seven different countries. Yet these images lay dormant on my computer, waiting for the right moment to be shared. Finally I found the inspiration to breathe life into my collection. As a web developer, it was only natural that I decided to create a website. I also christened my photographic pursuit with a fitting name: “Hospitalithings.” This name pays homage to these objects of hospitality.” Honestly, this is practically-perfect and I would like to pay a genuinely sincere thankyou to the nameless person who’s selflessly sharing their weird little obsessive hobby with the world.
  • Pirr: After the ‘sexy AI ASMR’ from a few weeks back, now we have…AI adult fiction cowriting apps! Would you like to spend a significant chunk of time attempting to co-create erotic fiction with Sexy Clippy, tapping away at your phone as the prompts become more feverish and your breath more ragged? No, I can’t imagine that you do because that sounds frankly weird and about as sexy as mince – and yet, as ever, here we are. Pirr purports to let you use its ‘specially-trained sexy authorial AI technology’ (I am paraphrasing here) to spin up whatever textual grot you fancy, engaging in a ‘co-scripting’ process that sees you and the machine create textual bongo that you can then share with others on the platform – there’s a bunch of stuff in there about how you can make your ‘creative process’ visible to, and collaborative with, others, but I confess to not actually having tried this because, well a) I have literally no interest in penning ‘sexy’ stories whether with a chatbot or otherwise; and b) the last time I featured this sort of thing was the ASMR erotic audio thing, which I did in fact briefly have a play with in the spirit of ‘journalistic’ (lol) curiosity and which, despite repeated attempts to make it stop, has sent me approximately three VERY THIRSTY emails a day exhorting me to check back in and, frankly, I could do without being chased around the web by weird machine sexbots.

ByCinta Vidal



  • Recursive Recipes: I like this a lot – it’s very silly, fine, but also it works far better than it needs to given it’s basically just a one-note gag taken to an extreme. “A recursive recipe is one where ingredients in the recipe can be replaced by another recipe. The more ingredients you replace, the more that the recipe is made truly from scratch.” So pick from one of the recipes on the site, select how many you want to make and then start clicking to see exactly how ‘from scratch’ you want to get and how long it will take you and how much it would cost if you were to try and do EVERYTHING. This feels vaguely orthogonally related to the old ‘making a toaster from scratch’ project from what feels like DECADES ago –oh God it was 2010 I am SO OLD – but just a bit sillier. Via Giuseppe, whose newsletter is always excellent.
  • Tertulia: This is an interesting idea: “Inspired by the informal salons (“tertulias”) of Spanish cafes and bars, Tertulia is a new way to discover books through all the lively and enriching conversations they inspire. Tertulia serves up book recommendations and book talk from across social media, podcasts, and the web — all in one app which incorporates seamless book purchasing. If a book has moved someone enough to get them talking, you can find it, buy it, and share it on Tertulia.” There’s an interesting co-ownership element to the project, in which members who pay a fee to get cheap books, free shipping, etc, also have an ownership stake in the company which allows for a say in governance decisions and an eventual share of any profits it might one day make – while it’s unlikely anyone’s ever going to get rich through this, it’s a really nice example of collective organisation and practical community-building without reference to DAOs or NFTs or crypto of any sort (see, it IS possible!).
  • This comes to me via my friend Ben and is SUCH A GOOD IDEA (and another example of ‘mapping stuff is just a generally good and useful thing to do from a UX/UI point of view, turns out’) –’s simple gimmick is to let you look at a map of the world and then select podcast episodes that are about or related to a specific location on said map. Want to instantly be able to access every single podcast ever recorded about Swindon? No, of course you don’t, but should you ever find yourself gripped by such a mad compulsion then WOW are you going to be well-catered-for. Podcast discovery is famously terrible, and while this doesn’t fix that it does offer a really helpful way of, for example, researching somewhere you’re going on holiday, or a specific area of historic interest, or of finding some genuinely obscure shows in which people talk very, very seriously about some intensely-local concerns (“Episode 23 of ‘Malmesbury Matters, and we’re delving deep into the one-way traffic plans for the village and talking to Tony about his divorce and subsequent custody battle”).
  • Notes: I rather love this – the website of Nicolas Soleriou (a lovely name, fwiw) contains a page which is devoted solely to quotes that he has found and thought worth keeping, along with a small line or two of context explaining why he thought it worth noting down, and, honestly, there is something so interesting about this, the chosen quotes and Nicolas’ reasoning for finding them meaningful, like (per all my favourite things) getting someone else’s internal monologue delivered directly to one’s inner ear.  To quote Nicolas, “I like a good quote — As shallow as some can be, I’ve often enjoyed the invitation to think that they extend. I’ve been grossed out by how some people abuse famous words. Quotes are everywhere. Most of the time used as marketing tools or worse, twisted to bring a feeling of wisdom to a piece of content. Simplification is necessary and I’ve come to appreciate the imperfection of language, as a mere mirror of our own imperfections. Famous words, stuff heard on the streets, friends, family, graffitis… Rather than just hoarding them in a pinterest board, google doc or some other terrible place on the internet, I’ll have them live here. I can’t write. I tried. So I’ll just add a short note to each post. It all goes somewhere, hopefully.” I really adore this.
  • 2 Girls 1 Comp: This is, I promise, TOTALLY SFW despite the iffy name – nothing to do with scatplay (NO COME BACK) this is instead the wrapper page for a series of little tech/art projects which hack GTAV in various interesting ways to MAKE WORK; so there’s SanAndreas.TXT, which basically adds a Souls-like ‘memories’ mechanic to the game, allowing anyone with a specific mod installed to leave messages to other players (anyone with the mod can both write and read messages in-game), or there’s Every Thing, “A mod that sequentially spawns every object from the GTA V prop database until the game ultimately crashes under the weight of every thing.”I have said this before, I know (but, well, you try writing about stuff on the web for over a decade without repeating yourself every now and again! It’s hard!), but there’s something really interesting about artists using gameworlds as canvases like this and it’s something I genuinely feel has a lot of untapped potential from the point of view of Interesting Communications Techniques.
  • Latecomer Magazine: I’m always interested to see a new online publication, particularly one which launches with a website as pleasingly-shiny and nicely-made as this one – that said, I appreciate that not everyone will be hugely here for a publication which looks set to explore and espouse ideas around longtermism, the previously-fashionable but now hopelessly-outmoded progenitor of the currently-zeitgeisty Effective Altruism (and now Accelerationist) movements. Still, presuming that Latecomer isn’t going to start publishing too much mad, borderline-fashy stuff about how it’s ok to let poor people starve actually because by focusing all the world’s money and attention and resources on hyper-future tech we’ll be saving the lives of TRILLIONS of future people, it might be worth keeping an eye on; the initial slate of articles is interesting and (from an admittedly-slightly-cursory-reading) not overtly insane or evil – from the editor’s synopsis, “Allison Deuttman writes on how close we are to a future of molecular manufacturing, and what’s holding us back. In my interview with Steve Hsu we talk about the future of machinic and biological intelligence, and how they intersect. Casey Handmer makes the case that abundant green energy is not only going to beat climate change, but also unleash our technological potential. We also have articles that explore the history of the future—how historical contingencies become permanent values. Almost fifty years ago James Yorke named the field of “Chaos Theory”—in his retrospective, he considers what chaos means for our prediction abilities. Jonathan Ratcliffe compares Russian Cosmism with contemporary Longtermism and illuminates their shared ideological ancestor. Finally, Xander Balwit interrogates the pricing of nature, and how we’ll value it when it ceases being productive.” Worth a look (but Web Curios accepts no responsibility if it ends up going full mask-off nutter in ~6m time).
  • The Mangrove Photography Awards: I know I tend to be a bit sniffy about photo competitions, in the main because THERE ARE SO FCUKING MANY OF THEM DEAR GOD IS THERE ANY PHOTOGRAPHER IN THE FCUKING WORLD WHO HASN’T WON ONE OF THESE FCUKING PRIZES ahem, but this one pleased me no end, mainly because of its specific focus and its aim to raise awareness of the need to protect mangrove swamps as a particular category of ecosystem but also because it features photography and photographers from places that don’t always tend to feature in these sorts of competitions. There are thousands of entries on the site, but you can see the winners here
    – my personal favourite is the one from Colombia featuring what is by a long, long way the most Muppet-looking bird I have ever seen (you will know it when you see it), but, as ever, PICK YOUR OWN!
  • Music-to-Image: Fun little toy hosted on HuggingFace which lets you feed it any audio you like and receive an image ‘derived’ from that audio in return. When I tried it earlier this week you were able to use a YT link, but that appears to have been killed so you’ll need to upload an MP3 or similar, but I can highly recommend just recording yourself singing along to something on your phone and just using that because WOW will you be upset at how ugly the visual interpretation of your warbling is. Your ‘vaguely-subversive but ultimately futile act of corporate rebellion’ task for this afternoon is to surreptitiously get audio recordings of all of the senior management in your company, use this to get a visual interpretation of their voices and then upload said visual interpretations to the company website to show the world what these people are really like inside. GO ON DO IT WHAT ELSE DO YOU HAVE TO ACHIEVE TODAY?
  • Biscuit Shells: Via the surprisingly-personable stationery retailer Present & Correct on Twitter comes this link to a Japanese retailer who, as far as I can tell, exists only to stock those wafery biscuit shells into which companies like Kinder stuff chocolate-flavoured paste, in a frankly dizzying array of shapes and sizes and designs and flavours and, look, I can’t make head not tail of the pricing and shipping details given my ability to speak Japanese is literally zero but I like to think that there will be at least one of you who will see this link and be compelled to spend the next month ordering, filling and then distributing tiny wafer christmas trees, so it feels worth including.
  • The Genrerator: On the one hand, this is a silly, simple little gag website which uses (I presume) Markov Chains to generate a seemingly-infinite array of made-up music genres inspired by legendary (and legendarily niche) music magazine The Quietus – it just gave me “50s Kyrgyzstani Downtempo–Lofi Disco Folk”, for example, which sounds great; on the other, though, thanks to the MAGICAL AGE OF GENERATIVE AI through which we’re now living/limping (delete per your degree of optimism) it’s also a fun way of seeing if The Machine is able to imagine what these invented genres might in fact sound like. Why not try spinning up a few of these and then feeding them to the Google music lab generator thing, or Riffusion from last week? Who knows, you might discover some HITHERTO UNIMAGINED new form of music that will for the first time bridge the aural gap between man and machine – although judging by Riffusion’s attempt at the aforementioned Kyrgysztani grooves, that seems unlikely.
  • Bionicle Media: I am vaguely aware of the fact that Bionicles were a toy range that were VERY POPULAR with kids perhaps 10 or so years younger than me – if YOU are a millennial who feels nostalgic about this particular brand of aggressively-marketed plastic tat then will THIS be the memoryhole for you! “In 2005, a BIONICLE fan named Auron began collating official BIONICLE content and offering it for download via links in forum threads on BZPower. As the task grew and more people joined the effort, Auron’s Downloads evolved into a new independent website, BioMedia Project. The contributions and work of dozens of fans over the ensuing years have made it the largest repository of official BIONICLE media in existence.” Music! Fonts! Old comics! All the Bionicle media you could POSSIBLY want! Cancel Christmas, it’s impossible to top this.
  • ANHVN: A genuinely charming personal website by Anh, a designer and artist – this is where they keep their various personal projects, and while there’s a bunch of interesting work in here (and their blog is lovely), the thing that really struck me about this was the GORGEOUS little four-panel projects that introduce each individual project with a small origin story as to how and why it came to be; it’s such an unexpected and novel way of introducing work that really brings it to life, in part through Anh’s art style but also because there’s something that just works about the four-panel narrative as a setup. A really beautiful tiny project, this.
  • Another AI Video: This one’s a short using Midjourney and Pika Labs to create and animate – again, it’s…limited, but again I am seeing genuine progress in terms of the quality of the visuals and animation, and I encourage you to keep an eye on this stuff because the pace of improvement around the edges of AI animation is really quite dizzying at the moment.
  • Tory Or Not Tory: On the one hand, it’s total rubbish to presume that you can tell someone’s politics by the way they look; on the other, this little game that asks you to identify which of the two MPs you’re presented with is in fact the HORRID CONSERVATIVE based on their faces alone is surprisingly easy to win, suggesting that there perhaps IS a specific cast of the eye or mouth that’s common to all of those of A CERTAIN TYPE (personally I tend to find the flesh-coloured lips the biggest giveaway, but see what you think).
  • Dropy Blocky: Horrible name aside (really, SUCH a horrible name; try saying out loud under your breath and you can’t help but inadvertently grimace as you do), this is quite a fun little timewaster that basically asks you to play a simple version of Tetris across various levels against the clock.
  • Which Way Round?: A game designed to separate the shape rotators from the wordcels, I did surprisingly well at this for a few levels before suddenly hitting quite a hard spatial awareness wall and feeling very embarrassed at my complete inability to manipulate a three-dimensional object in my imaginary headspace. See whether YOU are better equipped to manage the whole ‘existing in meatspace’ thing with this little game, which asks you to keep track of what direction a specific object will be facing in after a series of rotations around an axis – like one of those ‘shell/marble’ games that gullible kids (ie me in Florence when I was 15) get fleeced by on bridges, except here there’s no cheating going on and so if you get the answer wrong there’s noone to blame but yourself.
  • Halfsies: The last of the ‘nicked off B3ta’ game links this week comes in the shape of this simple-seeming but deceptively difficult ludic diversion in which your sole task is to seek to divide the shapes exactly in half. “Easy!”, I hear you cry – come back and say that around level 12.
  • The London Tube Station Memory Game: I think every single Londoner must have seen this one by now, but in case not – HOW MANY TUBE STATIONS CAN YOU GUESS FROM MEMORY?!?!? This is GREAT – difficult, frustrating and the sort of thing that you can use to start REALLY bitter arguments between you and your friends and your family and your partner as to who is the REALEST MOST AUTHENTIC GORBLIMEY LONDONER (blood will be spilt).
  • Suika: Our final cute timewasting distraction of the week comes in the form of Suika, a simple-but-surprisingly-addictive little number where you basically just have to smush fruits together in pairs – think of it as that 2048 game, but with grapes and melons instead of numbers and you’ll be fine. This is REALLY satisfying, and will suck you in surprisingly fast, so possibly finish that spreadsheet before you click this one.

By Maisie Cowell



  • This Isn’t Happiness: So for years I have basically been lifting 90% of the images for Curios from this excellent Tumblr, and its owner got in touch this week to point out that, well, the least I could do is credit him every now and again – which is totally fair, and not unreasonable, and as such let me present this EXCELLENT and eclectic and stylishly-curated artblogthing, which is not only right up my street in terms of aesthetics but which also sells really really nicely-designed tshirts in limited edition ranges, which I can highly recommend.
  • Maps On The Web: Via the wonderful Things Magazine comes this EXCELLENT tumblr celebrating cartography. Who doesn’t like maps? NO FCUKER, ETC! Why not enjoy some BONUS MAP CONTENT while we’re here – this is the David Ramsey Map Collection which frankly contains so much map-related content that if you want more you almost certainly have some sort of obsessional issue which you ought to get seen to.


  • Mosher Mags: An account whose sole purpose is to post photos of articles and photoshoots from old emo/metal/rock magazines from the 90s and 00s. Presuming that they remember to excise all the laudatory LostProphets interviews, this seems like good, clean retro run.


  • The 2023 State of the Climate Report: It’s fair to say that there have been one or two other things going on this week that have rather dominated the news agenda, meaning it’s not wholly surprising that this piece of work’s release rather got buried – and, look, I get the fact that you might not be particularly in the market for yet another piece of academic literature that basically feels like the climate news equivalent of a mechanic rubbing greasy hands on overalls and saying “nah, sorry guv, big end’s gone, nothing we can do about it, you’ll need parts shipping in from Poland and GOD knows how long that’s going to take”, but, well, it’s probably important. On the one hand if you’ve paid any attention to Stuff In The News over the past year you’ll have noticed one or two ‘hot, isn’t it?’ reports and so the fact that ‘it’s still getting warmer’ oughtn’t really be a surprise – on the other, there’s something quite troubling about the general sense of resignation in this paragraph from the report’s opening: “The trends reveal new all-time climate-related records and deeply concerning patterns of climate-related disasters. At the same time, we report minimal progress by humanity in combating climate change.” If you (understandably) don’t have the appetite to wade through the whole thing, I can recommend jumping to the conclusions which offer a few practical (if unlikely) steps that might still be taken to mitigate this stuff – note, though, that the first is basically ‘lose the obsession with economic growth at all costs’, which doesn’t feel like an argument that’s going to get much traction with any of the current or future crop of Western governments anytime soon.
  • Managing AI Risks: ANOTHER OPEN LETTER! This one, though, is significantly better-thought-through than the ‘AI Pause’ effort from earlier in the year, and sets out what look like being some genuinely sensible principles around which businesses and governments and regulators might look to coalesce when it comes to mitigating the real or imagined risks of AI. This is practical and sober and non-scifi, as much as it can be when talking about stuff that still does basically feel like scifi, and feels like something of a useful counterpoint to both 
    the unfettered madness of the Andreessen vision 
    and the honestly 
    weirdly-unbalanced set of talking points announced for the AI Safety Summit in the UK next week 
    – on which point, seriously, take a  moment to click the link and have a read of the briefing that’s being used to frame the conversation, and take a look at the relative amount of words and weighting given to ‘stuff that might actually have a practical negative impact in the real world in the next year’ vs ‘the mad scifi stuff that Altman et al will have us all focus on so that we don’t worry too much about curtailing their earning power right now’.
  • The Digital Fog of War: The only war-related link in here this week because, well, I presume you’re all getting your fix of rage and fear and bellicosity elsewhere and could do with a rest, frankly – still, it’s an interesting one and sees Kara Swisher (yes, I know, but she’s on decent form here) discussing all the interesting ways in which it is harder than ever to get anything resembling an accurate picture of, well, anything on social media these days. I honestly do find it incredible that you can have a company like Meta which has basically been forced to tacitly accept that its failures in content moderation and algorithmic promotion have been in-part responsible for an actual genocide and yet is STILL not capable, despite the decade’s experience and the billions, of working out sensible policies around content and conflict. I know that this stuff is hard, but, equally, the lack of meaningful progress at a platform level over the past 15 or so years when it comes to ‘how we deal with information and how we share it online’ is shameful.
  • The BBC Foresight Report: THE FIRST TREND REPORT OF THE YEAR! And, honestly, the last I’m likely to include in here unless I find something particularly brilliant or especially-moronic – I’m fortunate enough that I don’t really have to pretend to care about TRENDS IN COMMUNICATIONS any more and so, well, I won’t. I will, though, make an exception for this bit of work by the BBC’s R&D Department which is SO interesting and pleasingly wide-ranging in scope (covering everything from geopolitics to climate change to AI to interaction and social systems) and gives you the sort of fizzily-wonky perspectives that you simply don’t tend to get when these things are written by advermarketingprdrones (sorry, but it’s true). Really, really interesting, and an excellent source of ideas.
  • The Best Inventions of 2023: Always a treat, this, by Time Magazine, and 2023 is no exception – this year’s list of the ‘best’ inventions and innovations across a wide range of categories is as ever a brilliant and inspirational selection of smart pieces of design and innovation, as well as being a reliably-excellent source of…er…’inspiration’ (honestly, if you don’t find at least one thing here that you can riff off or replicate or reuse in some way then, well, WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?).
  • Working With Dall-E 3: A super-useful post from Simon Willison who takes you through some useful ways you can use the new Dall-E’s more LLM-like conversational interface for fun and profit – the details at the end about finding a specific area in latent space and playing around within it is particularly useful for anyone wanting to create consistent image styles or generate recurring characters. BONUS WILLISON: this is another excellent blogpost from earlier this week 
    , which is significantly crunchier in terms of the concepts being  discussed but which, if you can force yourself to stick with it (and I am saying this from my point of view as someone for whom the more conceptual bits of ‘how AI works’ start to get VERY challenging quite quickly), offers a genuinely helpful way to think about where The Machine ‘finds’ concepts, and how things cluster in latent space, and about the way in which much of the magic is just taking a set of coordinates and reinterpreting them as different media…oh, look, just click the link and read it, Simon’s a much better explainer than I am (possibly because he understands this stuff and I very much don’t).
  • Another Artistic Fightback: I am rather enjoying the increasingly-guerilla moves being made by the artistic community to guard against the ingestion and reappropriation of their work by The Machine – this latest is a tool called Nightshade, which basically (if I am reading this right) ‘infects’ images with code which will render them utterly confusing to The Machine when ingested, meaning that it will fcuk up the link between where the image ‘sits’ in latent space and what it looks like (effectively, if I’m understanding it correctly, it basically works by altering pixels in such a way that the image is unaltered to the human eye but to a machine presents an entirely different subject – so an image which to us looks like a dog is instead seen by the machine as a cat, screwing with its dataset in all sorts of ways). This feels VERY ‘scrappy collective fighting back against big business and the forces of capitalism and THE MAN’ in a 90s adaptation of a Neal Stephenson film, if you know what I mean.
  • Explore With Alexa: I have no love for Amazon as a company and their creepy digital surveillance devices fill me with fear, but I will give them rare credit where it’s due – this is an article about how the company is starting to experiment with the introduction of LLMs to its Alexa Kids product, and, from what’s outlined in this piece at least, it seems like they are taking a genuinely-sensible and measured approach to rolling out the tech in such a way that minimises the likely risk of, I don’t know, little Noah being given detailed instructions on how to make mittens from the guinea pigs. Worth reading if you’re in any way exploring how you might start bolting on natural language conversational gubbins to your existing products or services (sometimes I read things back and laugh to myself – pretty confident that noone reading this is involved in doing anything that serious, bless you all).
  • AI and the Military: A timely writeup in the Washington Post of some of the fledgling companies currently seeking to make their founders violently, plutocratically wealthy by flogging their ‘war, but with added AI!’ solutions to the Pentagon – I’m including this not because it contains anything necessarily surprising, but because I think it’s a useful reminder of the sort of practical, right-now considerations that it might be worth focusing on instead of the ‘killer robots take control’ stuff. BONUS AI-RELATED LINK: here’s a piece in the WSJ about smart kids dropping out of elite colleges so as to pursue their dreams of making a quick buck in the AI bear market, which, again, isn’t per se interesting but is useful in terms of what it tells us about what the people who are likely to be running this VERY HOT market are thinking- note the quote in here from the guy who basically says ‘all the jobs are going to be automated away – do I want to be the guy whose job gets automated, or the guy who invents and owns the machines that do the automating?’. Tell me again how it’s the autonomous AI we need to worry about, why don’t you?
  • The Internet of the Future: As Ryan pointed out in Garbage Day this week, by the point you notice a movement on the web these days it’s probably already over – meaning that the current spate of vaguely-nostalgic-optimistic pieces about ‘remember the good old web, how can we get it back?’ are already set to be replaced with The Next Cultural Zeitgeisty Bubble; still, I rather liked this article espousing the virtues of POSTING ON YOUR OWN WEBSITE, and I can generally highly recommend the DIY ethos when it comes to web publishing (I mean, I say ‘Y’ – the website was built by a friend, the mail software’s another person’s creation, I literally just commissioned some stuff like a useless, non-making arriviste, but you get the idea).
  • Running In A Body That’s My Own: This is a devastating essay by Caster Semanya about wanting to run – I defy anyone not to feel their heart break a bit at this opening paragraph: “I know I look like a man. I know I sound like a man and maybe even walk like a man and dress like one, too. But I’m not a man; I’m a woman. Playing sports and having muscles and a deep voice make me less feminine, yes. I’m a different kind of woman, I know, but I’m still a woman.” Honestly, this floored me, and is a regular, useful reminder about the mad multiplicity of human experience and identity and how unhelpful binary distinctions are when talking about anything as complex as biology.
  • Taiwan’s Ageing Population: A really nice piece of dataviz looking at the way in which Taiwan’s population has aged over the past few decades, and the likely impact on the country, and how it compares to other nations around the world whose populations are also ageing at pace. Lovely graphs (I know that might not sound appealing, but these are particularly nicely-done).
  • Learn English With Google: Ok, this is less ‘interesting article’ and more ‘useful thing to know’, but still: “We are excited to announce a new feature of Google Search that helps people practice speaking and improve their language skills. Within the next few days, Android users in Argentina, Colombia, India (Hindi), Indonesia, Mexico, and Venezuela can get even more language support from Google through interactive speaking practice in English — expanding to more countries and languages in the future. Google Search is already a valuable tool for language learners, providing translations, definitions, and other resources to improve vocabulary. Now, learners translating to or from English on their Android phones will find a new English speaking practice experience with personalized feedback.” This is HUGELY useful and a really significant development imho.
  • China’s Age of Malaise: Thanks to Alex for sending this my way; this is a VERY long but very readable look at the current Xi era in China, set against a backdrop of economic stagnation an evaporation of the promise of seemingly infinite-growth seen in the 00s; the piece looks at what this change in economic perspective might mean for international and domestic policy, and how it will likely impact US-China relations (it’s a New Yorker piece and as such Americentric, but still), and the return of ideology, and the increasing feeling amongst swathes of the population that the good times, such as they were, are over…I am far from being an expert on China (lol! As if!) and those more in-the-know than me might find this simplistic, but personally it struck me as well-written, well-researched and well-argued.
  • Addicted To FUT: I’ve long been of the (tedious, sniffy) opinion that FIFA’s – sorry FC24’s – Ultimate Team gameplay mode (the one in which you have to play games to get points to unlock cards that unlock better players – or you can just pay actual cashmoney to unlock the players instead, which is how EA makes BILLIONS off the franchise) is basically a fixed odds betting terminal with a fancy interface, and this incredibly-dispiriting article in superb PC games magazine Rock, Paper, Shotgun does nothing to disabuse me of that notion – the stories here of grown men hiding their spending from their family, pursuing a hobby that they no longer even seem to enjoy, feels miserably familiar to anyone who’s ever spent time with addicts of any description, and reading this it’s hard to escape the feeling that this probably ought to have been regulated out of existence years ago. And yet here we are.
  • The Bitcoin Wallet Mystery: If you had a crypto wallet containing just over 7,000 bitcoin, currently worth several hundred million dollars, and you had lost the password, and someone told you that they could hack the wallet and get you access to the aforementioned millions…you’d say yes, right? And yet, for reasons that are not immediately discernible to this particular layman, Stefan Thomas (who finds himself in this odd position) doesn’t seem too keen…This is FASCINATING – I’m personally convinced that this whole thing has been an attention-seeking grift that got out of hand and now Thomas is just stuck with the story, but I am intrigued to see how it ends up playing out.
  • The Bad Art Review: I think that this might be the most ‘online culture and fandom in 2023’ story of the year so far – there’s a painter who’s achieved a degree of TikTok fame for doing pictures of people as they ride the subway in New York; said fame parlayed itself into an actual gallery show, which in turn led to said show being reviewed by an actual art critic; the review was…not bad, considering the lumpen quality of the works in question, but the reactions of the artist’s fandom were…somewhat unhinged, it’s fair to say. This is SO INTERESTING, and I very much enjoyed the writeup here by the critic in question who raises interesting points about the extent to which criticism is even meaningfully possible in a post-stan, direct-artist-to-fandom-link world – as a companion piece, I recommend this article in Dirt in which 10 different music critics opine on the current state of their medium, and includes this observation which is SO TRUE and can basically be applied to frankly any sort of journalism at all in 2023: “when publications offer to pay someone $150 to write 2,000 words, and those words can put a writer at risk of an artist with millions of followers deciding to send their fan armies after someone for an opinion you’re not going to get the best and smartest people.”
  • The Ethics of Sedaris: This is very funny, but also sort of suggests that David Sedaris is a massive d1ck, which is both a shame and not entirely unexpected. The author recounts their experience of going to a Sedaris book reading and meeting him afterwards, during which meeting an embarrassing anecdote was shared…which eventually found itself in to later Sedaris stage shows. This is SO interesting, about the extent to which stuff like that is expected, or ok, the etiquette around lifting others’ experiences as material…Sedaris might reasonably argue that EVERYTHING IS MATERIAL, especially to an arch anecdotalist like him, but it does rather feel like his interactions here are a touch ungracious…still, this is funny and interesting, although part of me does want to email the author and ask him why, exactly, he felt the need to share the fact that he once bummed himself with a frozen hotdog with ANYONE.
  • David’s Presence: Yes, ok, it’s ANOTHER piece in Curios about David Foster Wallace (well, ish) – YES I KNOW I AM A TEDIOUS CLICHE OF A CERTAIN TYPE OF MIDDLE-AGED MAN OF A CERTAIN GENERATION, STOP BULLYING ME. Long-term readers will know that I have a long-standing love of the man’s writing and interest in his life, notwithstanding all the Bad Stuff, and this is a beautiful essay written by Gale Walden, a former fiancee and partner of Wallace’s who (to my mind) was rather minimised in the postmortem analysis of his live and work, but who writes movingly about their relationship and grieving and the weirdness of her memories of the man coming up hard against the revised picture of him created by posthumous revelations…look, fine, you’ll get more out of this if you’re a Wallace completist like I am, but as a meditation on death and grieving, and the way you can only really come to terms with some aspects of some people when they no longer exist, this is wonderful.
  • Lanchester on SBF: I didn’t think I’d end up including anything else on the FTX trial, but I will make an exception for this – John Lanchester writes SO WELL about finance and markets and the madness of crypto, and his portrait of SBF (and of the book about him by Lewis) is nuanced and sad and offers a lot of really interesting perspectives and analysis of the misery of the hard utilitarianism of the effective altruists, and, generally, this is a properly great read even if you think you never, ever want to see the words ‘Sam Bankman Fried’, ‘Alameda’ or ‘polycule’ ever again.
  • Being Naked: Ostensibly a piece about going to a nudist beach with her husband, Jeanette Cooperman instead turns this essay into a really interesting history of our relationship with our bodies, the history of clothing, the male gaze and the concept of ‘nakedness’ – this is far, far more wide-ranging than I was expecting it to be,
  • 30 Years of Online Writing: I loved this – a wonderful disquisition on why it is that we distinguish the writing done online from ‘proper’ writing, and whether there are solid formal reasons for this, and how form relates to meaning in terms of the digital written word…seriously, if you’ve spent any time over the past few years enjoying Patricia Lockwood’s writing about/on the web, or the HTML review, or any sort of digital poetry that plays with the mechanics of the web to interesting effect, then you will adore this essay by Megan Marz.
  • Gods & Influencers: Clive Martin is, to my mind, one of the best people writing about mid-culture in the UK today – this is another superb piece for the Face in which Clive attends the insane-sounding KSI vs Fury massive megabout in Manchester the other weekend and paints a picture of the weirdness of the cultural hinterland that is the Influencer Beef Industrial Complex. You will laugh, you will wince, you will Google an awful lot of names and then wish you really, really hadn’t – THIS IS BRITAIN!
  • The Protagonist Is Never In Control: Finally this week, a short story by Emily Fox Kaplan about childhood and lies and memories and and and. Sharp and jagged, and I am always a total sucker for anything written in the second person; this is very good indeed.

By Kelly Lu


Webcurios 20/10/23

Reading Time: 39 minutes

It does rather feel, doesn’t it, looking at the world over the past few weeks and indeed for much of the past couple of decades, that much of recent history has been, well, a mistake. Can we do it all again, please, but different?

HELLO HOW ARE WE ALL DOING? Is everything colossal and jagged and terrifying? Is the future – and, frankly, the present – looming at you in sinister, hefty fashion? Do things BODE, generally speaking, and not in a good way?

Yeah, I know, sucks. Still, for the next…ooh, probably two or three hours if you click EVERYTHING and pay close attention…you can forget all that in favour of the delicious, soothing, nourishing (not nourishing – Web Curios has approximately the same sort of nourishing qualities as an MP3player, probably a Zune) smorgasbord of links and words I have arrayed before you – there are some genuinely CRACKING things in Curios this week (none of them the bits I’m responsible for, to be clear) and so hopefully this will go someway towards soothing the fantods, at least for a short while.

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and you are still beautiful, whatever THEY might be saying behind your back.

By Michael Dumontier & Neil Farber



  •  Riffusion: I have, up to this point in the CRAZY AI JOURNEY on which we find ourselves (a journey which feels like one along a road littered with increasingly urgent and dramatic and exclamation-mark laden signs bearing warnings such as “DANGER AHEAD!!!!” and “BRIDGE OUT!!!!” and “STILL TIME TO TURN BACK!!!!”, driven by someone who’s picking up speed and laughing increasingly-manically and not paying enough attention to the smoke on the horizon) been pleasantly-amazed by the advances in machine-created audio – well NO MORE. Riffusion’s latest iteration (this has been around for a while in various forms, I think) focuses on, well, riffs – the idea here is that you give The Machine a couple of lyrics (it works upto about 25 words or so) and tell it the sort of style and genre you’re aiming for, and it will in a few short seconds spit out a clip of those words being sung to a tune of the style you’ve specified…and yes, while technically that is exactly what does in fact happen, I don’t think that my low-quality prose can even begin to prepare you for what this stuff sounds like. Seriously, if you’re reading this before clicking the link, STOP! Click the link and have a listen to some of the pre-generated examples on there and MARVEL at the fact that we have apparently created an entirely-new kind of ‘uncanny valley’ phenomenon, specifically one around ‘music which could almost maybe develop into a tune at some point but which seems to be almost wilfully refusing to do so’ – honestly, this made me feel SO FUNNY (specifically, ‘odd’) in ways that I can’t adequately describe, like whatever had composed the clips had had the concept of major and minor chords, and, you know, the general concept of mathematical sequences, explained to them, and had nodded along diligently and given every impression of having understood, but, it turns out, really hadn’t at all. Anyway, once you’ve got over the initial weirdness and aural horripilations then you can start to have some ‘fun’ (I use the word advisedly) – the interface has quite sensibly got guardrails in it to prevent you from getting it to pen abusive ditties (I only know this because I tried to get it to sing about Rob Manuel being a bell-end and it got p1ssy with me), but with a bit of creative wordplay and some imagination you can basically get it to sing anything you like (as long as what you like is no more than about 12-15s long), and as such you can basically while away the rest of the day by sending your colleagues and loved ones sweet little billets douces sung by a vaguely-tone-deaf robot. WHO SAYS THE FUTURE’S SH1T, EH? Here’s one JUST FOR YOU.
  • LucidBox: The vast majority of AI-generated content continues to be garbage, let’s be clear, although there are occasional exceptions (I was charmed by this short clip which images Star Wars as though filmed in 1923, even though it is literally impossible for me to give less of a fcuk about Star Wars in 2023 – special mention for the fact that the sounds here are by Osymyso, who you may remember as one of the original pioneers of mashups when they were a thing back in 2001, and who I used to go and see playing his new records every month at London’s smallest club night (it was literally in a room the size of your nan’s lounge, underneath a newsagent on Chralotte St, and it was called ‘Bstard’, and I loved it)) – if you’re interested in keeping track of what’s getting made and what it looks like, and general aesthetic/technical trends, LucidBox might be a useful site to keep an eye on – it covers animation and podcasts and spoof ads and faked movie trailers, and while the prevailing aesthetic and workflow for basically all of this stuff is, as far as I can tell, ‘Midjourney and then whatever bunch of animation tools you want to use to cobble it into moving pictures’ there are some interesting variations in style, etc, that you might find useful.
  • Airplane: I don’t quite know how to explain this, other than to say ‘it’s a digital poem’ and ‘it is honestly absolutely beautiful, and takes about a minute or so of your time to play through in its entirety, and after it is finished you might just want to sit with it for a while’. Really, I thought this was genuinely wonderful and I hope you do too.
  • Martin: For various reasons, I find the name ‘Martin’ almost comically-sinister – it’s basically down to the fact that there’s a very good, INCREDIBLY-CREEPY lesser-known George Romero film from the 1970s called ‘Martin’, about someone who may or may not in fact be a vampire – and as a result I occasionally find myself just sort of intoning the word ‘Martin’ to myself in sepulchral tones and giggling…but you don’t need to know that, and frankly it’s not hugely germane to this link, which has nothing to do with etiolated young men dressed in black and their exsanguinatory habits, but instead is AN EXCITING, PERSONAL, AI-POWERED VOICE ASSISTANT! Yes, as confidently predicted by me pretty much every week for nine months (if you throw enough at the wall, etc etc) we have what I think is the first on-phone personalised Siri analogue for you to play with! Sadly this is iOS-only, and as an Apple refusenik I’ve been unable to have a play with this and am therefore unable to verify whether or not ‘Martin’ (see, it really IS a sinister name!) will make your life better in innumerable ways with its sage counsel and reassuring demeanour, or whether it will instead slowly turn your existence into a waking nightmare of digitally-constructed paranoias and insecurities. “Meet Martin, your personal voice AI. Through natural conversation, you can ask Martin about news, movies, or restaurants near you. Debrief your week or brainstorm a new idea with him” runs the optimistic app store copy – there are no details as to what this is built on, but I do wonder what sort of indemnities the team behind this have in place for when Martin starts telling its users about entirely-fictitious events and films and restaurants…like, NOONE SHOULD BELIEVE LLMs ABOUT ANYTHING FFS, PRESENTING ONE AS AN INFALLIBLE ASSISTANT SOUNDS LIKE A TERRIBLE IDEA!
  • Views From Mechanical Turk: I think it’s fair to say that the days of the Mechanical Turk marketplace are numbered – it seems reasonable to assume that in reasonably short time all the sorts of digital piecework that were undertaken by people on platforms like Amazon’s MT (or Fiverr, or Upwork) will simply be replaced by AI agents. I can appreciate that the natural reaction to this might well be ‘tant pis’, what with the fact that, well, it was repetitive drudgework in the main, but that’s also a steady source of income which has kept not-insignificant numbers of people in the developing world (and in the US tbh) solvent for the past decade or so which is going to disappear…anyway, leaving aside the semi-perennial thoughts about the coming jobpocalypse, this website is a project by Giacomo Nanni in which they paid people using the MT platform to send them the view from where they were working, and compiled the resulting images onto this site which lets you browse them on a grid. To quote Nanni, “As organisations use Mechanical Turk to create datasets, in this website a more private dataset is shown. Following the logic of the platform, for a small fee workers have been asked to show a glimpse of their private life, their view close to their desk, their working station. At the limit of ethics and labour exploitation we should ask ourselves whether this is an acceptable approach to use in research and in general, if employing randomic workers around the world is the ideal practice to shape future artificial intelligences. With this experiment, design becomes a critical tool, it investigates the sources of datasets, and it helps framing a critical discussion around the decisions that few individuals are taking.”
  • Notes On Publishing Ecologies: By rights this should be in the longreads section as it’s basically an academic thesis but, well, I have only read about 3% of it and its inclusion here is more because of the fact that it tickles certain very specific parts of my brain when it comes to the interplay between form and function and the written word. It’s by Kim Kleinert, and here is their description: ““Compiling Edge Effects: Notes on Publishing Ecologies” resolves around forms of situated digital publishing and asks how technology can be a vector of a new materialist ontology, towards a “linking of kin and kind” and with that process, learning how to locate and orientate ourseleves within this world. The text does not follow a clearly linear narration, rather it orbits around myriad questions, relations, calls and responses. This is why the grid does not present the numbered sections in a correct order, but positions them depending on their relation towards each other. The site is operatable in three different states and its is interface consistent of text only. The states can be switched through by clicking the descriptive buttons in the top left corner. “Text” shows the main text of the thesis, “Chapters” will highlight the grid, revealing the headline to each of the numbers and works as a table of content, while “Numbers” will put focus on the grid, its numbers and structure only.” Look, this is VERY DENSE and VERY THEORY, but, also, there is something absolutely beautiful about the way the text – its positioning and its movement works in reaction to the user and the users’ position within it. Er, if that makes sense. Look, you really just have to click this one – I think it is beautiful, and were I not planning on going and giving myself gout as soon as I’ve finished writing this I would totally spend the afternoon immersed in it.
  • Midnight Transmission: A site dedicated to helping you find interesting, fun bits of animation on YouTube – it’s literally just an autoplayer, fine, but from what I can tell the person who’s behind it has put some decent work into curating the videos that sit behind it, so if you are interested in animation and want somewhere where you can just sit and trust that someone else has put in the hard curatorial work then, well, HERE HAVE THIS.
  • FileLife: This is imperfectly-explained (lads, would it hurt to have a little ‘no, but seriously, this is a simple explanation of this project and what we are doing here’ explainer? WOULD IT?!?) but I am going to take a stab at what’s going on here – I *think* that the project is about taking a USB stick around Europe, using it to store memories on, and share memories from, and the whole endeavour is part of the USB Club, which is an international network of people who are enthused by the idea of using USBs as a physical representation of digital information, and for whom the physicality of the medium is a pleasing contrast to the very much non-physical nature of digital information…Anyway, there’s something pleasingly homespun about this, and I am a sucker for an occasional travelogue in which nothing happens, and you may too.
  • Ladies On Records: This is a very cool project which exists across multiple platforms – this is the main website, but you can find it on Insta, Soundcloud and elsewhere. “Ladies on Records is a curated multifaceted endeavour created to represent women’s contribution to global and local music of the past decades. Ladies on Records tells the stories of women by the music they created. Ladies on Records’ mission is to reshape and improve understanding and knowledge of female music from the 60s, 70s, and 80s from all over the world and make it re-discovered and appreciated again by the local and global audience. It sheds new light on female creation in music and exposes unspoken, forgotten, or neglected cultural, political, and aesthetic patterns. Ladies on Records’ main goal is to tell the stories of female artists from the past in a new, contemporary way.” There’s loads of interesting stuff in here, from DJ sets featuring some incredible mid-20thC Central European female-led music, essays on the role of women in the 20thC Turkish music scene…I get the feeling there might be one of you, possibly with a troublingly-large vinyl collection, for whom this might be something of a find.
  • Heartbreak Cards: This is SUCH a cool idea – ok, the practice of making your own looks fiddly (you need to mess around with AirTable which isn’t actually that bad but, well, I’m lazy) but I LOVE the idea behind it. Heartbreak Cards is a concept by someone named Naoto, who writes: “ I started making my own collectible cards in 2022. Growing up with Pokemon Cards, Magic: the Gathering, Yu-Gi-Oh! and other card games, it was always my dream to make my own card game. Although what I imagined in my childhood was full of dragons and spells, as an artist, I decided to make autobiographical cards, i.e., stories about my life. The project is ongoing and never reaches an end; I keep adding new cards whenever I can work on this project This edition, 24-Hour Heartbreak Deck, is made between August 29th and 30th, 2023, this time having a journal in mind rather than a biography. In my example, the focus was about self-reflection, but you can use this tutorial to compile, for example, memories from your vacation a process of your latest dance performance or about your heartbreak.” So what this is is a system for creating a(n infinite) series of cards about anything you like, which can interlink in any way you choose (don’t worry, it makes more sense when you click through), and which you can use to present any sort of set of information you choose. There’s an example deck on the homepage which is obviously what Naoto has been working on – each card is about a different aspect of them or their personality, and each is its own series of symbolic hyperlinks that takes you to other cards in the deck, leading you on a sort of meandering, choose-your-own adventure path through Naoto’s head/heart/soul (delete per your belief in the existence of each). Honestly, I think this is so so so interesting – in part as a means of making your own sort of ‘Tarot Of Me’ (which, yes, sounds intensely eogotistical, but also quite cool) but also as a way of arranging and exploring information and ideas…if you’re a certain type of occultist, or a certain type of strategist (AND WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE, EH?) then you will like this a lot I think.
  • AI Homer Sings Muse: Do you want to see a poorly-rendered 3d CG representation of Homer Simpson singing ‘Starlight’ by Muse, with the vocal performance imagined by AI as a cast of other poorly-rendered 3d CG characters from popular culture ‘dance’ around in dead-eyed splendour? No, you don’t, but I had to experience this earlier this week and see no reason why you should be spared.
  • Fonts In Use: FONTS! IN USE! “Fonts In Use is a public archive of typography indexed by typeface, format, industry, and period. Supported by examples contributed by the public, we document and examine graphic design with the goal of improving typographic literacy and appreciation. Designers use our site for project research, type selection and pairing, and discovering new ways to choose and use fonts.” This has apparently been round in various forms since 2010, and so there’s every possibility you’ll already be aware of it, but it was new to me and that’s what counts so there.
  • Why Some USB Cables Are More Expensive Than Others: Or, “why buying those crap ones from the ‘We Fix Any Screen’ shop on the high street isn’t always a good idea”. You may not think you wanted to read a Twitter thread about exactly what goes on inside a USB cable and what the difference is between one that costs £12 and one that costs £2 is, but, well, you are wrong and I know best.
  • Space Weather: Would you like a site where you can find out everything you ever wanted to know (and, frankly, quite a lot more than that) about the phenomenon of SOLAR WINDS and, I don’t know, SPACE RAIN (I might be making up ‘space rain’ tbh – perhaps best to check that one before you go making any confident assertions to curious progeny) – I love this because a) it’s a wonderful example of ‘we haven’t updated our webdesign since 2003 and we don’t see why we ought to’; b) it’s about something VERY SPECIFIC AND NICHE; and c) they have the most charming and ‘your favourite uncle and aunt-ish’ AI disclaimer at the top of the page that I actually did a small, involuntary ‘awww’ when I read it (God I bet they enjoy being patronised to within an inch of their lives by pr1cks like me – sorry, space weather enthusiasts).
  • The Skewer: I’ve been enjoying listening to The Skewer for a few years now – it’s basically an occasional radio show from the UK which takes news footage and chops it up and remixes it with audio to create a sort of ‘Cassetteboy takes a satirical look at the week’s events’-type product which will be very familiar to anyone who ever enjoyed Chris Morris’ work back in the day (I appreciate that this will mean very little to any non-UK people, but I promise that both Chris Morris and Cassetteboy are worth looking up). This is their latest episode which a) is very funny; and b) contains an excellent animated intro with AI wrangling by Friend Of Curios Shardcore, and as such is worth a click and a watch.
  • Operator: Another AI assistant here – unlike ‘Martin’ (IT IS STILL SUCH A SINISTER NAME) from earlier in this edition, which is intended to be a conversational companion, Operator takes a more functional approach to the question of ‘how can we bend the AI to our will?’ – it’s basically a ‘notes, but with bells and whistles’ app, which a few neat gimmicks. Give it your lists and notes and it will, so the blurb goes, turn them into ACTIONABLE LISTS with PRIORITISED GOALS and clean up your data and sort everything into neat, appropriate job bundles – basically you just use it as a voicenote recorder, and, so the idea goes, the software will take your inchoate thoughts and corral them into something USEFUL and DIRECTIONAL. Which is all well and good, but I find there’s something interesting and…eventually-questionable about the degree of interpretation being required of The Machine here. Am I meant to just accept that the AI’s way of classifying and categorising this stuff is…’best’? Best for who? By what metric? Obviously this is me worrying unnecessarily at this stage – it’s just arranging your grocery list by ‘type of product’ to make aisle-based shopping easier ffs Matt, it’s not attempting to tell you which of your friends’ birthday gifts you should sacrifice due to the imminent energy price-based cost of living crisis! – but it’s not hard to imagine some of the interesting questions raised about the extent to which people are going to (or should) feel comfortable handing over initially-small-then-very-quickly-increasingly-significant questions like this to The Machine.
  • The Regenerative Field Design Kit: My friend John has just made these available for sale – I am not going to try and explain this, just click the link and read what the idea is, and know that I am a horribly cynical person who finds basically no joy in anything and who is, at heart, basically just waiting to get a terminal illness so that I can decide not to get treatment and just STOP DOING THIS FOREVER, and despite this fact I have had one of these things for about a year now and have kept it in the inside pocket of my jacket and it has made me look at the world differently EVERY TIME I have used it – I promise you that if you are a ‘strategist’ or ‘creative’ or ‘designer’, or any one of those stupid jobs that involve you wearing the sort of clothes worn in previous generations by fishermen despite the fact that you spend your whole day at a desk and don’t NEED to wear a knitted cap or clogs ffs, then you will really, really like these.
  • Soccer Slammers: A Twitter account which shares images of imaginary wrestling action figures inspired by famous faces from English football. Which, yes, fine, is perhaps the very definition of ‘a niche concern’, but is also very funny (or it is if you, like me, are inherently amused by the idea of Neil Warnock as a WWF character from the 1980s).

By Heeey Studio



  • The Unbrexit: I don’t ordinarily link to websites for venues that I have never been to – and, let’s be honest, that I am unlikely to ever visit – but I will make an exception for the website for this pub which is somewhere in Germany (the town of Ahaus, specifically – I have literally no idea why this nondescript town near the Dutch border, which according to Wikipedia is mainly known as a place where the German government, in its wisdom, chooses to store spent nuclear waste, decided to body the Brits this hard, but I am glad that they did) and which since 2017 has been a very weird-looking celebration of intensely-mediocre English pub culture. They do quizzes! It wouldn’t surprise me if they had the Only Fools and Horses pinball machine! This is very odd, but perhaps the strangest thing about it is how much it looks like a very, very bad pub built into a 50s council estate in South West London – honestly, it’s UNCANNY.
  • The Early Office Museum: Two things here: firstly, this is a classic Curios site, monomaniacal and obsessive and poorly-designed, all the good stuff – if you want a really DEEP dive into the workings of the early office life, and a trove of images and information about how the world of work operated in the earliest days of organised, mass-scale white collar and clerical labour then WOW are you in for a treat; secondly, this has perhaps my favourite angry, impotent scream of rage about THE MODERN INTERNET I have seen on any website – specifically, the screed at the top of the homepage railing against people pinning images from the site to Pinterest and thereby royally-screwing the site’s traffic and general raison d’etre, which basically ends up saying “EITHER PINTEREST GOES OR THE MUSEUM DOES!”. Sadly the screed appears to have been posted several years ago, and, well, Pinterest persists, so I think that the forces of The Bad Web have once again emerged victorious – still, here at Web Curios we pour one out for the Early Office Museum and mourn its passing. Also, fcuk Pinterest, such a horrible website.
  • Kinetic Verbs: Some glorious examples of typographic animation here – the work here is beautiful and clean and really imaginative, and will appeal to any designers or animators of typography-freaks among you.
  • Romance Covers: The dataviz wizards at The Pudding have turned their attention to the romance novel market in their latest bit of analysis, or more specifically to the COVERS of said romance novels – how have the various hunks and beefcakes and damsels in varying degrees of distress depicted on the jackets changed over time to better represent the shifting morals and mores of the times? This is really interesting – I was particularly struck by the fact that it seems that 2015 was PEAK NAKED for the covers, with lovers depicted on books in subsequent years being more decorously-clad in what is perhaps another sign of the rather more stentorian moral times in which we live. The piece also looks at representations on diversity and the style of the covers (illustrative vs photographic, etc), and is, as ever with The Pudding’s work, a brilliant piece of digital design and usability – there are SO many nice touches here, including the ability to compile the covers that catch your eye from those referenced into ‘reading lists’, and frankly anyone working in the aesthetic side of digital publishing could do worse than learn from the work these people are doing at the moment imho.
  • Goose Generator: Who wouldn’t like a website which when you click on it generates a selection of seemingly-always-different low-resolution images of the faces of geese in pleasingly-cheery primary colours? NO FCUKER, THAT’S WHO!
  • Photos Of Tiny Things: Or, to give it its full name, ‘The Nikon Small World 2023 Photomicrography Competition’ – but tbh ‘photos of tiny things’ tells you all you need to know. This year’s selection are, as per, VERY VERY SMALL, but equally are pretty fcuking amazing – I think the second-place pic of the match being struck is my personal favourite, although I appreciate that an appreciation for photos of fire is probably considered a bit basic, but I also very much liked the 8th placed shot which looked to me as though Klimt and Schiele had decided to team up and get into abstracts a bit – you, though, must as ever feel free to pick your own. NO YOU MUST.
  • Musing: I really really like this idea – it’s not a novel one by any stretch of the imagination, fine, but there’s a certain unspoilt purity in the ‘just speke your branes anonymously’ model and it seems to be implemented neatly-enough here. “”Musing” is a deep and reflective thought or contemplation. So if you are looking for a place to share your thoughts, ideas, or just want to write something down, this is the place for you. No feedback, no likes, no comments, no followers, no friends, no ads, no distractions, no bullsh1t. just you and humains thoughts somewhere on planet earth. No account needed, only the date, the message, langitude & latitude “within an area of 500 meters” are saved. Your thoughts will vanish naturally cause only the first 100 messages are displayed. You can be shocked, surprised, amused, or just bored by what you read, but this is the beauty of it.” This feels like an early coding project by a kid tbh – not that that’s a bad thing – and I am pleased to be able to report that there is NOTHING HORRIBLE on there (at least at the time of writing), whether by accident or moderators’ design; most of the contributions seem to be from South and Central America at present, so a bit of Spanish might help if you want to take the emotional temperature of a small subset of the world’s population via this site.
  • The Righting: This is an interesting idea, in a ‘know your enemy’ sort of way (NB – I don’t think that my politics will come as any surprise to anyone who reads this newsletter, but, for the avoidance of doubt, I can’t help but think of the right wing in modern western politics as being the ‘enemy’ – sorry to anyone of a more conservative bent who might be reading this, it’s almost certainly not personal) – The Righting presents a daily selection of headlines being served up by the right wing media (in the US, in the main, which means it’s obviously a very particular (very mad, very hateful) type of right wing we’re talking about) to give an overview of the talking points being pushed today. Obviously for non-US people this is of less immediate interest, but, personally-speaking, I think anything that the US wingnuts are shouting about now is increasingly-likely to be the things that your Badenochs and Bravermans (and, eventually, Melonis and the rest) will be shouting about in six months’ time (because, and sorry to be a conspiratorial broken record about this, but, IT’S THE SAME MONEY FUNDING ALL THESE PEOPLE) are yelling about over here in six months or so and as such this is worth keeping a vague eye on.
  • Oort: This is so far from my area of expertise – or even, frankly, comprehension – that I feel a bit guilty including it, but I figure there may be a few of you who get a kick from it. Do you program? Do you do so specifically in Rust? Would you like a(n apparently) fun game which lets you both practice your coding skills AND control a fleet of spaceships and eventually code a sort of Star Wars-type AI that can compete in tournaments against other similarly-minded people? WELL GREAT YOU WILL LIKE THIS THEN!
  • Neon Flames: This is quite a simple browser toy that lets you create rather pretty abstract images from a limited colour palette – it’s not that exciting per se, but I realised that everything you make with it past a certain point starts to look like an incredible image of deep space nebulae taken by Hubble, and when you think of it more as a tool to create an infinite number of imaginary galaxies, I don’t know, it becomes a lot cooler. There’s something quite soothing about this – seriously, if you’re feeling a bit frazzled I can highly recommend 5 minutes of abstract galaxy painting to take the edge off a bit.
  • All Of The Slide Rules: OH GOD THIS IS PERFECT. Would you like access to the greatest collections of slide rules ever assembled by anyone ever? Would you like to access the combined archival knowledge of the six greatest collectors of slide rules ever to exist? WELL LUCKY YOU! This is the archive collection of the Oughtred Society, which apparently existed to celebrate how awesome slide rules are – each member has their own interstitial page before the site links to their archive of images of slide rules – let me just reiterate: THEIR ARCHIVE OF IMAGES OF SLIDE RULES – and each archivist gets a small pen portrait and, look, I need to reproduce this in its entirety because it is SO GOOD and SO PURE: “Louis Gotlib grew up after slide rules had largely been replaced by electronic calculators. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from The Johns Hopkins University and the University of North Carolina and has been a chemistry teacher for thirty-two years. One day around 1996 he saw a catalog from the MIT Museum Shop where old slide rules were being sold, bought a few, looked around on ebay and the web, and has been collecting ever since. Louis has been an Oughtred Society member since 1997 and was recently selected to serve on the Board of Directors. Louis has a special fondness for slide rules and calculating devices with a chemical orientation but his collection of 1300 items covers as many makers and specializations as possible. Louis has published papers and given presentations on slide rules, cell biology, and chemistry education. He also coauthors study guides for students taking standardized tests and plays chess. Louis can often be heard in his classroom saying things like “put that calculator away and just think for a moment!” We are privileged to present HERE Louis’s collection of slide rules.” Basically if you don’t love this then you are a bit dead inside. BONUS SLIDE RULE CONTENT: bizarrely I also came across this longread about the history of the pocket calculator this week which contains quite a bit about slide rules and which suggests to me that there is some sort of grand plan afoot and it involves units of measurement.
  • Old People Reminisce: Or, to give this Reddit thread its full title, “what do young people get completely wrong about past decades?” Obviously this is ALL GenX/Boomer nostalgia and as such your mileage will vary immensely – I am linking it here, though, because there are enough of these that aren’t totally obvious that it made me think it might make an interesting read for anyone younger than, say 20, or something for those of you with kids to share with them as a futile way of attempting to bridge the increasingly cavernous gap between you (LOL!).
  • Tooth Antiques: Have you been searching with an increasingly-frenzied degree of frustration for a one-stop-shop for all your dental horror-related needs? Have you been looking for that one, perfect, impossible-to-find gift for your odontophobic partner? WELL LOOK NO FURTHER! Tooth Antiques is an online emporium dedicated to selling stuff made out of old teeth – human teeth, to be clear. Stuff like jewellery and clothing and dolls and keyrings…the shop is based in Canada and ships internationally, and the FAQ is very clear to point out that all their teeth are legally and ethically sourced…so GO FOR IT! (thanks to Rina for the tip!)
  • Literally All Of The AI-Generated Bongo: THIS IS A LINK THAT TAKES YOU STRAIGHT TO AN AWFUL LOT OF PICTURES OF A VERY EXPLICIT NATURE AND WHICH YOU MAY NOT REALLY WANT TO SEE SO BE WARNED! Ahem. I’ve been tracking the relationship between AI image generation and sex for several years here in Curios, and the main reason I include this – aside from the fact that it’s horrific and weird and gross and troubling and funny and awful and HORRIBLY FUTURE, obvs – is that it struck me when I saw it that comparing it to The Machine Gaze, Shardcore’s work on AI and bongo from three years ago, is a pretty amazing showcase of the speed of change of this tech. The link takes you to a website which is both a free AI bongo generator AND a rolling showcase of all the images being churned out by said AI bongo generator – to be clear, as with 99% of all AI-generated bongo, this is intensely cisheteronormative and you’re not going to find much here to interest you if you want anything other than a narrow range of waifu-level archetypes covered in wallpaper paste, and, honestly , there’s something really quite unpleasant about the same themes and styles of image occurring over and over and over again…look, I don’t have any particular viewpoint on the ‘generations have been ruined by bongo’ argument (I simply don’t have the data to draw on, tbh), but it’s hard not to think as you scroll, numbed to the spaff and the ahegao faces and the infinitely-recurring pixie noses, that something very peculiar has happened to male sexuality over the past few years. ANYWAY, this is sort of repellent and dizzying and mad (seriously, if you want to feel a moment of very real bodyhorror vertigo I suggest you go to the ‘generate’ tab of this website and look at the preconfigured tags that you can use to create your own smut – it…it doesn’t feel like a healthy way to conceive of sex, this, does it?), but I managed to find a small window of comedy by toggling the ‘tags’ view on the top menu and seeing exactly how badly the AI gets some of these wrong (seriously, there is some WONDERFUL unintentional comedy in there – ‘surfing’? ‘Lumberjack’ ‘NUCLEAR VAULT?!?’) – in general, though, I can’t pretend that this is anything other than depressing and a bit gross.
  • Puzzmo: This is a) a great source of daily new puzzle games; and b) a really smart idea for driving interest and adoption of a thing (I think). Puzzmo’s gimmick is that it’s limited access to people with the SKILLS: “Puzzmo combines newspaper favorites like Crossword Puzzles, modern classics like Typeshift, and some brand new puzzles created by me and a small team of artists and designers. For now, Puzzmo is locked. Every day we’ll mail out 500 keys so that only puzzle-loving humans can get in early. If you’re interested in receiving a key – or just having some fun – the first step is solving today’s puzzle.” So anyone can play the daily puzzle, but access to the whole site is limited to people who are into puzzles enough to keep coming back and trying to get on the waiting list, and the competitive aspect will drive interest…yeah, I think this is smart (and the puzzles are good) and as a way of ‘growth hacking’ (sorry) it struck me as  decent.
  • Can You Break The Algorithm?: This is imho a bad title for what is an excellent game – by the same people (AlgorithmWatch) who made Moderator Mayhem a while back, this is another game which also works to educate the player  as to the difficult questions and decisions inherent in managing content at scale. Here, you’re cast as the CEO of an imagined social platform (which is definitely Twitter), and over the course of about 30m gameplay (longer if you take your time) you’re asked to make decisions on moderation policy and platform functionality and how to spend investor money over several rounds of fundraising before you get to the eventual holy grail of the IPO – lots of the examples are drawn from the real world, and if you’re the sort of person who’s followed this sort of news at all over the past decade then you’ll recognise much of the material. This is fun, and does an excellent job of showing how incredibly fcuking difficult moderation and community management is – but it also does an excellent job of demonstrating just quite how hard certain platforms and, specifically, individuals have fcuked it of late. Yet ANOTHER example, by the way, of how good game design can work wonders in terms of helping to communicate HARD AND OFTEN BORING STUFF.
  • Quest At The Museum: Ok, so you need to be able to physically make it to London’s Natural History Museum to play this, but I LOVE it as a concept and it’s the sort of thing that could be adapted for anywhere really with a bit of work and imagination. It’s basically a scaled-down, kid-friendly D&D adventure, using the museum as a game space, designed by…someone anonymous (sorry, brilliant person who designed this, but I can’t find your name anywhere on the site) who has made the whole thing available to download for free here – honestly, how good does this sound? “Ever walked the halls of the Natural History Museum and thought “this place needs more riddles, dragons, and sword fights?” If so, you’re in the right place. We created this game for my daughter’s 11th birthday. It was a lot of work-and fun! So we’ve chosen to make it available for anyone who wants to play. It takes you around the museum, using the exhibits as encounter arenas. The dinosaurs are dragons. The stairs are the Cliffs of Insanity! You get it.” Charming, a great idea, a generous thing to make it freely available, and totally the sort of thing that you can use as CREATIVE INSPIRATON for anything you like – I am serious when I say that the current boom in D&D means that you have never had a better chance to pitch that extremely-geeky activation that you have always dreamed of (also, if anyone can be fcuked, I reckon that there is genuine mileage in creating a ‘UK General Election 2024’ D&D module – I am 100% serious on this, I think you would be AMAZED at the interest if you scripted it right).
  • Wind Waker: I have never been a Nintendo kid and so never played this version of Zelda, but you don’t have to be familiar with it to enjoy this remarkable little tech demo – someone’s basically recrated the whole sailing mechanic from the game and made it playable in-browser, and while there’s not really anything to DO per se there’s equally something undeniably soothing about pootling around the azure waters in your little vessel, collecting rupees – there’s also another mode where you can play a sort of endless runner-type game, but personally I’m just here for the aimless sailing.
  • Little Chef: Can you combine all the different ingredients to make all the different possible recipes? This is charming – the look and feel is gorgeous, and there are all sorts of little easter eggs in the animations of the various different kitchen elements to discover, but, equally, I got so frustrated by my inability to find all the various combinations of ingredients after about 15m that I had to go and have a fag, so well, your mileage may vary (by the way, if you’re struggling to get things into the pot, aim for the right hand side – seems to help).
  • Benjamin Davis: Benjamin Davis designs games – this is his personal website where he showcases his work. Several of his latest projects are app downloads, but if you scroll down the page a bit you can find a dozen or so small browsergames which are PERFECT for whiling away a few bored minutes while you choke back the tears between powerpoint slides and meetings (a few of these need Flash, but you can get a really nice modern emulator for that here if you want one) (this link via the always-excellent Paco, btw).
  • Hands: It’s rare that you see something in the world of browsergames that stands out aesthetically – there’s a certain tendency towards pixelart or 8/16-bit, as a rule – which is perhaps why Hands charmed me so immediately; it’s got the very particular look and feel of a certain type of mid-90s CD-ROM game, the photos and stop-motion animations style giving it a very specific vibe which is enhanced by the lightly-surreal nature of the setting and the puzzles and…well, you’ll get the idea. Your goal is to get the hands to meet, and clasp – see how you get on. Can we maybe have more stuff designed in this style, please? It’s awesome, sort of ‘maximalist post-Soviet collapse’, if I had to name it (as you can tell, there’s a reason I don’t specialise in the creation of neologisms).
  • Frasier Fantasy: Our final miscellaneous link this week is SO BEAUTIFUL and SO PERFECT and, honestly, if you like Frasier (the original, not the apparently appalling remake which I am refusing to really acknowledge) then you owe it to yourself to play this. Made in (I think) a Gameboy Colour RPG emulator-type engine, this game is a top-down, GB-style adventure in which you play as Frasier trying to get everything ready for one of his legendary soirees – except obviously there are hurdles to overcome. It will take you a while to get the hang of it, and there are some frustrations around the pace of the text at first, but you’ll get into it and once you do it is JOYOUS – I promise you, the writing is tonally superb and you will be reading all of the lines out in the character voices, and, seriously, I had 20 minutes of pure, unalloyed pleasure with this yesterday and I think you will too (one tip – when you save the game just hit the ‘action’ button when it says ‘saving’ as otherwise it’ll take ages) – this is just good, clean, healthy fun (and hopefully makes up for the AI bongo a few links back, for which I now feel sort of guilty).

By Flora Anna Buda



  • 140 Characters: Not a Tumblr! I don’t care though! This is amazing, like a time capsule to a VERY DIFFERENT TIME, when people thought that social media was nice and there was still hope that the digital REVOLUTION would change the world for the better – a decade or so ago, Twitter was a lot smaller and, for a certain type of person, its network effects were genuinely transformative – it’s not unreasonable to say that there are thousands of people in media and the arts and adjacent areas who literally made themselves on Twitter in that 2009-12 period, and this project from BACK IN THE DAY is sort of a chronicle of that – in 2011, Chris Floyd exhibited portraits of 140 ‘characters’ from Twitter who he’d shot as part of this project looking at the ways in which the platform gave voices to all sorts of different people to do different things with. It was a London project and the subjects here are very London Twitter, but it’s a really bittersweet relic of a time gone by – happysad in its hope and the way we all know everything turned out eventually. Still, I’m glad that some of these people got newspaper columns out of it all.


  • Patrick Bergsma: Patrick is a Dutch artist who works with Japanese pottery and bonsai, and his Insta feed is just GORGEOUS.
  • Salvos: This is a New York sandwich shop’s Insta account, which I discovered because of this lovely profile and which I am linking to not because the sandwiches are amazing (although they do look nice) but because there is something so lovely about the fact that it’s just a bloke, a bike, and Insta feed and a cooler full of portable snacks. This is exactly the sort of thing that also gets ruined by being profiled in the New Yorker and by being featured in newsletters like this (oh, ok, not like this – cooler newsletters with cooler readers, probably), so let’s hope that doesn’t in fact happen.


  • The Trap: I’m not going to link to loads of things about The Fcuking Horror because, honestly, I imagine you have plenty of other places where you can consume more information about if if you so desire – I will, though, make an exception for this piece by John Ganz which I think is probably the best piece of writing I’ve read in the past fortnight about the whole fcuking awful mess.
  • The Twitter Problem: I wrote something published this week making the point that anyone somehow trying to argue that the changes that Musk has made to Twitter over the past year have made it a somehow better or more useful platform for knowing what the fcuk is going on is either a moron, a blinkered ideologue or a pathetic contrarian (I didn’t say it quite like that, fine), and found a bunch of people attempting to suggest that the questions around exactly what happened at the hospital this week and who might have been responsible invalidated my point. Look, let’s just be very clear about this – while it’s clear that the world’s media made errors in their immediate reporting of the events, TWITTER DID NOT IN ANY WAY MAKE THE SITUATION BETTER. As this piece by 404 Media neatly points out, one of the side effects of the culling of moderators, the nerfing of the ‘report’ function, the removal of headlines from links and the massive sh1tshow that verification now is has been the proliferation of accounts spouting OSINT nonsense in an attempt to get enough attention to earn $30 from daddy Elon through the bluetick trickledown economy, and the related impossibility of telling who is a trusted source with a vague idea of what they are talking about, and who is a 17 year old kid from Bulgaria with a copy of Google maps making hasty annotations to grainy YouTube footage on MS Paint. Here’s more on the same subject from the New Yorker – it’s hard not to look at the past week and think ‘well, ‘objectively-agreed upon reporting was nice when we had it, wasn’t it?’.
  • The Techno-Optimist Manifesto: On the one hand, it’s easy to laugh at this – Marc Andreesen’s latest screed (and it really is a screed) outlining exactly why technology is ALWAYS good and anyone who opposes it is ALWAYS bad (no, no, there is no room for nuance; you’d have to be a FOOL and a COMMUNIST and an ENEMY OF GROWTH to think that) and why it is therefore vitally important to smooth the path for people suspiciously like him and his valley plute mates to just get on with whatever they want because TECH KNOWS BEST is genuinely funny on some level – it’s wafer thin, it’s got an at-best undergraduate understanding of most of the topics it touches on and not even a *smart* undergraduate (seriously, just start reading it and have a biscuit every time Marc says something that is an unsupported assertion masquerading as an objective fact – you’ll have type2 diabetes by the second half), and it does rather read like someone who’s been at the Adderall and whiskey and gak for a few days. On the other, though, Marc Andreesen is one of the most influential men in the world – it seems silly, but it really is true – and the madness of the longtermist agenda which underpins so much of this thinking (which is where the whole ‘if you oppose advanced AI it is basically murder’ argument comes from – the idea being that if you have the opportunity to act in a way that will secure the future of the species in perpetuity (to whit, pursuing the development of AGI) and choose not to do so by, I don’t know, doing silly things like ‘regulating’ or ‘worrying about consequences’, then you are effectively morally culpable for the deaths of all the potential future people whose lives might have been saved the superAI that you didn’t let Marc build fast enough – THAT IS LITERALLY THE ARGUMENT, which even the least-sophisticated thinker out there should be able to see…doesn’t totally hold up) is being drip-fed into the ears of the Western world’s leaders on a daily basis. Which sorts of people do you think will be attending the UK’s AI Safety Summit in a few weeks time? What will they be talking about? I think, sadly, the answer is ‘people like Marc’ and ‘stuff like this’ – honestly, when people write things like ‘ethicists are the enemy’ with no apparent sense of self-awareness it might perhaps be time to start, you know, worrying a bit. Anyway, you can read more critique of this piece of sh1t ‘manifesto’ here and here, and you may enjoy this cartoon which is still far too relevant 25 years on.
  • Labour Conference: For those of you with an interest in UK politics, it seems even more likely after last night’s byelection results that the Labour Party will win next year’s general election and become the party of Government – The Face sent Kieran Morris to Labour conference last week to soak up the vibes and offer a perspective on what it all felt like on the cusp of the party’s first taste of power in over a decade. I enjoyed this piece, which does a good job of capturing both the weirdness of party conferences and the people who choose to attend them – honestly, nothing more odd than the political fan who goes to these things IN THEIR SPARE TIME – and the sad reality of the fact that there is likely to be nothing transformative or revolutionary about any government led by Sir Keir Starmer (you may think that sounds defeatist, but, honestly, trust me on this – for example, I have it on reasonably good authority that Labour have directly promised the largest oil companies in the UK a pretty much total absence of meaningful additional regulation or taxation of their businesses over the coming parliament, regardless of prior manifesto commitments, which I think gives you a reasonable idea of the direction of travel here).
  • The Whole AI Jobs Thing: I know, I know, it’s been done to death and you’re BORED of hearing about how AI is going to steal your job/allow you to achieve hitherto-unimagined levels of white collar productivity (delete per your preferred outcome), but I thought this piece was a decent update of the arguments to take into account the latest round of multimodal updates to the major models – it’s certainly the most clear-headed about the practical implications of the latest wave of tech, and I think it’s wise to bear in mind the closing line which I don’t feel we’ve quite internalised yet: ““If A.I. can do anything we can do, it does not just replace the boring tasks,” he said. “It replaces all the tasks.”
  • Structured Missingness: OK, this is quite a…chewy piece on art and aesthetics and AI, and the idea of degradation and decay of information and how that relates to concepts of information in latent space…basically if you can enjoy paragraphs like this then you will very much enjoy this piece: “The decay of a photograph is the decay of memory, the decay of a memory is forgetting, and forgetting inspires haunting more than memory. If memory is the fulfilment of a promise to the past, then forgetting is a kind of neglect. What is not remembered is missing. What is missing still structures our models of the present. It structures the inferences that we make, whether we draw them from archives, memories, or datasets. If we automate these inferences — extrapolate patterns from data without regard to its gaps — the more that missing haunts the present.”
  • Every App That Adds AI: With the slow creep of generative AI beginning to insinuate itself into existing products and workflows – first Adobe, now in early November the whole Office package gets the upgrade treatment – this piece is a very funny overview of what every single ‘a service you are familiar with, NOW WITH ADDED AI!!!!’ offering looks and feels like. Whilst I am broadly less sceptical than the author, this is also generally very accurate indeed and will feel eerily familiar to anyone who’s tried one of those ‘we can turn any document into a PPT in seconds…WITH AI!’ tools at any point in the past six months.
  • Deb Chachra: Deb Chachra is someone who’s writing I’ve been reading for a few years now, and whose thinking I always find interesting – she tends to focus her thinking around questions of systems and infrastructure, which isn’t really my ‘thing’ but which she writes about with clarity and energy and intelligence, and in such a way which makes me think differently about all sorts of other things that have nothing to do with the ostensible subject of her work. The main link here is to one of a series of interviews she’s been doing to promote the book, which is with the excellent Scope of Work newsletter and which touches on all sorts of things, from systems thinking to network theory, and is just a brilliant and interesting conversation with a properly-fascinating mind. BONUS CHACHRA: there’s another superb interview with Frontier Magazine which you can read here, which covers similar-but-different territory and which included this bit which I think acts as a nice encapsulation for the whole: “We think about political or national citizenship as that we have a relationship to people by virtue of the fact that we have the same passport, we share the same flag. But the reality is that all humans have bodies and all those bodies exist somewhere on the planet and all of those bodies need resources to survive and to thrive. And typically those resources come from the land around you, whether that’s close or whether that’s far away. So we can think about infrastructural citizenship as the relationship that we have to the people around us by virtue of having bodies embedded in the landscape. What comes with that is that we have a relationship not just to the people who are around us today, but the people who will be living in the places we live well into the future, right? Whether you live in Boston or in Toronto, there will still be people living in this place in fifty, one hundred, potentially a thousand years. We have a relationship with those people, too, because they will also have bodies in this landscape and they will also have basic needs. So the idea of infrastructural citizenship is to recognize and think about that relationship we have to other people both today and into the future.”
  • Why I Built Zuzalu: I think I featured a writeup of Zuzalu – the temporary cryptotown which sprang up for a couple of months this year, established by Vitalik Buterin and other Ethereum people to explore ideas of community and self-governance and coworking in a more ‘serious’ manner – earlier this year, probably with some mild and not-particularly-funny snark about how these people are always fcuking obsessed with creating their own communities (I mean, it’s true, they are) – now Buterin has written a short writeup of the experience, why they set the place up, how it worked, etc, for Palladium Magazine and, honestly, as with everything I read by this guy, it sounds…reasonable! Not mad! Not cultish (oh, ok, fine, a BIT cultish)! Could Vitalik be the one crypto person who’s not a dreadful caricature?
  • My Hair Is Not: A project by the Wellcome Collection, “‘My Hair Is Not…’ is a natural-hair campaign that brings awareness to the microaggressions and discrimination that Black people experience due to their hair. This photo story explores the experiences of eight Black women, men and non-binary people with their natural hair and how each person’s different lives and circumstances directly affect their relationship with their hair.” This is a fascinating set of vignettes and I particularly like the way they’re written in such a way that preserves the original voice behind each.
  • The Loneliness Economy: Dirt magazine is consistently publishing some of the best writing about digital culture and wHaT iT iS dOiNg To Us at the moment, and this is no exception – this piece by Daisy Alioto, all about the coming tomorrow we can already see in things like the Rewind Pendant from last week, or Martin from the top of this week’s newsletter, and the bongo and the ‘digital friends’, and how this won’t ever stop us from feeling alone because, as the author notes, “You can’t cure loneliness because you can’t cure the power of refusal and any entity worth being in a relationship with has the power to refuse, the power to render us lonely.” Don’t think about this one too hard or you might start crying, FYI.
  • The Planescape Vision Statement: On the one hand, this is perhaps something of a niche link; on the other, it might be my favourite thing in here this week. Released in 1999, Planescape Torment is a videogame which even 24 years on still regularly appears on people’s ‘Best Ever’ lists – it is honestly one of the most incredibly feats of storytelling and worldbuilding ever conjured into digital existence – but it was only ever really a niche concern. This document is the ‘game vision bible’ produced by the dev team to ‘sell’ the idea to publishers (I think) and, honestly, I think this is one of the most amazing pieces of marketing/worldbuilding collateral I have ever seen. You start reading this and it IMMEDIATELY sounds like the most amazing game ever – and then it just keeps sounding cooler and cooler (ok, fine, this is very much ‘cool’ in the ‘late-90s XXXtreme!’ era sense, so there’s possibly a bit of a BRO DUDE AWESOME SWEARING IS EDGY vibe to it, but forgive them, they were young and it was the 90s) and, honestly, this feels like an object-lesson in how to sell a vision for something; what’s even better is that if you’ve played the title you know that this wasn’t in any way hyperbolic, and you really could do pretty much everything described in this document, however insane it sounds. Seriously, this really is quite a remarkable piece of writing – imagine how much fun it must have been to pull this together (as you sit there once again attempting to eke out three lines of copy about the transformative impact of a new car insurance product on consumers’ lives).
  • The Swift Tour: Given the acclaim it received on publication – justified, I must concede – it’s entirely possible you’ll all have read this already in the week since it was published; if not, though, this is the only thing you need to read about the Taylor Swift Concert Experience, which is not so much about the Taylor Swift Concert Experience as much as it is about The Whole Phenomenon of Taylor Swift and Being Young and Being A Woman and The Relationship Between Artist And Work And Audience (but also quite a lot about the Taylor Swift Concert Experience, to be fair). This really is very good indeed, and if I sound less than laudatory about it it’s only because I’m basically jealous of Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s ability to sustain this level of writing over 8,000 words (which regular readers will be well aware I very much can’t). BONUS CONCERT WRITEUP: this is less stellar, but also excellent; Pete Paphides on the current Madonna tour.
  • We Are More Ghosts Than People: I wasn’t expecting to read a beautiful, moving essay all about Red Dead Redemption 2 in the Paris Review this year, but, well, here we are. Honestly, there is a real strand of emergent writing using the landscape of games to tell stories about their authors internal emotional landscapes which I am very much enjoying, and this is an excellent and moving example of that – it will helping you’ve played the game, but it’s by no means necessary for you to enjoy this gorgeous piece of writing by Hanif Abdurraqib.
  • Orwell: This is a BRILLIANT essay – honestly, I kept stopping as I was reading it to go and make notes and open other tabs, and there was one line that sent me into a 15 minute (admittedly quite stoned, fine) tailspin about the self-other distinction and the degree to which social media has affected the porosity of said distinction, and it left my brain properly fizzing with ideas – all about Orwell, which, yes, I know isn’t necessarily a topic you think you need to read another 4k words on but whom I promise you will learn loads from this piece (unless you’re some sort of mad Orwellian scholar). This looks both at his thinking and his life, analysing his work and his socialism and the persona we’ve created around him, and what we think we mean when we say ‘Orwellian’, and generally this is erudite and interesting and educative and just wonderful (also, I had no idea Eric Blair was such a massive cnut) – also, it contains this line which struck me as a far more accurate definition for the term ‘Orwellian’ than the one most commonly in use by the pundit class: “Orwell’s direct statements of principle always sound like he’s standing up to the man and stating ‘blatantly obvious’ truths that other people are too scared or too dim to voice” – I mean, that’s…familiar, right?
  • Ice Queen: Finally this week, a short story by Lisa Owens which is hands-down the best description I have ever read of being an English teenager at a school disco (girl teenager, in this instance, but wevs) – this is funny and well-observed and awkward and cringey and, crucially, warm and incredibly kind, and I promise you that you will be smiling by the end (obviously this may not be the case if your own personal memories of the school disco are particularly traumatic, but, well, I CAN’T PLEASE EVERYONE). So so so so good.

By  Sophy Rickett


Webcurios 13/10/23

Reading Time: 35 minutes

Well, fcuk.

I obviously have no idea who reads Web Curios, but it seems reasonable to assume that some of you are Jewish – I hope your families and friends and loved ones are ok. It’s less likely that any of you are Palestinians, I think, but in case any of you are then I hope the same for you too.

Beyond that I obviously have nothing useful or informed or helpful to say about a situation that is incredibly fcuking bleak, other than perhaps to remind everyone (and, as ever, myself) that sometimes it’s ok not to publicly opine about every fcuking thing because, per this excellent and ever-relevant Tweet, you are not a fcuking embassy.

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and you could probably do with some interesting links and internet ephemera to take the edge off so, well, here you are.

By Anthony Gerace



  • Links: Our first site this week is so perfect, such an infinitely-wonderful example of EVERYTHING I LOVE ABOUT THE INTERNET, that I could frankly stop right here and declare Curios over and complete (but I am not in fact going to do that – sorry, but you think you get off that lightly?) – it is also OLD, and I am slightly amazed that I’ve not come across it before (turns out that the web is…quite big! Who knew?!). This is the personal website of one Justin Hall, which started in 1996 and has apparently was one of the first large-scale personal webprojects to gain any sort of significant traction, and is basically – Christ, I don’t really know how to explain it beyond the fact that it’s sort of someone’s entire brain and history just kind of laid out in rambling HTML. You can read something of a rundown of the project in this post, which offers a decent overview of the volume of…stuff on here: “In ‘94, the web was small enough that you could browse everything new over the weekend. So Justin set out to make his personal website site the ultimate curation project, to show the world what was possible on this weird new thing called “the Internet.” At its peak, had 27,000 daily viewers, which at the time was (to my best guess) 1% of all web traffic (for context, Mr. Beast captures 1% of today’s traffic). But Justin didn’t just curate the Internet, he shared his whole self online. He influenced a group of writers that came to be known as “escribitionists.” The word is a cross between “scribe” and “exhibitionist” (Justin has no issues with nudity). His website contains an autobiography, family history, write-ups about his friends, poetry, essays… just about anything he could imagine, and it’s all linked together in an insane, choose-your-own-adventure HTML maze. There are 5,000 pages in there, and I’d guess near 2 million words.” Honestly, I lost a good couple of hours to this when I came across it via Kris, and I really recommend you just treat it like an old-school online rabbithole – just click and read, and see where it takes you, but this is part diary, part commentary on early internet culture, part some sort of weird outsider art project, part chronicle of the web that once was…best of all, though, the way the links sort of tumble through each other really does make it feel like you’re effectively clicking through someone’s actual brain, which, yes, fine, might not SOUND like fun but I can honestly assure you is fcuking WONDERFUL. The world would honestly be so much better if everyone had a website like this, and I mean that entirely sincerely.
  • Facecheck: Dodgy services which purport to find people online based on a single photo are nothing new, but Facecheck is the first of these that I’ve seen that does it for free – the idea here is that you upload an image of someone (can I recommend you just use a photo of yourself? as otherwise…well, otherwise it starts to get a bit creepy, and I’d prefer not to encourage any stalkers if at all possible) and the MAGICAL FACE RECOGNITION TECHNOLOGY searches a bunch of profiles and images from around the web to find other instances of what it thinks is that person. Ostensibly used to ‘check if someone is real’ or ‘find out if someone’s actually a massive crimmo on an Interpol list’, it’s almost-certain that the actual practical market for the tool is ‘help creepy men track unwitting women around the internet without their consent’ and, well, that obviously sucks. HOWEVER, I really do recommend you trying it out with a photo of yourself as a) it’s always useful to check whether someone has stolen your identity and is using your countenance to catfish single mothers in Utah; b) it opens up a genuinely-unsettling uncanny valley world of people who look incredibly similar to you BUT ALSO TOTALLY DIFFERENT, like weird half-siblings or discount-supermarket replicant versions of yourself, the Sindy to your Barbie, if you will (and I very much will).
  • The Rewind Pendant: I actually featured the parent company here *checks* almost exactly a year ago, but it’s worth re-upping because this is a nicely-creepy bit of tech which feels perfectly-Curios-dystopian. Rewind, lest you forget (AND NOONE EVER FORGETS, NOONE, EVER, THESE WORDS ARE ETCHED INTO YOUR MEMORIES) was a service that basically ‘records’ everything you do online so that there’s a permanent, searchable record of everything you’ve ever done (typed, watched, etc) – the Rewind Pendant offers the same sort of total recall, but specifically for your speech and conversations. Wear the pendant and it will record and transcribe EVERYTHING you say so that you can refer back to it at a later date and ensure that everyone who wrongs you is made in some small way to pay for the slights they have committed against your name (I mean, look, there are obviously other use cases – aides memoires, that sort of thing – but also you KNOW that the market for this sort of thing is, to quote past-Matt, “the sort of person who believes in the vital importance of ‘keeping the receipts’ for everything.” There are apparently safeguards in place that will prevent you from inadvertently recording the voices of every single other person who passes within a metre of you, but personally this strikes me as a privacy nightmare – not to mention a genuinely-unpleasant constant reminder of how horribly, stumblingly inarticulate we all in fact are in real life. Would you like all of your conversations EVER transcribed and made searchable, with every “um?” and “er” and half-finished sentence and idiotic joke and poorly-constructed analogy and off-colour anecdote that you realise halfway through isn’t landing but you’re too committed to to cut off halfway…WOULD YOU? I posit that you would NOT (but, equally, that perhaps I am *slightly* more self-conscious about this stuff than you are, or indeed than is healthy).
  • Inception: This website only does one thing, but it does it very well – click the link, scroll and get absolutely fcuked by the weird sense of vertigo induced by that whole ‘the floor is also the horizon and also the sky’ effect from the film Inception. I would quite like to see this playing on a high-res loop at one of those hideous Outernet screens at Tottenham Court Road, mainly as I have a fairly strong suspicion that it would cause people to actually fall over.
  • Giant 105: This is so so so lovely – the work of a Korean developer called Chanwoo, this is a gorgeous bit of scrolly webwork that tells a small, gentle story about a giant and a flower. The art style here is glorious, and the way the animation is built into the site is really very neat indeed. Chanwoo writes that they ‘wanted to create a picture book that could be read with just a scroll’, which is exactly what this is.
  • The Meta AI Avatars: I confess to not having paid particular attention to the announcement the other week that Meta had licensed a bunch of famouses voices and likenesses so that they could be turned into chatbots for billions of people to ‘interact’ with through Messenger – mainly because, if I’m honest, I don’t really know what I would say to the real Kendall Jenner, let alone her AI equivalent. If you’ve also been…less than whelmed by the idea and have let it rather pass you by, It’s worth taking the three minutes to watch this video which demonstrates exactly how they work and what they look like and…fcuk, it’s genuinely VERY WEIRD. I don’t know if I have the same ‘this is going to get lots of people hooked’ reaction that the presenter here demonstrates, but there’s undoubtedly something genuinely odd about this as a mode of interaction – the photorealistic Max Headroom-y avatars lolling their heads as you type to them, their baffling insistence that they are not in fact Kendall Jenner but your ‘ride or die bestie’ (I mean, what the fcuk does that even mean?) Billie, the attempt to get you to tell the AI your fears and problems…Actually, on reflection, I can imagine this being absolute catnip to a certain type of teenager with a certain type of parasocial obsession, so expect to lose your 13 year old son to a virtual relationship with a digital clone of Mr Beast. Sorry!
  • Texts From My Ex: Do you think that there is always TRUTH IN DATA? Do you believe that if you analyse enough information you’ll be able to scry some sort of hitherto-unknown clue that will help you make sense of the confusing mess that is LOVE? Well if so then you will adore this service, which offers you the ability to hand over the entire corpus of your messaging history with a significant other (or indeed anyone tbh) and let this AI toy ‘analyse’ it to determine exactly how and in what specific way you fcuked everything up. This is actually just a PR stunt for some dating app or another – I know, I was SHOCKED to find out that it wasn’t in fact a series piece of analytical software! – but there’s the kernel of an interesting idea here, particularly given the imminent advent of mass-market multimodal AI; the general ‘get AI to assess and comment on X/Y/Z dataset’ has a lot of potential for fun and frivolity imho – on which note, by the way, there’s an open source image-parsing model doing the rounds at the moment which might be useful for some of you to play with; if nothing else it means that someone can now use this to build the MAGIC ROASTING MIRROR which will assess your outfit and tell you why you look dreadful and which I think would be a genuinely fun thing to put in Westfield and then just film the reactions (but perhaps I am just mean).
  • Cambrian Explosion: I don’t think I will ever get bored of websites that simulate evolution, and this is no exception – pick a creature shape, set the terrain parameters and watch as the ungainly single-celled organisms flump and wobble across the screen in search of genetic supremacy.
  • The Museum of Everyday Life: My knowledge of Vermont in the US is limited to some vague guff about maple trees, pecans and the fictitious higher education institution of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, but I now have a reason to visit – specifically to make a pilgrimage to The Museum of Everyday Life, an institution which offers “a heroic, slow-motion cataloguing of the quotidian–a detailed, theatrical expression of gratitude and love for the minuscule and unglamorous experience of daily life in all its forms. We celebrate mundanity, and the mysterious delight embedded in the banal but beloved objects we touch everyday. In pursuit of this mission, some of the questions we ask ourselves are: What would it be like to imagine a museum filled, not with exotic objects, but with perfectly familiar ones? What would it look like to defy the commodity-based model of collection and display? And how might it be possible to create massive participatory collections of objects in a way that illuminates the back and forth dance, the essential, vibrant relationship between objects and people?” Ok, so it’s a physical museum which means that the website is more about essays and writing around the broad concepts of ‘the quotidian’, but there’s something so charming about the idea, and the ‘philosophy’ section of the site contains some genuinely-interesting pieces which feel quite appropriate for autumnal afternoons.
  • AI Text-to-Gif Maker: Do YOU want the ability to spin up gifs of whatever you like in just a few seconds, limited solely by your imagination? Are YOU relatively relaxed about whether the resulting outputs look like they’ve been made out of candlewax, by Helen Keller? If the answer to these questions is a resounding ‘yes!’ and ‘no!’ respectively then WOW are you going to enjoy this – the first link is a HuggingFace instance that you can play with, but if that’s too slow or laggy then you might want to give this other version a try – what you get out of this is VERY potato-ey, but there’s something undeniably fun about seeing how badly The Machine mangles the concepts you feed it. I just tried to get an output for ‘batman wiping his bum’ and, well, it’s fair to say that the tech’s not quite there yet, but see how you get on.
  • Lethelink: This is very much a prototypical idea and, as far as I can tell, nothing more than some hacked-together code on Github at the moment, but I thought it an interesting idea and use-case for AI (if one that also, if I’m honest, made me feel incredibly sad inside) – Lethelink is “an interface to create grounding messages for people who suffer from anterograde amnesia, which a popular symptom of Alzheimer’s. The messages can be delivered to the person’s hearing aid on a schedule to prevent episodes of disorientation. Caregivers can use Lethelink to create nudges that ground their Patient in reality, remind them they are safe, and help them orient in time and space.” So basically this monitors someone’s heartrate, vital signs, location or any other dataset you care to think of, which monitoring can trigger specific, personalised messages and ‘reassuring content’ to assist in reassuring and calming a distressed or disoriented patient – which on the one hand is a smart and genuinely-useful-sounding idea, but on the other…Jesus, sorry, but there’s something so utterly bleak about the idea of a residential home full of the incraesingly-untethered from reality, all of them being gently reassured by voice messages in the spoofed voices of their loved ones who haven’t in fact come to visit for years…no, sorry, if I keep writing about this it’s going to make me start crying, next link please (I am, it’s fair to say, a touch ‘overtired’ this morning and as such am perhaps a touch more emotionally fragile than normal, sorry about that)!
  • Script Monkey: Given the furore this year over the Hollywood writers’ strike and AI and the associated questions about securing creative labour for the future it seems appropriate to feature ScriptMonkey this week – an AI-assisted screenwriting tool that will generate story outlines for you based on simple characters sketches and genre cues…OH MY GOD THIS IS AMAZING! Not, to be clear, because it will produce anything decent, but because it writes genuinely-dreadful, tone-deaf dialogue, it doesn’t seem to be able to keep track of what’s happening meaning the continuity’s all over the shop, the plots are about as sharply-conceived as you’d expect from what is basically ‘Script Clippy’…seriously, this is HOURS of fun, and if you’re in an office when you happen to be reading this can I please strongly advise you to stop whatever you are currently doing (NOONE CARES YOUR JOB IS POINTLESS) and instead use this tool to spin up a screenplay featuring all your colleagues which you can then spend the rest of the day acting out? Seriously, this really is GLORIOUSLY terrible (but, equally, it does sort-of-technically work, so for the right brand you might be able to have some ‘we got AI to script our next ad lol’ using this.
  • 4k Rivers: Photos of rivers. Really, really beautiful photos of rivers! “An ongoing series of vibrant river and delta images from North America and other parts of the world. The images are constructed using high-resolution elevation data.” RIVERS!
  • Unfcuk Twitter: Lol, jk! You can’t unfcuk it! It’s beyond unfcuking! Still, if you’re still committed to Twitter, clinging on by your fingernails until That Fcuking Man finally renders it entirely unusable by, I don’t know, deciding arbitrarily to stop anyone who isn’t a BlueTick from posting vowels, then you might find this Chrome extension useful – it undoes some of the more egregious changes to the platform (not least the logo!) including the hideous ‘removing the text from links’ thing which has proven itself to be a fcuking anti-masterstroke since last weekend’s events (YES ELON YES WHY DON’T YOU JUST FILL OUR INFORMATIONAL WATER TABLE WITH P1SS??), and based on my usage of it this week it also seems to make the whole site run marginally less badly. It increasingly feels like rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic, but we persist.
  • Banchan Art: An interesting idea, this, for artists who do commissions and buyers looking to commission work – basically Banchan is a place for people to put their work and manage their sales, and for buyers to browse, but with an interesting community-owned ethos behind it which I think might appeal to a lot of you. For those of you who Make Stuff On Demand, it might be worth checking out and signing up.
  • Dashtoons: There have been a lot of people over the past week or so getting quite upset about AI-generated comics and how they are basically soulless and miserable and stealing work from the mouths of artists, and I do broadly agree – AI can’t do scripts, and its compositions are banal (but, of course, this is the worst it will ever bezzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz) – but at the same time I did think that this site, which lets you basically spin up panel comics with AI assistance for character creation and composition, might be useful. While you’re not going to use it to create anything artistically-astonishing, I can 100% see how it could be helpful for storyboarding or blocking out a narrative, or for spending several hours creating an incredibly-detailed and VERY PETTY anime-style retelling of all your friends’ secret beefs (you decide).
  • The Magnum Collection: This is quite a cool little promo stunt for Squarespace, which is somewhat undermined by the fact that Squarespace makes websites that almost universally look like dogsh1t (yes, I am aware, please do not feel that you have to inform me about the glassiness of my current dwelling) – still, the broad premise is nice, and there’s some excellent photography to enjoy. Squarespace partnered with Magnum Photo Agency to give a bunch of famous photographers (the budget for this must have been pretty big, I don’t imagine that Steve McCurry gets out of bed for pennies) a single roll of film to shoot however they saw fit; each of those rolls then got turned into a website by Squarespace which ‘embodies the work’ or somesuch guff; the websites are also available as template options for Squarespace customers which is a nice link back to product and purchase. Except, well, as previously mentioned, the websites are all just a bit…crap.
  • Microsoft Comic Chat: Did you know that there was, back in the DISTANT PAST of the web, there was a Microsoft IRC client that let you chat to people via the medium of infinitely-customisable comic strips, like a sort of proto-bitmoji? I BET YOU DID NOT! “Microsoft Comic Chat (later renamed to Microsoft Chat) is an sublime IRC client developed by Microsoft during their glorious golden age back in 1996, which provides an equally humourous and useful way of chatting that no other program to date has ever replicated. Unlike every other IRC client, where communication is done purely in text form, Comic Chat allows you to assume an avatar and use it to chat in the form of an ongoing comic strip. Every line you say can be punctuated with specific emotions/poses, allowing you to both express yourself in a clearer manner, or alternatively, to inject humour into conversations in a way that is scarcely possible to do via just text alone.” This page both looks back at the magic of Comic Chat and also gives you tips on how you can still use it if you can be bothered to jump through some technical hoops; whilst, ok, it’s all a bit fiddly and oldschool, can you imagine how much better your friendships would all be if they were conducted exclusively via the medium of 90s-web-aesthetic comic strips? YES, AND IT IS GLORIOUS!

By Aistė Stancikaitė



  • JD In The Metaverse: I do enjoy those occasional moments in 2023 when you get reminded of that frothy, idiotic period a year or so ago when a surprising number of people who you’d think ought to have known better were suckered into paying significant amounts of cash for…a really crap level in a sub-Roblox digital sandbox that a grand total of, at best, 60 actual real people would ever experience – and here’s another one! This is Jack Daniel’s demonstrating that someone at ‘metaverse platform’ Spatial really saw them coming, with this IMMERSIVE EXHIBITION which…oh, fcuk it, seeing as someone evidently SLAVED over this copy I will here reproduce it in full: “Jack Honey Art, Beats + Lyrics welcomes you to “The Verse”, an immersive VR experience that celebrates visionary artists and musicians that push the urban art culture forward. This out-of-this-world exhibition showcases incredible urban artwork, iconic photo collections, a larger-than-life musical concert, and a bar where you can actually order Jack Honey to be delivered right to your door.” Which, of course, translates into an empty, soulless virtual space – which, if you’re a connoisseur of these dreadful things as I by now sadly am, you will notice is VERY SIMILAR to the empty, soulless virtual spaces created for all the other brands on the Spatial platform, because it turns out that there are only a set number of off-the-shelf metaverses and, well, people are lazy – which is weirdly incredibly lo-res and, er, doesn’t seem to load properly! Special mention too to the ‘art gallery’ on level 2, which seems to be almost entirely broken – excellent quality control, everyone! I really, really hope that the people involved with this have had to have some very specific, very pointed conversations about budget and impact – how many bottles of JD Honey do you think were ordered through this? I think…three!
  • The Journey: Staying with pointlessly-shiny websites that don’t really make any sense, here’s a GLORIOUS example of ‘budgets? PAH! We work in luxe, darling, and budgets are things that the little people have to worry about!’ as an ethos. LVMH is apparently a VERY INNOVATIVE COMPANY in lots of different ways – while you might think that the best way to learn about that innovation might be to, I don’t know, read the business’ annual report, or to look through its portfolio of companies, or to listen to a talk with their head of innovation, you are WRONG! The best way, it turns out, is to access ‘The Journey’, a text-lite and VERY gnomic website which itself is just a portal to a bunch of equally-confusing and similarly-gnomic other websites! I love this so much – the fact that it uses copy like ‘navigate through LVMH’s new innovation territories and opens windows into the Group’s possible futures!’, which means literally nothing! The fact that it’s not really clear why you would want to click on anything! The fact that for some reason all of these innovative concepts are presented as strange, mirrored rectangles in some sort of strange space desert! The assumption that I have either the time, or the patience, to spend a few hours parsing whatever the fcuk LVMH thinks this all means! Well done EVERYONE, this is very special indeed.
  • The Working Class History Map: Working Class History is a project dedicated to surfacing the stories of ‘ordinary’ people from around the world who have shaped the communities or environments in which they have lived; to quote the project’s ‘About’ page, “History isn’t made by kings or politicians, it is made by us: billions of ordinary people. It is our struggles which have shaped our world, and any improvement in our conditions has been won by years of often violent conflict and sacrifice. WCH is dedicated to all those who have struggled in the past for a better world, and who continue to do so now. To help record and popularise our grassroots, people’s history, as opposed to the top-down accounts of most history books.” The project has recently launched a new map interface, which you can use to find stories from specific places to dive into – for example, looking at Italy I have just learned of “ Tommaso Pesci, an innocent farmer who was murdered by fascists two days previously. His funeral procession was led by a column of the Arditi del Popolo, Italy’s first militant anti-fascist group, who marched armed with knives, bayonets and walking sticks. The killing prompted in response the first action of the Arditi outside Rome, who successfully prevented fascists from entering Viterbo for three days.” You could lose days to this.
  • Vedeo: AI video continues to be, well, a bit shonky, but IT IS ONLY GOING TO GET BETTER AND EVENTUALLY IT WILL BE GOOD ENOUGH. Vedeo is a website that collects examples of AI-generated video and animation, submitted by creators and enthusiasts, and is a decent place to bookmark if you’re interested in keeping track of the tech’s development and spotting the exact point at which it flips from ‘no, everyone in this video looks like they are made of fuzzy felt, I feel incredibly discomfited by their teeth’ to ‘I am literally never hiring another video editor again’.
  • Wikiloc:Do YOU love the great outdoors? If you’re reading this it seems…unlikely, tbh, but I suppose it’s possible that some of you might spend SOME time away from screens every now and again – anyway, if you’re the sort of person who has ‘kit’ and owns dubbin wax then you might find Wikiloc useful, a site which collects information about walking trails and hikes across the world, and makes them available for anyone to search and download and access via an app. This has been going for 17 YEARS, which feels frankly remarkable and made me feel warm and fuzzy in an unexpected, healthy, bosky sort of way.
  • IKEA Instructions For Anything: A cute little AI toy on HuggingFace – type in anything you like and The Machine will generate a cute little illustration in the style of IKEA self-assembly furniture instructions (I promise this will make sense once you click the link). I particularly enjoyed giving it things like “pointless office drudgery”, which would make a truly EXCELLENT motivational poster imho.
  • International Pet Photographer of the Year: I’ve just noticed that this site has the surprisingly-aggressive banner legend ‘UNDER NEW MANAGEMENT’ running across the top of the homepage, which makes me wonder whether there is some sort of dark beef underpinning the change, whether the previous conveners were found to be taking kickbacks from ambitious Borzoi snappers or something. ANYWAY, we will probably never know, so best to focus instead on the photos of the LOVELY ANIMALS – these are obviously great photos, but I can’t help but also find them…incredibly, endearingly gauche, in the same way as those staged studio portraits that your friends get of them and their partner and their kids, and that you have to smile at and pretend to like while all the while wondering what the everliving fcuk happened to their sense of aesthetics (fortunately the friends in question don’t read Curios – or at least I really hope that they don’t, otherwise this is going to get quite awkward). I strongly recommend that you click into the ‘creative’ category for some truly wonderful staging and post-production, including one portrait of a dog that looks almost EXACTLY like someone’s run it through a ‘make this photo look like a pencil drawing’ filter from a seaside arcade photobooth (also, there is one particular dog on that page who you know will never forgive their owner – you’ll know the one when you see it).
  • Wildlife Photographer of the Year: MORE CRITTERS! These are obviously all sorts of amazing – the winning photo, which you may already have seen elsewhere, is particularly gorgeous this year – but my personal favourite is the one of the mollusc…well, *squirting* (although special mention also to the genuinely-unhinged shot of the people bothering the dead snakes, which is…Jesus). NB – there are a reasonable number of pics in here of animals that are wounded or dead or dying, so, you know, caveat emptor and all that.
  • We Are Learning: Ostensibly this is a platform that lets you create animated CG training videos using a bunch of pre-rendered avatars who you can give scripts to and who will ‘act’ out vignettes and scenarios to make training more ‘engaging’ – but, honestly, give a fcuk. The appeal of this, to me at least, is the ability to use it to bring the terrible scripts spat out by that AI script generator that I linked to earlier to life – THINK OF THE BRILLIANTLY-TERRIBLE THINGS YOU CAN MAKE! You need to pay to get full access, but there’s a free tier which is worth playing around with (but only for frivolous purposes, please).
  • Cocoa Press: I don’t imagine that many of you are domestic confectioners – still, in the unlikely event that one of my vanishingly-small readership is in the habit of making elaborate sculptures from criolla in their spare time then BOY do I have the toy for you! Cocoa Press is basically a 3d printer for chocolate – for the low, low (ok, not actually that low at all, but, come on, YOU CAN 3D PRINT CHOCOLATE FFS!) price of $1500 you can get a machine with which you can create, I don’t know, A SCALE MODEL OF THE HOUSE OF COMMONS OUT OF CHOCOLATE! A BUST OF YOUR OWN FACE, OUT OF CHOCOLATE! A FULL-BODY-CAST OF YOURSELF THAT YOU CAN EAT IN SOME SORT OF BIZARRELY-SEXUAL CANNIBALISTIC RITUAL…OUT OF CHOCOLATE! Can one of you please get one of these and let me know how you get on? Thanks!
  • The Good Song Club: Many years ago, in the halcyon days of circa 2010 when everything was NEW and SHINY and HOPEFUL (or, more accurately, we were stupid and naive and blind to what was already happening) there was an excellent if short-lived website called This Is My Jam, which basically worked as a single-idea social network; anyone with a profile was able to have a single song up on there at any given time, the idea being that you will always have a particular obsessional favourite track of the moment, and that the site was a place to share and celebrate your current obsessions and where you’d go to share your new ones…anyway, it was lovely but sadly doesn’t exist anymore (because nothing pure ever lasts), but I was reminded of it by this site, which exists solely to share links to good songs on YouTube. I like this – more of these VERY SPECIFIC single-use networks, please.
  • The Birdsong Visualiser: This makes SUCH lovely artworks, honestly – you need to jump through a couple of hoops to produce the images, but it’s pretty easy and the outputs really are gorgeous in a slightly-70s-design kind of way. The idea here is that the software works to produce a visualisation of different audiofiles of birdsongs, which render as sort of negative-orange explosions…wow, I really am making a pig’s ear of this – just rest assured that that you’ll get something genuinely cool looking if you follow the instructions.
  • Paper Toys: Specifically, SPOOKY PAPER TOYS! This is a frankly mental collection of print-out-and-cut-and-fold-and-keep model instructions, running the gamut from ‘spooky houses’ to ‘shrunken heads’ to, er, ‘spooky biplanes’ (it does feel like a *bit* of license has been taken around the ‘spookiness’ of some of these, but given the generosity in making them all free to download it seems somewhat churlish to complain). The papercraft candelabras are genuinely cool-looking, in particular, and would grace ANY table – there is a lot of really cool stuff here if you and your friends/family/flatmates feel like spending an evening with the scissors and the pritt stick.
  • Hummingbirds: “Published between 1849 and 1887, English ornithologist John Gould’s monumental work depicts and describes all the known species of hummingbirds at the time—comprising 418 lithographic plates and information on 537 species.” THERE ARE SO MANY PRETTY ILLUSTRATIONS OF VERY SMALL BIRDS HERE. No idea what you might do with them, but I’m sure you’ll think of something.
  • Google’s History: I know it’s not cool, and I know that it is Just Another Fcuking Business, and that at heart it’s motivated by the pursuit of profit and shareholder value just like every other soulless capitalist enterprise, but I must confess to still having a soft spot for Google as a business – there’s something about the brand that will always remind me of those early days surfing the web (YES, IT WAS JUST LIKE SURFING, WHY ARE YOU LOOKING AT ME LIKE THAT?) and the endless possibilities afforded by the textbox and the places it might take you, limited only by your own imagination (and possibly your own fear and embarrassment about what you might find and how you might feel about it), and, well, I know that everything’s adverts and sales funnels here in 2023, but I still feel that old nostalgia. Which, perhaps, is why I enjoyed this rather pretty but of scrollytelling, which takes you through the evolution of the company’s search offering from the mid-90s to the present day. If nothing else it’s just really stylishly-built, and a reminder that the Google design team really has been consistently excellent for a long time now.
  • Observable Radio: I don’t quite know what this is, but I think it might be something that some of you find appealing – it self-describes as ‘a found footage anthology podcast of retro and analogue horror’, and the blurb reads as follows: “Late at night, from an isolated satellite communications installation, an unnamed Observer secretly broadcasts a bizarre transmission to a nearby facility. In the wake of a global communications disruption following a near-miss with a comet, he has begun to detect mysterious signals from other worlds. With no one but an isolated colleague that he can trust, he shares a series of seemingly impossible signals, unsure of what to do next…” This sounds pleasingly-weird, if you’re in the market for something seasonally-spooky to feed into your lugholes.
  • The Museum of Youth Culture: I am slightly embarrassed that I had no idea that this existed – still, I do now, and I think I might pop down there this afternoon and have a look. For those of you not able to hop on the tube to Shaftsbury Avenue and visit in person, though, you might enjoy the Museum’s website – here’s the blurb: “Museum of Youth Culture is a new emerging museum dedicated to the styles, sounds and social movements innovated by young people over the last 100 years. Championing the impact of youth on modern society, the Museum of Youth Culture is formed from the archives of YOUTH CLUB, a non-profit Heritage Lottery & Arts Council Funded collection incorporating photographs, ephemera, objects and oral histories celebrating our shared youth culture history. From the bomb-site Bicycle racers in post-war 1940s London, to the Acid House ravers of 1980s Northern England, the Museum of Youth Culture empowers the extraordinary everyday stories of growing up in Britain.  Throughout the pandemic the Museum has received thousands of submissions from the general public through a highly successful online campaign, ‘Grown Up in Britain’ inviting the public to submit their own photographs showing us what it was like growing up across the country and challenging traditional stereotypes about young people.” You can also get to the Subculture Archives from the homepage, which is an INSANE resource of cultural ephemera from the past 60-odd years of UK youth movements and which I imagine might be of use to quite a few of you – you have to apply for access, and there may be a fee for commercial use, but I think it might be worth it.
  • Wol: We still don’t have a compelling use-case for AR, but while we wait for one to emerge why not amuse yourself with this in-no-way-necessary but still oddly-touching experience by Niantic, which lets you interact with a small, digital owl which appears on your table or floor via the magic of your phone, and with which you can ACTUALLY TALK thanks to the magic of voice recognition – I mean, fine, Wol wil likely bore the everliving sh1t out of you with their warblings about THE FOREST and THE REDWOODS, but it’s kind-of cool to play with for 5 minutes and made me think that there is, potentially, a market for this sort of thing once the whole ‘conversational’ element gets up to speed; it’s not hard to imagine some sort of unholy crossover between this and the Meta AI avatar stuff, in which a 3-inch tall Kardashian homunculus squats on your kitchen floor and tells you you look fabulous (I mean, that sounds hideous, obviously, but I am sure you can think of something less overtly-unsettling).
  • The Worst SubReddits: Or, specifically, the most fcuked-up – I think it’s important to point out that there are some links in here to things that are GENUINELY AWFUL, and in the main I wouldn’t recommend clicking on any of them, but also that scrolling through and reading the descriptions (and the occasionally horrified reactions of other posters who did not heed the advice and did, in fact, click) is kind-of horribly compelling and a nice, bracing jolt of ‘wow, the human zoo is a genuinely repellant spectacle and perhaps it would be for the best if we just let the rising seas take us”. I don’t know which of the examples here listed gave me the biggest ‘OH GOD I KNOW I SHOULDN’T CLICK BUT THERE IS SOME SORT OF HORRIBLE, LEMMING-LIKE COMPULSION FORCING MY FINGERS’ feeling, but it was probably one of the ones relating to the seemingly-not-uncommon-as-you-might-think fetish for self-castration; but, er, PICK YOUR OWN! NB – I am not joking when I say that you really, really don’t want to click most of the links in this thread.
  • The GoodEnough Guestbook: Finally this week, a small-but-lovely webtoy by a group of software developers in Minnsesota, who’ve set up this webpage so that anyone who visits can send them a message – draw whatever you fancy, and it will be MAGICALLY sent to their Tiny Printer and, er, printed. You can see a gallery of messages that others have sent, but I just love the idea of there being this small device in a corner of their office that every now and again whirrs with a missive from a stranger somewhere miles away, and I honestly think that this should become a general part of life – I would very much like to be able to send ANYONE a small sketch or message that will be printed on a very small roll of paper and possibly stuck to a ‘wall of messages from strangers’ that grows over time. SO PURE AND CHARMING, which isn’t something I feel we’ve had much of a chance to say this week.

By Emily Geirnaert



  • Cybergems: Incredibly strong aesthetic snippets from the early internet – this is a TROVE of gorgeous, horrible, appallingly-resized gifs and jpegs and like a very specific time machine, and I love it.


  • Alice Zhang: A designer who’s running a project on her Insta page where she’s designing a different poster each day for 100 days – there’s some really nice work here across a range of styles and aesthetics which is worth delving into.
  • Milwaukee Public Library: A rare example of a public institution that is GOOD at social media, I am never going to visit the Milwaukee Public Library but I am very glad that it exists.


  • The Pope On Climate: Despite my Italian ancestry and the fact that I have been baptised and had communion and all that jazz, I’m not – and I’m aware that this may shock some of you – a hugely-committed Catholic (but, to be clear, they are My Team when it comes to religion – there is no God, the Catholic church is a largely-corrupt instutution and we will all die alone, but if I’m going to pick a flavour of Christianity to ‘support’ I am obviously going to choose the one with the frocks and the pomp and the ceremony and the PROPERLY batsh1t beliefs and the implied cannibalism, not the frankly THIN SIMULACRUM OF FAITH that is protestantism – just, er, don’t mention all the terrible stuff), and as such I don’t spend a huge amount of time reading Papal encyclicals, but I made an exception for this one as I was genuinely curious to see how the Vatican articulated its position on the climate crisis – this is a surprisingly fascinating read, and I genuinely recommend it; partly because you don’t generally get to consume this sort of copy any more, partly because of the way it wrangles science and faith together in its second hald, and partly because it’s nice to hope just for a second that this sort of statement might make an iota of difference.
  • Taxes: No! Wait! Come back! I promise that despite the less-than-promising premise, this piece – Stefan Collini in the London Review of Books writing about tax, the history of the concept, its current implementation in the UK, the political theory that underpins redistributive theories…honestly, this really is interesting, and it will force you to think about what we pay tax for, and who should pay it, and how perhaps we might think about reimagining tax for a fairer and more equitable future (yes, ok, lol, but a boy can dream).
  • Where We’re At With AI Right Now: Our semi-regular check in with Ethan Mollick, who continues to be essential reading for anyone wanting to do anything practical and, you know, actually useful with generative AI – here he gives a decent overview of the current state of the tools and what you can use them for, with a focus on the new multimodal stuff which has just come to GPT4, and as ever he’s clear and helpful about the practical ways you can actually, you know, make this stuff useful. Tangentially-related is this piece, about how various companies are using LLMs to write RFPs and pitch documents – which, if you’re yet to think about it, really is an excellent use-case; literally noone in the world gives a flying fcuk about the prose quality of public sector procurement documents, and if you’ve ever suffered the pain of having to complete one then you will also know how appealing the prospect of just handing the drudgery over to The Machine is. Oh, and while we’re doing ‘practical AI bits and pieces’, this is a really interesting academic paper looking at some of the practical use-cases of machine vision and which takes you through a pretty exhaustive list of theoretical things you can do with multimodal AI and how GPT4 fares at a set of tasks; again, super-useful if you want to think about how you can actually make this stuff useful.
  • Rest vs West: SUPERB bit of reporting by Rest of World here, where they profile a selection of tech companies who are dominating their respective sectors and which aren’t from North America or Europe: “What is the most widely used social media platform in Vietnam? Not Facebook or TikTok — it’s Zalo, with an impressive 87% adoption rate. And what was one of the earliest online food delivery platforms? That would be Talabat, launched by a group of Kuwaiti students in Cairo, in 2004. That’s three years before the iPhone came to market. If these names surprise you, they shouldn’t. Startup ecosystems outside the West have been churning out billion-dollar tech companies and radically innovative products for years. But their achievements are rarely celebrated or known here in the U.S. Today, not only are entrepreneurs in Buenos Aires, Lagos, and Jakarta building businesses that create huge economic opportunity and value, they’re also competing directly with Silicon Valley for users and growth in these markets. And they’re winning. Our 2023 annual list is devoted to 40 trailblazing companies that, in their own ways, beat the West. Some of them won by market combat: Years of bruising competition led to lucrative acquisitions by their Western rivals, or acquisitions of the Westerner’s local assets. A few just dominate their sector outright.” So many interesting businesses in here, some of which you will obviously have heard of but many more of which were totally new to me and which offer a fascinating insight into markets and sectors about which I knew (and, frankly, still know) the square root of fcuk all.
  • AI and Stereotypes: While we’re doing Rest of World, this is another interesting piece by them which looks at how various text-to-image systems are encoded with specific visual stereotypes around specific nationalities – it’s not a whole novel area of enquiry, fine, but the analysis is well done and well-presented, and it’s a useful reminder of the fact that (as I’m sure you all know) THIS STUFF REFLECTS THE SYSTEMS THAT BUILT IT! Long-term readers will of course recall that we covered this exact topic here on Web Curios a whole two-and-a-half-years-ago in this post by Shardcore – SEE YOU FCUKERS IF YOU JUST CLICK ALL THE LINKS AND READ EVERYTHING YOU WILL BASICALLY KNOW THE FUTURE.
  • The Average Chinese City: I found this so interesting, in part because it gives a window into a China that I personally rarely think about but which is the lived reality for literally hundreds of millions of people – lives in unremarkable urban centres which straddle the boundaries between rural and urban living. “Some of the top headlines coming out of China this year have trumpeted its struggling economic situation, as the nation emerges out of zero-covid: property sales have been falling, local governments are collectively in the red by trillions of dollars, and youth unemployment is at a record high or 21.3% (and you need to work only an hour per week to be considered employed). With extremely poor job outcomes and a home price-to-income ratio as high as 35:1, Xi Jinping’s urging for today’s youth to “ask for hardship” is hardly comforting. After a summer trip, ChinaTalk editor Irene gives us a first-person window into a small city in northwestern China, Baoji.”
  • STOP IT BRANDS: Ok, fine, that’s not the title the subs gave it – still, it’s very much the sentiment of a piece which asks the question ‘if every single brand is now doing that weird Twitter memetically-deep-fried post-Duolingo-and-SteakUmms schtick on social media, does that mean that it is in fact horrible and played-out and should stop?’, and answers it with a resounding YES. I think, honestly, the only good thing about the risible joke that is my ‘career’ is that I no longer have to have serious conversations with actual adults about what tone of voice a brand of batteries ought to have on the internet – if that is still what your professional reality looks or feels like, might I gently suggest that, on balance, perhaps it’s better just to be unemployed?
  • Myst: For a certain generation of people – specifically, people who are middle-aged and had wealthy enough families that meant that they had a decently-specced home PC in the 90s – the videogame Myst is a sort of Proustian artefact, the mere mention of the name taking them back to an era of massive beige CRT monitors and AOL cds; if that’s you then you’ll very much enjoy this piece looking at the design and ludic principles that underpinned the game and which made it peculiar and particular and so uniquely-immersive.
  • The Man Who Invented Fantasy: This is SO interesting, and was entirely new to me – I had no idea whatsoever that the genre we broadly know as ‘fantasy’ nowadays (you know the idea – epics! worldbuilding! magic/majick/magyk! an occasionally-troubling amount of implicit racism! Characters with names like ‘Tharg, son of Thargandia’!) was basically an entirely-confected one, developed by one Lester del Rey who saw the obsessional devotion applied to Tolkien and, not unreasonably, thought ‘wow, if we keep churning out stuff about wizards and little green pointy-eared guys, and women in improbably-skimpy armour sets then we’ll basically have these nerds in the palm of our hands forever and we can afford all the smoked-glass tables and cocaine paraphernalia our hearts desire!’ (it was the 70s, after all). Reading this made me think that someone at Penguin or Doubleday is going to eventually just ‘embrace the Omegaverse’ (if you know, you know, and if you don’t then…frankly, if you don’t then you’re lucky) and make an awful lot of money as a result.
  • The Kabul Intercontinental: This is a superb piece of journalism published by Swiss paper NZZ – it profiles the people who are currently trying to run the Kabul Intercontinental, a relic of Afghanistan’s more glamorous past currently being used by the ruling Taliban as an administrative centre, canteen, hospitality centre…interviewing various people involved in the running of the place, the piece speaks with Taliban and non-Taliban alike to paint a picture of a strange, twilighty-feeling world where noone quite trusts anyone else despite the smiles and the bonhomie. Honestly, this really is very good indeed and one of the most human-feeling pieces coming out of Kabul I’ve read in years.
  • SBF: I’ve been weirdly uninvested in the FTX/Sam Bankman-Fried story (other than the stuff about the polycule, mainly because it once again proved to me that my thesis about the polyamorous – to whit, that they are almost NEVER people who you would actually want to bone – is correct), but this is a particularly-excellent review of the new Michael Lewis profile of the man, which is scathing both about Bankman-Fried and about the extent to which Lewis was apparently charmed by him. Having gotten through the Musk biography – sadly I can’t link you to my review as it’s print-only (HOW QUAINT IN 2023!), but I can happily inform you that it contains the following description of Musk of which I am personally quite proud: “someone incapable of breathing without Tweeting, who is already not so much open as prolapsed?” – which is equally tainted by a feeling that the author admires their subject more than is seemly. it seems oddly common for these biographers to be…weirdly unquestioning about their subjects. Is this normal?
  • The Morality of Gossip: You may not think that you want to read an actual academic text which explores the extent to which the act of gossiping can and should be considered a morally deleterious act – but you are WRONG, because this is genuinely brilliant and entertaining and is exactly the sort of philosophy I most enjoy, ostensibly-fluffy but knotty at heart.
  • The Complete List of Bingo Calls: I have no idea where I found this, but it was published on the Mecca Bingo website a few years ago and I was THRILLED to learn a selection of less-heralded bingo calls – everyone knows ‘88 – two fat ladies’, fine, but were you aware that ‘30’ is traditionally known as ‘dirty gertie’, or that ‘64’ is upsettingly rhymed with ‘red raw’ (I really don’t think I want to know the etymology of that particular one)? YOU WERE NOT DO NOT LIE TO ME.
  • Trapped In A Veil: I’ve been reading my way through the Booker longlist over the past few months, and ‘The Bee Sting’ by Paul Murray is one of my personal favourites so far (fwiw, my other picks are ‘If I Survive You’ and ‘In Ascension’, should you care) – this is the LRB’s review of the Bee Sting, which also encompasses reflections on his earlier works, and, while I think that I enjoyed the novel significantly more than the reviewer did, it’s a brilliant bit of analysis of form and style and thematics which also has the benefit of being very readable.
  • More Than Meets The Eye: I appreciate that it’s vanishingly-unlikely that any of you woke up this morning thinking ‘you know what I’d really like to read today? Several thousand words of unlikely socialist-inflected nostalgic analysis of the Transformers cartoon series of the 1980s’, but, seriously, you are in for a TREAT. Ok, fine, it helps if you’re a middle-aged man who was obsessed to the point of single-minded devotion with Optimus Prime et al, but even if not this is a warm and evocative bit of nostalgia that covers a surprising amount of ground considering that, at heart, it’s basically about some animated advertisements for plastic tat from 40-odd years ago.
  • Remember Kony 2012?: I was talking with someone the other week about watershed moments – in that specific instance we were discussing the point at which UK culture shifted from that 00s-era ‘aggressive, angry, hypersexualised vulgarity’ to the slightly-more inclusive and sensitive landscape of today (in case you’re interested, I put it at Dapper Laughs sombre poloneck Newsnight appearance), but I wonder whether Kony2012 was in its own way a watershed moment too, the death-knell of the idea that going viral was in any way ‘good’. Do you remember Kony2012? IT WAS A FCUKING WEIRD TIME, basically, and this piece takes us right back there, recapping the frenzy and then, more interestingly, securing an interview with the guy behind Invisible Children, the one who famously had that naked breakdown in LA when the gaze of the world became too much…I think it’s fair to say that he still has issues, and I’m not 100% certain that the reporter’s wholly responsible in the way they write this up if I’m honest with you, but it really is a quite incredible mental time machine to a very different era.
  • Influencer Boxing: A great piece in GQ, looking at how KSI and the rest are ‘disrupting’ boxing – or, depending on your point of view, how we’ve basically reinvented cockfighting but instead of specially-reared fowl we’re howling for the blood of seventh-tier entertainers and internet personalities. There is something very funny – if sort-of depressingly irresponsible – about some of the vignettes in here where the promoters brainstorm new boxing formats; while I generally have no interest in sports in which pituitary meatheads hit each other, I would totally watch a puglistic Royal Rumble (but, you know, guiltily).
  • Pilar: I loved this article – David Coggins writes in Esquire about the magazine’s relationship with Hemingway, and specifically about how Hemingway was able to parlay that relationship into his beloved boat, Pilar – you don’t have to like, or indeed have any affection for, Hemingway to enjoy this article, which paints a picture of an era to which literally anyone who gets paid for words would give their kidney to return to (fine, we’re not all Hemingway, but the per-word rates quoted in here! Oh me oh my!).
  • Long Distance: Finally this week, a story from the Paris Review – it was published in 2014, but I stumbled across it this week and it is SO GOOD; specifically, it has that very specific quality I get from reading South American Spanish prose in translation, a sort of lightness to it which I absolutely adore. I promise you that this really is excellent and 100% worth your time.

By Don McCullin


Webcurios 29/09/23

Reading Time: 34 minutes

Trains! Misogyny! Hateful rhetoric about immigration! The risible lolfest that is Liberal Democrat Party Conference! Unauthorised tree surgery! WHAT A WEEK!

There, that’s you all caught up with the stuff in the ‘real’ world! Now it’s time to focus on the weird internet ephemera, of which there is a BUMPER CROP – which is fortunate because Web Curios is off next week and so fcuk knows what you’d have done without this jam-packed dose of linky munificence.

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and you probably found the concept of Laurence Fox opining on the ‘fcukability’ or otherwise of anyone else as risible as I did.

By Noah Kalina



  • Wikipedia Search-by-Vibes: I can’t help but love a wonky, slightly-orthogonal search mechanic (WHO DOESN’T, RIGHT KIDS? Eh? Oh), and this is a near-perfect example by Lee Butterman, who’s built a way of navigating Wikipedia which eschews all the normal, traditionally ‘click a hyperlink’ or ‘search for keywords’ techniques and which instead uses natural language stuff (look, there’s a more technical explanation which you can find here should you so desire, but know that I tried to read and understand it and, well, I failed) to let you search for, I don’t know, ‘those trees with the leaves that are a bit pointy but also rounded’ and return you a bunch of results from the Wikidepths. SUCH a brilliant idea, and a nice example of the eventual endpoint of all this AI stuff, where The Machine will eventually be able to make sense of whatever garbled, half-baked request we feed it and we’re able to sit back and just feed on peeled grapes while reclining like late-period Romans (that’s definitely how it’s all going to work out).
  • Another Text-To-Video Toy: Yes, ok, fine, I know that these are no longer new and shiny, but I’m always interested to compare the pace of change of the various tools in this space – this one’s called ‘Genmo’, and it’s in-browser, and it’s free (or at least you can play around with it a bit without having to fork out initial cash for ‘credits’) and while you won’t be using this to create all your video from hereon in, a) it’s not bad, considering it took ~10s to generate this; b) honestly, most of the video you create for your job and your clients is pointless and doesn’t need to exist, so why not just sack it all off, replace the ‘content’ with AI-generated footage of cats or whatever, and call it all quits? I appreciate that ‘link 2’ is a bit early in the week to start with the whole ‘your job in advermarketingpr is a pointless joke and you should stop doing it’ but, well, I am feeling it VERY STRONGLY this week and thought you might want a Friday afternoon fillip.
  • Historica: This is a genuinely-interesting project which, as far as I can tell, is fruit of collaboration between a bunch of historians and a few technologists across Europe, and which is interested in looking at how generative AI tools and techniques can be applied to the study of history, and specifically the creation of AI-augmented historical maps. This site itself is…a bit dense, fine, and VERY WORDY, but there’s a lot of interesting thinking and writing on there about some of the ways in which they have used generative models to help generate visual representations of THE PASSAGE OF TIME, and if you’re interested in AI, history, teaching or any vague combination of those things then you may find this stimulating.
  • The Snapchat Agency Adventure: Snap is having something of a trying period, with various stories appearing over the past week or so suggesting user numbers are dropping, and the company culling its enterprise AR team a couple of days ago…but that’s ok, because it’s going to persuade agencies to pay it FCUKTONNES OF MONEY via the medium of, er, a game! And not just ANY game, but ‘a game designed to show you how Snapchat can help your clients reach their audience and drive results’, which I think we can all agree is just what the troubled company needs to get people spending big with them again! This is actually a reasonably-diverting 15 minute experience, although it suffers slightly from being built in a top-down, vaguely-16-bit style which means you spend more time than you might necessarily want to having ‘conversations’ with various avatars representing Snap staff who tell you helpful things like ‘we have a large and growing audience of 750 million a month!’ while they loop through three frames of minimalist animation. Still, there are a few pleasing minigames in there which will help use up some of those empty hours between birth and death which you might otherwise have to fill with ‘work’.
  • The Coca Cola Record Store Experience: What do you think of when you think of ‘Coca Cola’? Sticky brown sugarwater? Incredibly-expensive endorsement deals? Vending machines? Those weirdos who seem to exist solely on Diet Coke, to the exclusion of all other liquids (I say this as someone who probably gets through in the region of 20 cups of tea a day, but WHAT IS THAT DOING TO YOUR INSIDES?!)? NO YOU THINK OF NONE OF THOSE THINGS YOU INSTEAD THINK OF CRATE-DIGGING IN AN UNDERGROUND RECORD STORE! Or at least that’s what Coke *wants* you to think of, judging by this ‘interactive digital experience’ in which you’re plonked into a 3d CG representation of a dimly-lit vinyl emporium and invited to wander around it, collecting digital tchotchkes representing various expressions of the Coca Cola Brand Experience (so miserable, so sad!) – but not just that! Oh no! You can also find a selection of records in the ‘store’ by various artists which you can then ‘listen’ to in a dedicated ‘room’, and by so doing you can ‘unlock’ some special artist-related content…on the one hand, this is pretty-slickly-made (as you’d expect from one of the world’s largest and richest brands), but on the other there’s something a bit…thin about the experiences you unlock, and I remain slightly baffled as to exactly what I would get from this were I a fan of (to cite but one of the artists involved) Cat Burns (other than, obviously, a near-irresistible desire to waterboard myself with Coke).
  • Staring Contest: I really like this – a neat little toy by Google, as part of its Arts & Culture Lab, by longstanding Web Curios favourite Pippin Barr – click the link and you’re presented with a different artwork each day (I think), representing an individual who is presented to you in close-up detail; your job as the viewer is to STAY AWAKE, which you can do by clicking your mouse to keep your ‘digital eyelids’ (I promise it will make more sense when you click the link) open. This is obviously a bit of a silly, one-note gag, but it also does a good job of forcing you to engage with the work,  and because it’s Google the works are presented in super-high-res and as such the whole ‘stare into the subject’s eyes while clicking manically’ thing does actually make you engage with each piece in a way you mightn’t have done otherwise. This is fun and silly and a really strong example of how interaction design can have interesting impacts on how information is communicated and absorbed (he said, like the boring pseud he is).
  • The City of Praxis: It is a truth universally acknowledged that a plutocrat in possession of vast fortune must be in want of a vaguely-libertarian citystate built to exactly their specifications in which they can live out the rest of their violently-wealthy days unfettered by the tedious concerns of the lumpenproletariat! Or at least that’s how it fcuking seems, judging by the speed with which all these fcuking cnuts start imagining their own ‘NEW TECH UTOPIA CITIES’ as soon as they get to nine figures in their bank accounts – and so it is with the fantastically-named CITY OF PRAXIS (in my head it is called ‘CITY OF HUBRIS’ fwiw), which self-describes as ‘A greenfield development designed to support those tackling the world’s hardest problems’ (also, I like the implied positioning here that these MEGABRAINS, these violently-rich altruists, DESERVE a special city all of their own because of the vital work they are doing delivering hockey-stick returns and 10x shareholder growth). This is still very much at the blueprints stage, but the site claims that the collective behind the project is in ‘the final stages of site selection’ to determine where exactly in the Mediterranean they are going to establish this utopia for the brightest and best – and if you would like to be one of them you can apply here; they stop short of asking for your net worth, but it does rather feel implied, but there’s a…reasonably-strong implication in the literature that they’re only interested in you if you can bring a few million to the table, as the model for Praxis is built on ‘ten thousand members with an average lifetime value of $2+ million collectively represent $20+ billion in city value.’ Details as to who has signed up so far are limited, but intriguingly the site mentions ‘a former G7 Prime Minister’ and ‘a former EU Prime Minister’ and I would not be surprised if the grinning face of Mr Tony Blair was somehow involved in this. You can read a bit more about the project in this excellent piece in the equally-excellent The Fence Magazine – I doubt that this is ever going to happen, but I hope that its failure is spectacular and visible from space.
  • Spill: As The Great Social Fragmentation engendered by That Fcuking Man’s slow evisceration of Twitter continues, so new spaces to hang out online continue to crop up – the latest to cross my field of vision is Spill (main link here) which is a Twitter-esque product built by ex-Twitter staffers and which is designed for, and aimed at, the Black community specifically. The main link takes you to their ‘about and onboarding’ document, which is done as a Google presentation and is…actually really good, giving you a clear illustration of what the platform is, how it works, some notes on language and general vibe…honestly, it struck me as a really smart and simple way of quickly getting people onboard with what you are trying to do and significantly quicker and easier than spinning up and maintaining a website. I confess to not having tried Spill, mainly because a) I am a misanthrope and don’t actually feel the need to join any more fcuking communities, please leave me alone; and b) I am a white, middle-aged man and didn’t feel that I would necessarily have a lot to contribute to the app, but it looks like a decent new entrant into the ‘granular alternatives to Twitter’ landscape should you be in the market for one.
  • Post Crossing: I am slightly astonished that I have apparently never featured this before, but I suppose I should just be pleased at how that illustrates the wide-ranging and near-infinite majesty of the web rather than letting my failure to be across EVERY SINGLE FCUKING WEBSITE IN THE WORLD irk me (except obviously that is exactly what I am going to do) – anyway, my inadequacies aside, Post Crossing is a LOVELY web project which exists to encourage strangers to send postcards to each other – there’s a simple mechanic which matches people, and all you have to do is request an address from the site, pick a card, write a message and pay the postage and VWALLAH! You are now part of an international network of strangers all sending messages to each other via the magic of the postal service. I love this so so so much and am going to pop out and do my first missive this afternoon (someone is going to be SO EXCITED to get that postcard of a goose being fois-grased!) – honestly, I don’t think there is any pleasure quite like getting a (nice, to be clear) message from a total stranger, and I STRONGLY recommend you get involved with this as it is lovely and pure and you may end up with a nice new friend as a result (although based on a cursory bit of research, it is very likely that that friend will be in Germany – MAN do Germans love postcards, turns out).
  • The Nature TTL Photographer of the Year: ANOTHER EXCELLENT SELECTION OF PHOTOGRAPHS OF CRITTERS! As ever, these are all wonderful – as far as I can tell, they’re also all reasonably-happy pictures (no obvious animal death on display, basically) so you can click safe in the knowledge that it’s all cuteness and light and no PETA-style horrors; my personal favourite of these is the gorgeous shot of the caterpillars chowing their way through a leaf, but please feel free to pick your own.
  • 1FF: I am fascinated by this (and thanks to Rishi for sending it my way) – it’s another example, along with the previously-mentioned King’s League, of how it feels like we’re on the cusp of some sort of new breakout mass sporting format based around football, but equally like noone quite knows what that might look like or how it might in fact work. 1FF is…it’s an entirely-fictitious, entirely-CG-and-AI generated football league, in which a bunch of (again, entirely-fictitious and entirely-virtual) teams compete in computer-generated matches to contest a league title; the gimmick here is that ‘fans’ can invest in individual teams and players by buying stakes, which stakes translate to votes on crucial decisions on which players to sign, or in the case of the players which teams to sign for…There’s an element of this I can imagine really taking off, that taps into the modern phenomenon of people supporting individual players rather than teams, and the idea of kids being able to materially affect the ‘career’ of one of these ‘players’ is something I can conceive of as being appealing, but at present it all feels a bit…thin. I haven’t delved in too deeply – there’s a weirdly crypto-ish vibe which puts me off, although perhaps that’s unfair – but I am honestly fascinated to see how (if) this evolves – if nothing else the fact that they have seemingly got their very own proprietary CG match engine simulating all this is pretty impressive and suggests to some reasonably-deep pockets. The team names are AWFUL, though – South London United FC is SO ‘Pro Evo’ it hurts.
  • Fat Bear Week: It’s FAT BEAR WEEK AGAIN! You should, by now, what to do – at the time of writing, voting in the first bracket is yet to open, but hopefully by the time I hit ‘send’ on this fcuker you’ll be able to click and decide whether you think ‘910 Yearling’ or ‘806 Spring Cub’ is the chonkiest.
  • All Of The PixeL Art: OH GOD THIS IS SUCH AN INCREDIBLE RESOURCE! Japan’s Maeda Design Studio has made this incredible collection of pixel art assets available for anyone to download and make use of – the description is so charming I might cry: “DOTOWN is a site where you can download coarse dots. Rough dots refer to pixel art that uses the lowest possible resolution to create the ultimate abstract expression. Despite being abstracted, the coarse dots are packed with information and have achieved a “reverse evolution (=ultimate abstraction)” in game graphics.They have a slightly empty atmosphere and have a “Maeda design feel”. Rough dots have been a symbol of this, and even today, rough dots appear everywhere, including on the Maeda Design Office’s website and membership page. All of us at Maeda Design Studio would be happy if you could use these coarse dots for a variety of things, including websites, banners, flyers, and even embroidery!” No, seriously, literally crying a bit (I am tired), IT IS SO PURE.
  • Castrooms: This does, I concede, feel VERY 2020, but there’s no reason why some of you might not still find this useful – Castrooms is a bit of software designed for DJs or indeed anyone doing live performances to a virtual audience, and which presents everyone listening to / watching said performance as a massive WALL OF AUDIENCE in front of the performer so as to give them a better sense of presence and feedback when putting on a show. This is a really good idea, which is eerily similar to technology that The Pleasance Theatre were experimenting with during lockdown, which makes me wonder whether it’s in any way connected – anyway, if you do stuff that involves ‘streaming comedy or music or theatre or whatever to a reasonable audience’ and you would like to deepen the connection between perform and said audience then, well, HERE HAVE THIS.
  • Songwritings: I stumbled across this earlier this week on Twitter and I LOVE IT – this is an occasional newsletter by two people who I think work in advermarketingPR (but don’t hold it against them, they seem nice) and who every now and again collaborate to make a song. Nick Asbury writes words, and Kate van den Borgh sets them to music, and they share the resulting songs and thoughts about the creative process each time they make something, and the latest one is genuinely really rather beautiful and made me want to hear more.
  • An Auction of Stuff from Tron: I saw Tron at the Cinema with my mum in Swindon in the early-80s, and it honestly changed my life – not in the sense that it motivated me to pursue a career in, say, programming or graphic design (lol career!), but in the sense that it was the first time that I realised that I would probably be happier inside a machine than outside, and that perhaps this whole ‘meat’ thing was a mistake. You may or may not have any sort of personal connection to the original film, but you will almost certainly be vaguely aware of its incredibly strong sense of style and aesthetic and the neon and the costumes and the light cycles and the mad Jai Alai-variant game that they play…SUCH A GREAT FILM! Anyway, this links you to a bunch of stuff currently for sale online – lots have between 1-3 weeks left to run, as far as I can tell and so you have PLENTY OF TIME to peruse them and work out what you’re going to spend your kids’ nonexistent inheritance on. Concept art, frames from the film…there is SO MUCH wonderful material here, and there’s a lot of stuff where the starting bid is $0, so it’s entirely possible that you might be able to get your hands on something without having to sell a kidney to do so.

By Xiangni Song


  • Bloom: Audio erotica has been a thing for a few years now – pretty sure I’ve featured at least one company making SEXY PODCASTS for you to enjoy here in the past – but that’s almost certainly set to explode thanks to the INFINITE CONTENT FLYWHEEL allowed by generative AI; which is exactly where Bloom comes in. The platform promises to offer a range of SPICY CONTENT augmented by AI chatbots which reflect the personalities and kinks and desires of the most popular characters from the platforms stories, which will let you talk filth to whichever hunk you prefer (and, eventually, let you ‘talk’ to them with AI voice simulation, although I don’t think that that’s live yet) – I confess to not having spent much time with this, partly because, well, I don’t personally feel the need to listen to audiobongo, but also because the site is pretty heavily paygated (you only get a couple of stories to listen to for free, and any chat beyond the third interaction needs ‘credits’) and it’s also (unsurprisingly) VERY much focused at the heterosexual woman market and I don’t personally really want to listen to some breathless discussion of how ‘she tasted the nectar of his forbidden hardness’. You, though, might be DESPERATE for exactly this sort of content – I neither know nor care about your proclivities! – and so, you know, ENJOY.
  • The StayCay: Another link which is SO 2020 (this one via Rina), The StayCay is a gorgeous example of ‘building an online ‘space’ using freely-available and non-obvious tools’, specifically in this case doing so via Google Sheets – there was a spate of people creating ‘hangout’-type environments during the pandemic using the ‘shared documents’ functionality of the GSuite, but I think this is by far the most involved and well-realised and thought out, although I am personally saddened by the fact that it’s basically all about how cool crypto is which rather lessens its whimsical appeal in my eyes. Still, this really is a proper labour of love and it’s really pleasing to explore and see the care that’s gone into designing, making and maintaining this shared space. I STRONGLY BELIEVE that every single company should create one of these spaces as a sort of unmonitored digital hangout for staff, and if any of you would like to pay me loads of money to do a really half-ar$ed job of setting such a thing up for you then, well, YOU KNOW WHERE I AM.
  • The Tomb of Rameses I: Do you want to explore the inside of the tomb of one of Ancient Egypt’s rulers? Would you like to do so without suffering the horrors of international air travel and the attentions of 10million artefact-peddlers attempting to sell you a pewter model of the Great Pyramid? WELL LUCKY YOU! This is a rather wonderful project which has photographed the interior of the Tomb of Rameses I and made it available to navigate via a Google StreetView-esque interface, complete with all sorts of explanatory annotations – you can either choose the guided tour or to ‘freely explore’ the temple, and while the latter is best for actually learning stuff there’s something genuinely cool and slightly-Indiana-Jones-y about the ability to navigate the tomb’s tunnels and the torchlight effect the software applies to your field of vision. The only thing that could make this better, to my mind, would be some sort of ‘OH GOD THERE’S A MUMMY’-style Easter Egg, but I concede that that’s possibly not the historically-accurate vibe that the creators were going for.
  • Stay In Shrek’s Swamp: I wouldn’t normally link to something which is literally just ‘a PR stunt by Airbnb’, but I’ll make an exception for this specific promo because, well, IT’S SHREK!!! WHO DOESN’T LOVE SHREK?!?! NO FCUKER, etc! As part of its semi-regular ‘let’s mock up a location from a popular entertainment property and make it available as a very short-term let, and by so doing rinse the PR!’ activity, Airbnb has created a version of Shrek’s Swamp somewhere in Scotland, which will be made available to rent for a limited period in this Autumn/Winter – booking opens on 13 October, so I suggest you bookmark this now and set a reminder, because otherwise this will be 100% booked out by the sort of weirdos who want to use this as an opportunity to film disturbingly-well-located Shrek-related bongo (look, it’s a disgusting concept and I am sorry for raising it but, also, that is EXACTLY what will happen).
  • Sent You A Song: I have long thought that there’s a missing…thing (sorry, this is very inarticulate but we have run out of milk and it’s 903am and I am currently torn between needing to keep caffeinated if I am ever going to finish this thing and knowing that if I take 10m to run to the shop my ability to finish this even vaguely on time will be utterly banjaxed, and you don’t actually need this internal monologue digression, do you?) in modernity when it comes to cute and pleasing ways to share music with people – you can send a link, fine, but it lacks a certain poetry. Sent You A Song is a lovely little project which attempts to make sharing music with an individual a bit special again – what I particularly like about this is that by using the site to share a track, you add your selection and accompanying message both to the site’s homepage and the accompanying playlist, which makes the whole thing a lovely accumulation of songs that mean something to people, and which they have wanted to share with others. The trail of messages is a beautiful touch – it looks like this has been most popular in Brasil to date, based on the fact most of the messages are in Portuguese, and the music that people have sent is wonderfully-eclectic. Basically this is GREAT.
  • FontGuessr: I think this might be the hardest game I have ever featured on Curios – NO OF COURSE I CAN’T GUESS WHAT THE FCUKING FONT IS, WHAT DO YOU THINK I AM SOME SORT OF TYPOGRAPHICAL RAINMAN?! Ahem. Anyway, those of you who are actual designers and typographers might find this significantly more fun and less challenging than I do.
  • Has Your Book Been Scraped?: You may have seen a whole bunch of authors online getting understandably upset this week at the discovery that their works have apparently been ingested into OpenAI’s training corpus for its LLMs – The Athletic first ran this story early in the year, but it’s been resurrected by the fact that they have now released a search engine which lets anyone check whether their works have been included in the Books3 dataset (which is what speculation suggests has been used to train GPTx) and as such whether they form part of the training data for the current most popular LLM. The main link takes you to the search engine, but you can read more about it The Atlantic’s project here – the question that remains, though, is to what extent can any of these authors expect to have any sort of legal redress against OpenAI and others, and how might the various lawsuits currently being engaged work in practice? Obviously the answer is ‘lol noone knows this is literally unprecedented’, but if you’re interested in delving into some of the likely legal arguments then you could do worse than read this rundown which does a neat job of explaining why ‘fair use’ is a very slippery idea, and why it might turn out that there’s a perfectly compelling argument that OpenAI might make to suggest that at best authors might be entitled to a couple of quid and a pat on the head (briefly: I can totally see a legally-sound argument to suggest that the best equivalence to what we are talking about here is someone ingesting an author’s entire body of work and then using that body of work to inform their own subsequent thinking and writing and doing – and there is no way in hell that we would suggest that the ‘someone’ here owes anything to the author in question other than the RRP of their body of work).
  • Mused: It’s fair to say that museums in the UK don’t always do the very best digital work, often through no fault of their own – I know what public sector digital procurement is like, and I know what ‘attempting to get funding for anything’ is like, and I know that there is often a…disconnect between the digital abilities and inclinations of staff at the more operational end of the pyramid and those at the top who tend to be a bit more…traditional, let’s say – so I don’t want to be mean about this new effort by the V&A… Mused is aimed at 10-14 year olds (placing me quite firmly outside its target demographic, so feel free to take everything I say from hereon in as the ramblings of an old and out-of-touch moron who doesn’t understand d1ck) – so why make it a website? How many 10-14 year olds visit websites? It’s obviously intended to frame the V&A’s exhibits and work in the context of kid-friendly concepts like gaming, film and music – so why’s it all so static? Ach, I feel bad writing this stuff so I will stop, but it feels like a huge missed opportunity – still, if you have a 10-14 year old person in your life who you think might like a quiz about Minecraft delivered by one of the UK’s national museums then, well, IT’S THEIR CHRISTMAS COME EARLY!
  • Heste Nettet: I think that this is one of my favourite stories of the week, possibly the year, possibly the decade. I stumbled across this while doing a bunch of reading around AI and stuff (such is the misery of my ‘professional’ existence) – while so doing I happened to read this Bloomberg newsletter, which included this astonishing fact about Danish language AI development: because there’s a relatively-msall quantity of Danish on the web, and a relatively small number of sources, a significant part of the training corpus for Danish-language LLMs comes from Heste Nettet, a Danish forum which over the past decades has basically become a sort of universal catch-all platform for conversations about literally every aspect of Danish life (as forums are often wont to do) – except the forum was originally designed to be about horses, and horse ownership, and as a result there’s an awful lot of equine content in the training data, which means that “There is definitely a horse bias…If you want to know something about horses, it’s definitely in there.”  I LOVE THIS SO SO SO MUCH, in particular the idea (completely untested, but I am going to presume that it’s true) that the long arc of conversation with AI in Danish will ALWAYS tend towards horses: “Yes, that’s nice Dave, and I am sure that you do want to know more about the document you’ve just fed me to ingest and summarise – but wouldn’t you like to know more about optimal forelock length?” Anyway, the original link takes you to the Danish forum in question which, I concede, probably isn’t hugely compelling to you, but I love this story so so so much and I hope it has pleased you to the same degree.
  • Hearts and Minds: Also via Giuseppe, this is an excellent piece of datavisualisation (bizarrely a bit of CSR work by the IKEA Foundation) which demonstrates how attitudes towards immigration have changed across Europe over the past few years – and which pleasingly demonstrates how in general people are significantly more pro-immigration than might be thought based on some of the vile media and political rhetoric being spewed at the moment. This covers 10 countries in Europe, including the UK, and the data’s from the ODI and as such pretty unimpeachable.
  • Be A Bee: Non-Anglos amongst you may be aware of Ricola, a Swiss company which for nearly a century has been manufacturing sweets flavoured with Swiss herbs – I don’t think they sell them in the UK, but I have very strong flashback memories of these things being foisted on me as a kid by well-meaning elderly Italian relatives and realising at a young age that it turns out that I really don’t like the taste of Jaegermeister (they really do taste of Jaeger, I promise). Anyway, this is an international promo site which is designed both to promote the sweets and the brand’s partnership with a doubtless-incredibly-famous Korean person (sorry, I don’t recognise the face/name – is it a BTS person?) – it’s a game in which you’re a bee, and you’re tasked with flying around some alpine meadows and collecting herbs or somesuch, but, honestly, it is SO RELAXING that if you’re anything like me you’ll spend 10 minutes just sort of flying around and enjoying the apian splendour of it all. Mobile-only, but this really is very nicely done indeed and I’m not joking about the ‘soothing’ thing.
  • National Populations As Joy Division Album Graphs: A horrible descriptor which almost certainly means nothing to you, so click the link and get enlightened (these are glorious, honestly, and some of them would look rather nice as posters I think).
  • Gorgeous PixelArt Cars: The link actually takes you to the Twitter account of a games studio called ‘Etherfield’, but at the moment they seem to be posting nothing but really beautiful little 8-bit representations of old cars – if you’ve ever wanted a pixel representation of 1978 Toyota Celica (and, honestly, which of us can say they haven’t? NO FCUKER, etc) then this will be your paradise, your Elysian Fields, your happy place.
  • The Tenth Watch: If you’re the sort of person who has been online for A LONG TIME then you will also be the sort of person who knows about the legendary history of the pitch drop when it comes to online video streaming and its use in pioneering the idea of a webcam feed waiting for SOMETHING to happen – now the University of Queensland in Australia is running a livestream of its 10th pitch drop experiment (the last one fell in April 2014), so if you would like to stare blankly at a video feed in the hope that something, anything will happen then, well, ENJOY!
  • Sun Terraces: I really like this – a collaborative Dutch project which seeks to map all the places in the Netherlands where there’s a bit of public space that gets the sun – whether that’s a pub garden or a public park, this is just a superb and really useful resource that feels like it should be trivial to replicate pretty much anywhere (or at least, anywhere where everyone has the same sort of general spirit of commuty as the Dutch, which perhaps isn’t as common as one might wish). Conversely, if you’d rather avoid the sun while travelling, then this is a similar tool which tells you which side of the train you ought to sit on to prevent getting blinded – I don’t know why I love these things so much but I really do.
  • Bihrmann: Kris described this as ‘possibly the perfect personal website’ and I don’t know that I can disagree with his assessment – I have no idea whatsoever who this belongs to what it is for or why it exists, or indeed what most of the content it hosts is about, but I am slightly in love with the aesthetic and the maximalist nature of the endeavour. MORE OF THE CONFUSING AND LARGELY-POINTLESS-SEEMING WEB, PLEASE!
  • Planet Destroyer: Our final miscellaneous link of the week is this SUPERB clicker game which I have had open in a tab all week and which I can confirm is incredibly cathartic – there are few things more satisfying when having A Professional Moment than clicking frantically on a little CG planet and watching it blow up (no, that’s totally normal, I don’t know what you mean).

By Hiroshi Sato



  • Hallowe’en 2023: Because I appreciate that some of you like doing the whole ‘it’s autumn! Let’s make everything orange and cinnamon-tasting!’ thing.


  • Unicorn Colour Theory: “Transmutation of thought into touchable color. Colorbending is about encouraging connection thru touch, and the joy that color brings!” Does that description speak to you? No, of course it doesn’t, it’s utter gibberish! Still, if you’ve ever wanted to see someone make art with ‘liquid crayons’ (no, me neither, but apparently they are a thing) then this is very much the Insta feed for you.


  •  Let Them East Oysters: We start the longreads this week with what I have to warn you is a relatively-chewy bit of writing – Lorna Finlayson in the LRB writes about animal rights and applied ethics more generally (while the ostensible focus of the piece is on the animal rights question, the piece is really a LOT broader than that) as she considers two new(ish) books on the subject by Peter Singer (see Curios passim) and Martha Nussbaum, and OH GOD IS THIS INTERESTING. Ok, fine, I perhaps have a slight bias towards this stuff as it maps onto a significant proportion of my MSc, but these are also objectively fascinating questions – how ought we behave? How do we decide? And how much of a theoretical fcuk ought we give about anything else while so doing? – that Finlayson analyses with intelligence and humour (honestly, you forget quite how…funny some of the discussion around ethics can be, silly as that probably sounds). The central questions here revolve around utilitarianism vs deontology, the question of ‘speciesism’, self-actualisation and ‘higher goods’ and all sorts of other thorny stuff – I personally think that Finlayson slightly-traduces some of Singer’s arguments in the piece, or at least doesn’t present them entirely fairly, but overall this is a WONDERFUL bit of writing about some hard fundamental questions about How We Should Be that I promise you really is worth taking the time to think through.
  • The Fateful 90s: For about the first third of this essay I was in awe at its analysis and dissection of a lot of 90s political and economic thinking, and how it shaped Where We Are Now – and then it goes quite weirdly right-wing in ways I don’t agree with towards the end. That said, regardless of the extent to which I don’t agree with some of the intensely-Republican (and frankly quite racist-feeling) assertions made towards the article’s coda, the way it presents economic theory and the rise of the web and the broken promises of much of the early-to-mid-90s political (and social, and technological) rhetoric of the US is really interesting (particularly if you’re old enough to remember it the first time round).
  • What Makes Elon Tick?: So I read the biography and wrote it up for work – SPOILER ALERT: it is a very, very dull book which is written very badly and which seems to take almost everything Musk says at face value without at any point asking any really interesting or challenging questions, and which really doesn’t pay enough attention to the people who for the past couple of decades have been Musk’s influencers and what looking at them might tell us about him. This, though, is not about the biography – in the Guardian, David Runciman writes about his experience of following all the same people as Elon does on Twitter, and what that might tell us about the man and his worldview – obviously this is an…unsifficiant mechanism by which to GET INSIDE ELON’S HEAD, but I promise you that the conclusions drawn in this piece are significantly more interesting and trenchant than those Isaacson gets to after 620-fcuking-pages.
  • The Sam Altman Profile: My appetite for profiles of ‘great men’ (particularly ‘great men of technology’) is VERY small right now, but I reluctantly read this profile of OpenAI’s Sam Altman in case it contained any VITAL INSIGHTS – it doesn’t really, unless you count ‘wow, this person really has incredibly shallow points of view when it comes to the really hard questions’ and ‘this person probably shouldn’t be determining the future path of R&D in this incredibly morally and intellectually complex field, and yet, well, HERE WE ARE!’, but I appreciate that I have spent a LOT more time reading about this man and this fcuking industry than you probably have (this isn’t some sort of brag, to be clear, more a sad cry for help) and as such you my find this a bit more enlightening. Altman comes across as a bit of a d1ck, but only in that nonspecific sort of ‘smooth-faced, monied Thielian protege’ fashion rather than anything more pointy – but, honestly, can we PLEASE have a different type of guy (non gender-specific, for avoidance of doubt)  in charge of stuff in the future, please? I am very, very bored of this flavour of man. BONUS LINK: if you’re not familiar with the TESCREAL acronym detailing the broad belief systems underpinning the current AI movement which mean we should be very fcuking sceptical of the Altman position, this is a very good overview.
  • GPT Goes Multimodal: Or at least it will do soon – this is the OpenAI announcement of its forthcoming GPT update (in the next month or so, apparently), which will let you interact with its models via text-to-voice and, more excitedly, introduce image analysis to the Beta of GPT4 (this stuff will only be for the paying few, at least initially, although it will come to Bing soon enough too) – this is already available on Bard, but given how much better the OpenAI LLM is than the current Google one I’m expecting this to be a significant upgrade. If you’d like an idea of What This Means, you might find this post detailing an early user’s experiences useful in terms of outlining what’s possible – and if you’d like something genuinely mindblowing, this ‘sketch-to-website’ demo is pretty mad. I know that there are quite good reasons for this, but I am moderately-annoyed that OpenAI is nerfing the tech from providing assessments or analyses of images of people – I REALLY like the idea of making a ‘roast me’ mirror, which they won’t let me do the BAST4RDS.
  • Welcome To The AI Infinistream: Or, “How AI is enabling Chinese livestreams to create digital avatars of them which can shill tat 24/7 for that sweet, sweet affiliate revenue’ – welcome to the future in which we all have digital versions of ourselves who we set to slave earning pennies in the affiliate mines! I appreciate that livestream shopping is very much not a Western phenomenon, but I am slightly curious as to whether people will still have an appetite for watching infinite QVC when the presenters are AIs – if they do, I am probably going to downgrade my position on humanity stocks from ‘HOLD’ to ‘SELL’.
  • Zuckerberg on AI: Yes, I know that I said that I didn’t care about FOUNDERS AND THEIR VISIONS, and that I didn’t really want to read anymore profiles of tech people, but this relatively-rare interview with Zuckerberg in The Verge, which focuses on Meta’s AI announcements from this week and What They Mean, is more interesting than most, mainly because it offers a clear picture of how Zuckerberg sees generative AI fitting into the Facestagram ecosystem and the broader metaverse bet (don’t laugh!) – there’s also a bit in there about AI and training data that really made me laugh from a ‘wow, you really have been media trained haven’t you Mark?’ perspective. Basically this won’t tell you anything startling, but I think it’s useful to read it if you want to (or, worse, need to) have a point of view of Meta’s current position in the AI race/bunfight.
  • Confessions of an AI Writer: Vauhini Vara writes for WIRED on their experience of writing with AI – Vara wrote one of the earliest published ‘cowritten with an AI’ pieces in 2021, and this article looks at how her feelings about ‘collaboration’ with AI have changed, and the extent to which as the tech has improved over the past two years its creative outputs have become…less interesting. I’ve touched on this in this newsletter a lot over the past year or so, but I think it’s visible to anyone who’s been paying attention to this space at all over the past few years – as with anything relating to DATA, the more you have the more your results tend to the middle of the bell curve, and the more smoothed and homogenous they become, and I think we’re only about a year or so away from a reasonably-noisy ‘make AI weird again’ movement (feel free to point and laugh at how wrong I was about this in 2024, by the way).
  • Monkey Laundering: LOL AT THE NFTs! You will have seen the article doing the rounds over the past few weeks which claims that NFTs have lost 95% of their value – inspired by that story, Ed Zitron pens a decent summary of ‘where we are now with the racist monkey jpegs’ which feels like it should serve as a neat summary coda to the whole movement. I still believe that there’s something interesting in the concept of a DAO, which Zitron very much doesn’t, but otherwise this is an enjoyable read (although perhaps less so if you’re That One Guy in a group of friends who dropped £10k on a Logan Paul gif in 2020 and is feeling a bit sheepish three years on).
  • The World of TikDoxing: Another ‘wow the future is weird and I am not sure I like it’ link (is there any other sort in Web Curios?) – did you know that there’s a new ‘thing’ on the platform where people are demonstrating their ‘OSINT Chops’ by identifying strangers in the background of online content and using a bunch of available tools such as facial recognition database PimEyes (see Curios passim) to find out their real identities, and document their skill in the search in their very own TikTok vids? No, I didn’t either, but now I do and it feels…somehow not ok that TikTok claims that this is totally fine and legitimate content to post, although on the flipside I suppose there’s technically nothing ‘wrong’ happening here, nothing illegal, and this is just another example of social mores butting up hard against new tech and noone really quite knowing what we’re meant to do about anything. Someone really, really ought to write a Digital Debrett’s for kids to get given when they are 10, to educate them about what, honestly, it really isn’t cool to do to people online – actually that’s not a wholly terrible idea, is it?
  • The Airbnb Detective: This was SO much more interesting than I expected it to be – a profile of Airbnb’s Naba Banerjee, who’s the person responsible for helping Airbnb develop the tech that lets it identify people who are planning to host a party in their hosts’’ apartment, and how exactly they went about developing the tech. I appreciate that some of you might read this and think ‘SHE IS A COP HOW DARE YOU CELEBRATE HER’ which, you know, fine, but this is more of a ‘wow that’s a really interesting account of the technical and practical challenges involved in solving a specific problem’ than it is a ‘GO AIRBNB PROTECT THE LANDLORDS’ piece fwiw.
  • Masterclass Is Fcuked: I’d totally forgotten about the existence of Masterclass until I read this piece – in case you have too, let me refresh your memory. Masterclass is the training platform that was ubiquitous during lockdown and which offers the opportunity to learn specific skills from VERY FAMOUS EXPERTS – so, I don’t know, direction with Martin Scorsese, say, or fisting with the C0ck Destroyers (tbh I don’t think either of these were ever offered, but you get the gist) – for a fee. You may have wondered how the economics of this work – turns out, according to this article, they really don’t! This contains some astonishing details of insane profligacy, not least the detail about how they literally built a whole apartment set for Natalie Portman to deliver her ‘acting’ Masterclass on – I don’t think I will ever cease to be amazed at the way in which our current business model for so many things appears to be ‘throw an awful lot of money at people who at no point have demonstrated that they know what to do with it, and watch as they come up with interesting and innovative ways to p1ss it all away’.
  • LARPing and Violent Extremism: Ok, this is neither a longread nor particularly fresh, but I came across it this week and it made me laugh SO MUCH – did you know that the FBI produced a small guide a few months back to help its agents distinguish between ACTUAL TERRORISTS and, er, people enjoying a nice live action roleplay session? Would you like to read it? YOU’RE WELCOME! Honestly, this is proper beyond parody stuff.
  • Domain Names: A lovely Rest of World article looking at the tiny nations whose internet domains earn them big money – you’ll already know about the Christmas Islands and Tuvalu, but I hadn’t previously considered where .ai domains are registered – turns out it’s Anguilla, which now receives ⅓ of its entire monthly budget from revenues from domain names. This is lovely, and includes a rundown of all the tiny places making reasonable bank from urls.
  • Why Does Everyone Swear So Much In The Witcher 3?: Ok, you’ll need to be either really into videogame development or a big fan of the Witcher 3 to really get the most out of this, but if you tick either of those boxes then you will adore this piece in Eurogamer which takes a surprisingly deep dive into the process that led to the game’s wonderful collection of profane incidental dialogue.
  • Moving Beaches: Did you know that there is a massive international market in sand, and that loads of the beaches we think are natural aren’t in fact natural at all? This is a super-interesting read about something to which I have given literally NO thought (to whit, if you need sand, where do you get it from? And is all sand the same?) but which is a genuinely fascinating topic (and particularly-relevant for a variety of depressing environmental reasons).
  • Murdoch: There will be a lot written about Rupert Murdoch and his empire in the wake of his stepping back from NewsCorp, but I found this article by Conrad Black in Unherd (sorry, but) particularly interesting – not because it’s revealing, because it’s not, or because it’s well-written, because it’s not, but because of the insight it gives into the banality of thought of the very, very rich. Black’s observations on his old media rival are bland to the point of risibility, but contain the odd standout line – such as the frankly mad statement that “I’ve never had the impression that he is much interested in politics, other than in how they affect him, or culture, or hobbies”, which does rather make one wonder exactly what Conrad Black thinks ‘politics’ is all about.
  • Painting With AI: I thought this was a lovely piece in the New York Times, which acts as an interesting counterpoint to the earlier article about co-creating prose with The Machine – in this, contemporary US painter David Salle ‘collaborates’ with a specially-trained AI to generate a new work in his style, with the process documented throughout with images and commentary, explaining how the artist worked alongside the software to define and refine its outputs; I find this sort of Centaur-process-type-investigation-stuff (god I’m such a writer!) absolutely fascinating, regardless of the eventual quality of the outputs achieved, and this is no exception.
  • The Accidental Art of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater: I have, it’s fair to say, a reasonably high tolerance for stuff that might reasonably be considered ‘a load of pretentious spaff’ – that said, this article tested even my patience. That said, I also absolutely loved it, so see what you think. Jeremy Klemin writes about the obscure subculture that exists within the fandom of classic skateboarding videogame series Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, specifically around the concept of ‘improvisational’ play in which a player tries to achieve super-long combos while eschewing the ‘optimal’ routes set out by the level designers and by so doing achieves a weird, balletic state of ‘flow’ within the gamespace…look, there’s no way around it, this really is HYPERW4NKY but it’s also so so interesting if you’re curious about ideas of space and place and movement in virtual worlds, and how Borges relates to a Playstation2-era classic (so so so w4nky, honestly).
  • Watches: A little while ago my friend Paul arranged for us to go on a tour around Hatton Garden, specifically some of the locations rendered infamous by the gold heist that took place a few years back – it’s still a genuinely odd part of London, one of those weird ‘cities within a city’ (see also: the inns of court, every single London university, all the big markets) where you can see some genuinely weird stuff (and an awful lot of men looking INCREDIBLY furtive – selling – and an awful lot of other men looking very deliberately conspicuous – guarding). This is a BRILLIANT profile of the watch trade in Hatton Garden – the people, the patter, the prices – and frankly I now want someone to do a (good, though) film set in this exact milieu (but noone tell Guy Ritchie, please).
  • The Last Nazis: Ordinarily ‘GQ Magazine writes about Nazi hunters’ isn’t the sort of thing I’d bother to read or link to, but this is a wonderful, sensitive and far-more-restrained-than-expected piece of writing by Tom Lamont, who profiles the German officials engaged in seeking to track down the last remaining people who can be proven to have had practical, personal involvement in the Holocaust and bring them to some sort of justice. This is, honestly, such a brilliant article which raises all the right questions about responsibility and where it can reasonably be said to end, the likely limits of personal knowledge, and what we are doing when we pursue justice. So much of this deals with the mechanics and logistics of horror, the very practical ‘banality of evil’ – it reminded me a lot of Amis’s novel ‘The Zone of Interest’, whose characters are in the main Nazis engaged in the administration of a concentration camp, and which features a line which kept coming back to me as I read this; I paraphrase slightly, but there’s a certain scene in which two Nazi officers are walking to some evening function at the Governor’s mansion overlooking the camp, seeing the billowing smoke from the chimneys, and one says to the other “You know, Hans, without the proper context I can see how this might look entirely reprehensible”.
  • Ballard: I have always loved Ballard’s writing, ever since I was a teen, and personally-speaking I’ve always thought of him as rather a great prose stylist; turns out my opinion isn’t necessarily universally-held, but it’s defended nicely here by Tom McCarthy who writes persuasively about all the idiosyncratic qualities that made his works and the way he wrote them great. There’s a certain thematic callback here to the ‘writing with AI’ piece and the data-led bellcurve, should you wish to perceive it.
  • Homesick Chernobyl: I thought this essay – about Chernobyl and home and place and memory and addiction and coming home – was absolutely beautiful, and I think you will too.
  • I Remember Arthur: This is all about suicide, basically, which may or may not determine whether you want to read it – for those that do, though, it’s by Kevin Sampsell and it’s about his friend Arthur who killed himself, and reflections on why that was and how that feels, and this took me quite a long time to read because I had to stop at various points to basically void myself with tears but, that small caveat aside, I think it is wonderful.
  • Man Called Fran: Finally this week, a short story about plumbing. I promise you that this is PERFECT and frankly it ought to win awards. PLEASE READ THIS..

By Molly Bounds


Webcurios 22/09/23

Reading Time: 34 minutes

I was going to try and write the intro in the style of Russell Brand this week as a sort of ‘topical’ riff, but then I realised that a) that wouldn’t actually be funny in the slightest given the horrible stuff he’s alleged to have done; and b) that the rest of Curios is already written in a style that might best be described as ‘somewhat overdone’ and that you probably didn’t need me doing a tuppeny-gorblimey act on top of all the garbage that is to come. You should be grateful, really – think how much WORSE this could have been!

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and you shouldn’t EVER trust ANYONE who wears trousers that tight.

By Julie Tuyet Curtiss



  • The Artificial Client: Those of you who work in advermarketingpr (or associated, adjacent, similarly-made-up ‘jobs’) will be aware of the unique and particular pain that comes from having ideas that you have SLAVED over (or, more likely, come up with in one of the endless, airless ‘brainstorms’ that constitute the risible pantomime that is ‘agency life’) considered, assessed and then finally dismissed out of hand by some double-figure-IQ-moron who’s spent the whole presentation staring at their phone and wouldn’t know decent creative if it bit them on the ar$e – it’s GREAT, isn’t it? Still, I appreciate that not all of you are lucky enough to have experienced this particular joy – but worry not! Now everyone can have their creative babies eviscerated before their very eyes thanks to this fun little AI-based toy/game thing, created by Dentsu in Amsterdam – click the link, choose the client persona you’d like to have analysing your work, upload the document you’d like critiqued and GO! There are three different critical viewpoints you can access – the ‘ruthless critic’, the ‘confused creative’ and the ‘idealistic dreamer’ – and they will happily analyse your UI design, your identity design or your TVC script in SECONDS to tell you exactly what is wrong with it, and even if you don’t happen to have a suitable bit of work to hand you can get the site to generate something for you which will then be eviscerated by the digital peanut gallery. This is obviously a silly toy, but it’s fun and nicely-made, and has a pleasing degree of polish to it, and whilst you OBVIOUSLY shouldn’t take any notice of anything that these AI personas tell you (no, you ARE a talented creative! Don’t listen to them!) it’s a decent reminder of the way in which you can use LLMs to critique and analyse written work and elicit feedback.
  • AI De Bono: Speaking of creativity – SEAMLESS! – you will all OBVIOUSLY be aware of Edward de Bono and his collection of multicoloured hats as a series of tools to develop creative ideas (in the unlikely event that you’re not – WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN DOING WITH YOUR LIVES?! – you can learn about the theory here); if it’s a technique that you use as part of the creative process, you might find this digital prototype thing useful. Matt Webb has been playing around with generative AI and has created this website which features a selection of rooms, each corresponding to one of de Bono’s different hats (you know what? I am sure it’s a decent theory and I am sure it makes all sorts of sense and can be genuinely helpful, but, equally, I really can’t get past the fcuking hats) and as such to a different technique for developing and interrogating ideas. Each room gives you the chance to talk through your thinking with a different AI interlocutor, each embodying a different way of thinking about ideas, which you can navigate between using the arrows in the bottom-right – so the Yellow room will give you positive feedback, the Blue room will interrogate the presentation of the idea, the White room is all about gathering facts…you get the idea. This is, at heart, just a selection of different conversations with a pre-prompted LLM, but, again, I think there’s something interesting about using the conversational interface as a means of interrogating one’s thinking.
  • Prices: Ok, this is…quite niche, and is only likely to be of practical use to you if you’re currently living in Austria – are any of you currently living in Austria? – but I really really like the thinking behind the project and figure that it might be something that could inspire similar projects elsewhere. You can read a full rundown of what this is and why it exists here but, in summary, inflation in Austria is, muchlike in the rest of Europe, going somewhat mental, and as such food prices are a real concern for many people. In response to this, the Austrian government committed to maintaining a database tracking food prices at different supermarkets across various product categories, to help citizens keep track of changing costs and to guard against price gouging by retailers…but they kept saying it was too hard, and would take too long, to do in any meaningful way. So one Mario Zechner decided to take matters into his own hands, and used all the various supermarket website APIs to set up his own price tracking website for literally every single grocery item sold by all the shops, and in so doing discovered that multiple retailers were colluding when it came to price rises, that they were taking advantage of ‘shrinkflation’ to screw consumers while raising prices, and a whole load of other stuff besides – which was picked up by the press, and let to an apparent shift in pricing behaviour by the supermarkets when the story was taken up by the Austrian competition authority. Which is, fine not HUGELY exciting as a story, but it is A VERY GOOD THING, and a lovely example of how nothing is ever as expensive, slow and complex as government (and specifically government digital departments) like to make out it is. Can someone do this in the UK, please? I know I ask this every week, but this one really is a good cause.
  • Collage Diffusion: Ok, ok, this is admittedly a *bit* crap, but I really like the potential inherent in the tech – it’s basically a layered AI image generator, which lets you create…er…layers within an image, making for a slightly more reactive and easy-to-control creative process – giving you a far greater degree of granular control over the individual elements within a composition (you don’t actually need me to explain this to you, do you? Er, sorry). Except this is running off a model that’s a couple of generations old, it feels like, and so everything you produce with it looks a *bit* like a potato, but this feels like it’s a feature that will end up coming to the other platforms sooner rather than later. Oh, and seeing as we’re on AI image generation, here’s the announcement about DallE-3 that’s launching in a few weeks’ time – the main takeaways here are the fact that it looks a whole load shinier, it can seemingly generate readable text, it has been guardrail hard to stop you creating images of famous people (BOO) or images ‘in the style of’ living artists (A Good Thing), and it’s apparently going to be easier to tweak individual elements within a generated image thanks to the interface being integrated with GPT. So that’s nice.
  • The History of Ukraine: It’s astonishing to think the war in Ukraine has been going on for 18 months now, and that it might well continue for at least as long again. This site is a celebration of the country’s history, presenting the events that have shaped Ukraine over the course of human history in a rather lovely timeline, focusing in particular on ‘previously unknown and unpublished findings about Ukraine that are not found in textbooks or Wikipedia.  All materials on the website are the result of years of research in European archives, letters, and newspapers that were long ignored by “old school” historians.The value of these materials is that they prove that Ukraine has always been a full-fledged subject of European political relations. They also highlight Ukraine’s image as a victorious country with a rich history, culture, and achievements, which disproves the propagandistic narratives of our neighbor and the imposed image of a suffering country.” This is a gorgeous piece of webdesign.
  • We’re Safety Now Haven’t We: It’s rare that I find cause to celebrate the communications efforts of a national health and safety executive, but I think we should ALL applaud the work being done by the US’s Consumer Product Safety Commission in guardian the safety of North Americans via the medium of song. Yes, that’s right, while your BORING and DULL and STAID government communicates to you via tedious leaflets and yawnsome public information films, over in the US the CPSC has instead decided to communicate its ‘keep safe, don’t die!’ messaging via the medium of an entire album’s worth of safety-focused bangers – honestly, I am not joking, these songs are…quite good! From the oldschool hip-hop of ‘Protect Yo Noggin’, a paean to the importance of wearing a helmet when on a bike or scooter, to the remarkably-polished pop of ‘Going Off Like Fireworks’ (unsurprisingly all about the importance of not shooting yourself in the face with a Roman Candle), there’s a full record’s worth of safety-related bangers to enjoy, and which you can download if you like so that you can listen to them ALL THE TIME. This is just brilliant, from the upsetting name to the copy on the Page (“Death by firework is bad”) and I applaud everyone involved in its creation.
  • Punta: What do we think about ‘digital nomads’ these days? Are we pro? It does rather feel like it’s slightly less socially acceptable in 2023 to sit in a hammock on a Caribbean beach, getting paid 10x the national average wage to phone in a content calendar while you’re waited on hand and foot by the local service economy, but, equally, it seems like there’s still a significant number of people for whom the lifestyle continues to be aspirational and appealing. If you happen to be one of them, you might find this app useful – Punta sells itself as a ‘digital nomad hub’, which basically lets anyone self-styling themselves as such set up a profile on which they can share details of the sort of work they do, their travel plans, connect with and message other likeminded folk, and generally BUILD COMMUNITY (or, inevitably, attempt to use the app as some sort of unofficial Tinder analogue). Which I’m sure sounds lovely, but all I can think of as I type this is of how perfect this seemingly is for anyone who wants to stalk, rob and potentially murder digital nomads – so, er, BE CAREFUL OUT THERE GUYS.
  • The Ig-Nobel Awards 2023: I missed this last week, meaning I am LATE with this link and I am SORRY. Still, if you’ve not already had your fill of the annual ‘the most stupid academic research conducted in the past 12 months’ rundown, click the link and revel in the beautiful, pointless wonder of the pursuit of esoteric knowledge as embodied by these 10 projects – my personal favourite, and which I really don’t think received enough attention, is the work which ‘used cadavers to explore whether there is an equal number of hairs in each of a person’s two nostrils.’ WHY?!?!?! WHAT POSSIBLE BENEFIT COULD THERE BE TO KNOWING THAT?! Infuriatingly, the actual research paper in question here is behind a paywall, meaning that I am currently unable to find out what the answer is to the question which I can tell is going to cause me no end of low-grade psychic pain for the remainder of the day.
  • Tamashell: A website which catalogues the multifarious different Tamagotchi designs that have appeared over the decades since the battery-operated ‘pets’ first appeared on the market – obviously this will mainly appeal to any of you with an obsessive fixation on 90s electronic toy design and will, perhaps, not *quite* grab the rest of you as much, but I find the endeavour generally heartwarming and particularly enjoyed this, from the ‘About’ page: “I decided to create this website after finding that while the internet was chock full of images of Tamagotchis, there really wasn’t a single source where I could find all of the different designs in once place. Understanding that there are hundreds of different shell designs released in different regions all over the world, I knew this would be a significant undertaking, but I also knew that it was a worthwhile endeavor in order to share information not easily attained elsewhere.” YES IT IS A WORTHWHILE ENDEAVOUR! THIS IS WHAT THE WEB IS FOR!
  • Twilly: Inexplicable-but-shiny-luxe-videogame-corner! We’re back in the world of luxury goods websites, this time with Hermes and this rather pleasing little (mobile-only) webgame, in which you inexplicably play as…a piece of ribbon, which is equally-inexplicably blowing around the streets of New York – guide the ribbon as it travels through the nicely-rendered 3d cityscape, collect some stuff, get a score, don’t win a prize! This is totally pointless and I have no idea exactly who it’s aimed at or how the doubtless-brilliant minds behind it think it’s going to help them flog more perfume – as ever with these things, tbh, can someone who works in the industry maybe explain the ROI of this stuff to me please? – but it is VERY pretty (the moving subway trains are a nice touch) and a pleasing 3 minute distraction from whatever horrible things are happening in your day-to-day life.
  • Ramen Haus: Do you remember Rotating Sandwiches? OF COURSE YOU DO IT WON THE TINY AWARD IT IS NOW WORLD-FAMOUS FFS! Anyway, this is like that, except instead of rotating sandwiches you are instead presented with photographs of bowls of ramen, also spinning gently in the digital non-breeze.
  • SwipeWipe: This is a nice idea, and a potentially-useful tool to encourage you to declutter your phone’s camera roll. SwipeWipe is an app that introduces a Tinder-like interface to your photos – you get presented with them one at a time, and made to choose whether to swipe right to keep them or swipe left to delete them forever, forcing you to determine whether or not they SPARK JOY or not. Which seems like a nice little gimmick, but immediately made me think of a dark extension to this where every day your phone presents you with a pair of contacts, or apps, or files, and you are forced to choose which to keep and which to delete FOREVER, which I think would introduce a neat element of fear and jeopardy into the otherwise-mundane daily interaction with your device.
  • MSCHF x Reebok: On the one hand., I am slightly surprised that this is (afaict) the first big-name brand to collaborate with MSCHF on something; on the other, I am slightly surprised that they have done this as, to my mind at least, it rather cheapens their brand (but then again, what do I know? They are lauded as some of the most creative digital stunt people around at the moment, and I write an overlong newsletter to an audience of what I am fairly certain is tens of people, so perhaps I should just wind my neck in tbh). Anyway, MSCHF have partnered with Reebok to release a special edition of the company’s legendary ‘Pump’ trainer which instead of the traditional single pump (which as anyone who has ever actually seen a pair of the shoes in the wild can attest, makes literally NO DIFFERENCE WHATSOEVER to the shoe’s fit) instead has NINE OF THE FCUKERS, meaning you can literally inflate any part of the shoe’s interior to your exact specifications and (probably) jump ten foot in the air or something. These look VERY silly, but in a knowing enough way that they will inevitably become fashion must-haves amongst a particular coterie of dreadful fashion cnuts.
  • Sh1trentals: OH YES. This is a great idea – although obviously it would be a nightmare to run and administer, for which reason I can’t imagine it’ll be a going concern for that long. Sh1tRentals is a website for renters to share information and details about bad rental properties and bad landlords, to help guard against exploitation and price gouging and generally, well, sh1tty behaviour on the part of the rentier class. To quote the site’s fouonder, “This website is about giving power back to renters. As a renter, landlords and real estate agents have access to so much information about you, but you don’t get that same level of transparency from them. Real estate agents often provide photos of properties that are years out of date, and don’t tell you what it’s like to actually live there. You don’t get to enter into a new rental knowing how difficult it might be for you to request basic repairs to be completed. This website is here to help. It will always be free, and there will be no ability for landlords or real estate agents to pay for reviews to be removed. Do your part to help your fellow renters by writing an anonymous review of your rental property or real estate agency. At this stage, I’ll be reviewing each submission each night and uploading the submissions to the page, so if you don’t see your review immediately, don’t stress!” As far as I can tell this is an Australian thing, and I am unsure whether they are accepting international submissions, but, well, if you have a landlord you need to warn the world about why not slag them off with impunity on this site?

By Virginia Villacisna



  • Stained Glass: I’ve always thought that I’d quite like to spend a few days making stained glass – getting high off the lead fumes, maybe illuminating some manuscripts in my spare time…sadly I am yet to receive the call from the Abbot (that’s how it works, right?), and so I’m having to make do with this digital version, which is very pleasing indeed and which lets you click to create your own variegated glass masterpieces, and which I highly recommend you use with the volume up as the sound of breaking/snapping glass that accompanies your every click here is just *delicious*. This is very, very therapeutic, so maybe save this for Monday morning when you might need it a bit more.
  • The Vulgar Wave: This is a couple of months old now, but it did the rounds again this week in the wake of the Brand stuff and the reevaluation it seemed to spark amongst the British media of the 00s and the very particular way in which popular culture manifested itself across media for a good five years or so – specifically, the way it was characterised by prurient sexuality and a sort of general grubbiness. The link takes you to a Twitter thread which pulls together various examples of The Way Things Were Then and WOW do some of these hit differently at a distance of 15 years or so – any of you who aren’t from the UK really should take a moment to enjoy this selection of clips from TV shows, old adverts and the odd music video, which really give you a feel for the prevailing mood of the era. This is a hell of a selection which runs the gamut from accepted classics of the genre (Rebecca Loos masturbates a pig to happy completion on English TV!) to deep cuts (an advert featuring an unpleasantly-sexualised talking boiler!) and gives a pleasingly-lumpy picture of the odd cultural topography of The Past (and, possibly, a clue as to why the generations that grew up during and immediately after this period are perhaps a touch more censorious than their forebears).
  • All The Poe: This is a great resource – all Edgar Allen Poe, all in once place, pulled together by one Joshua Maldin, who writes: “This is a collection of Edgar Allan Poe’s works, some 130 pieces, presented with optimized legibility and no ads or trackers.” What more could you possibly want? If nothing else this site looks sufficiently sober that you could probably get away with spending a significant chunk of the day just reading Poe short stories in the office without anyone realising.
  • Couture To The Max: What were YOU doing at 7? I expect you can’t remember, what with it being a fcuking AGE ago (so OLD, so decrepit, so close to death!), but I’d hazard a rough guess that it probably involved a bit of school, a bit of playing, and an obsessional interest in something like dinosaurs or Polly Pocket – which, frankly, demonstrates exactly the sort of crippling lack of ambition and long-term goal setting which has seen you end up where you are. Contrast yourself with Max Alexander, who at the tender age of not-even-8 has already, er, established himself as an actual fashion designer and had a runway show in LA. This is Max’s website, which I am sharing with you because…well, in all honesty, because there’s something sort of wildly-sinister about the whole thing. I mean, just read this: “Max Alexander was born in 2016 in Los Angeles, California to a Canadian father and American mother. He graduated from Little Dolphins by the Sea, an arts-based preschool, in 2021. During his time there, he was heavily influenced by the works of Vincent Van Gogh, Yayoi Kusama, Frida Kahlo and Alexander Calder. Max announced to his family in 2020 that he was a dress maker. Encouraged by his mother, also an artist, Max began designing, draping and sewing, and launched his Couture to the Max label in 2021.” I mean, fine, it is of course entirely possible that Max is an intensely-precocious genius and that he really WAS influenced by the luminaries there named; it’s, er, at least *equally* possible, though, that his parent(s) have seen an opportunity here and have grabbed it hard with both hands while their eyes do that creepy Scrooge McDuck dollar signs thing. The quote from People Magazine – “Boy, 7, Who Says He Was Gucci in a Past Life” – doesn’t *scream* ‘normal child’, and if you scroll down to the bottom and see Max’s designs you may be…confused as to the adulation being apparently bestowed upon him. Still, whatever is going on here I think it’s fair to say that it’s unlikely that poor Max is the driving force behind it, and as such let us wish him well in his pursuit of couture glory (and in the inevitable, messy process of divorcing his family which I predict will kick off around 2029).
  • Antique Book Patterns: Via Kottke, these are lovely – a Flickr album, compiled by the University of Bergen in Norway, which compiles the patterned endpages of a selection of books published between 1890-1930. Which, fine, you might not immediately think of as being a gorgeous aesthetic treasure trove, but you would be WRONG because that is exactly what it is. SO much excellent design inspiration in here for any of you who are interested in that sort of thing.
  • Simulation: This is interesting – you remember that ‘AI Showrunner’ from a few months ago, that software which purported to let anyone spin up an entire AI-generated episode of a TV show based on a few simple parameters? OF COURSE YOU DO! Well the company behind the tech has been doing some press this week, which is how I stumbled across its website, and WOW is this simultaneously very scifi and also very creepy and pretty unbelievable! The pitch the company’s making is effectively that it can create AI ‘agents’ which can operate with a degree of autonomy within a defined virtual environment – so you can effectively set up your sandbox, invent your principal players, wind them up and watch them go. “At Simulation Inc, we’re redefining the contours of existence, conjuring a universe where the line between the physical and the virtual blurs into oblivion. Our mission, as audacious as it is intriguing, is to birth a new kind of life: the world’s first genuinely intelligent AI virtual beings. Each one, a mirror of the human psyche, navigating the tumultuous seas of emotions and experiences in a digital cosmos of our creation.” Exactly how The Simulation think that that is going to magically going to result in compelling narratives that people actually want to watch is, at present, unclear, but it’s worth watching the videos on the website landing page to get a feel for the madly-overblown way they talk about the simulated agents and their ‘freedom’ to act independent of direction – scroll down to the bottom of the Page to discover the three formats that the company is apparently working on right now, which run the gamut from, er, space scifi to space cowboy scifi to ‘planet of the apes, basically’ scifi, and sigh quietly as you realise that we are apparently condemned to consume the same media forever (just AI-generated and, probably, worse).
  • Nuclear War Simulator: Have you ever wanted to run an incredibly-detailed simulation of what exactly would happen if the people with access to the nuclear buttons all simultaneously decided to say ‘oh, fcuk it, we’re all screwed anyway, we may as well use these fcuking warheads’ and set them racing across the skies? GREAT! Nuclear War Simulator lets you do exactly that – it’s a PROPER piece of software and as such requires a download, but once you’ve installed it you have SO MUCH POWER at your fingertips! “Nuclear war simulator is a detailed realistic simulation and visualization of large-scale nuclear conflicts with a focus on humanitarian consequences. There are currently over 13000 nuclear weapons on this planet of which over 9000 are in military stockpiles. This software should help you answer the questions: what will happen if Russia and the United States or India and Pakistan use their arsenals? What will happen to the population of a country in a nuclear war? What will happen to me and my family? You can design warheads, missiles, and carriers, place them on the map and execute attack plans to tell a credible story about how nuclear conflicts play out and what the consequences are. Using a high-resolution population density map and realistic weapons effects like blast, heat, and radiation you can make an estimate of how many people will die in a conflict. Individual humans can be placed on the map, travel, and take shelter to analyze the effects and estimate injuries and survival probability.” You might argue that this is all a bit macabre – and you’d probably be right, but, be honest, who hasn’t wanted to make the massed ranks of the world’s populations run for cover, like ants from the glare of a magnifying glass, as terrifying thermonuclear death rains from the skies? NO FCUKER, etc!
  • Are You A Voicecel?: No, you are not, because it is a made-up concept that doesn’t exist! Still, if you are a man and want another reason to feel slightly-inadequate then why not upload a clip of yourself speaking to this website which will apparently then analyse your voice and tell you whether or not it is ‘squeaky and unaesthetic’. This has obviously been made by some very confused young men and as such one probably shouldn’t point and laugh but, well, LOL! LADS HAVE YOU EVER ACTUALLY HEARD FAMED INTERNATIONAL SEX SYMBOL DAVID BECKHAM SPEAK? Anyway, try it out for yourself and see if you too can attain the exalted status of ‘certified chad’ based on, er, having a deep voice. Dear God I am SO GLAD I am not a teenager in 2023.
  • The Metamorphosis: Or, specifically, ‘a not particularly good attempt at creating a short film based on Kafka’s ‘Metamorphosis’ using text-to-video AI tools’ – this is obviously a complete mess because, well, the tech is nowhere near good enough to produce anything other than a hideous, inchoate mass of indeterminate shapes, but at the same time there’s the odd frame here and there among the five minute runtime that hints at some sort of potentially-interesting aesthetic and stylistic possibilities beginning to be thrown up by these systems – quite a few of the shots have a very distinct ‘cut scene from a late-90s PC game’ feel to them which I find oddly appealing.
  • RailCams: Do you like trains? Do you like trains A LOT? Frankly if the answer is ‘yes’ then it’s entirely possible that you’ll already be aware of this site which is an INSANELY comprehensive directory of train-related webcams from around the world, over 450 of them to be precise. Want to watch freight trains slowly moving backwards and forwards just outside Zurich? OF COURSE YOU DO! Want to spend a bit of time checking out what’s happening on the platforms at Riomaggiore in Italy? I MEAN, YES! My word, then, is there a set of train-based treats in store for you.
  • Unusual Internet: I really like this – Unusual Internet is a site that collects examples of less-than-typical user interfaces, displaying them in a manner that itself is somewhat unusual: “The interfaces of most websites follow the same design principles over and over again. In short, websites tend to look the same. The interfaces are simplified, the design is standardised. We rarely come across provocative or unusual interfaces. Designers should experiment more and try something new. Out of the comfort zone and into the unusual. To achieve this, the »Unusual Internet« course took a close look at UI elements (buttons, typography, scrolling, etc.). Students experimented with these elements on a weekly basis. A selection of the experiments can be seen here.” There are some lovely examples buried in here – you have to click around a bit, but there are a few wonderful examples of interesting and unusual webdesign to explore (including this one, which is my personal favourite I think).
  • Interpreted: Ooh, I really like this – an art project which combines the analogue and the digital to rather beautiful effect, with artist Jonny Scholes creating woven tapestries depicting an entire day’s news as interpreted by an AI: “Drawing on a decade of experience as a software developer, Scholes has created an automated program which continually reviews all news articles as they are published around the world. An AI tool is employed to create a single image that represents each day. Using generative art techniques, the days are collected into months, and incorporated into a unique tapestry design. The result is autonomously sent off to be woven and eventually delivered by post to Jonny Scholes’ studio.” The resulting tapestries, which you can see on the site, have a wonderfully deep-fried quality which links them back to the digital materials that were the starting point for their creation, and there’s something rather beautiful about the oddly-70s-ish aesthetic contrasted with the modernity of the tech at play here. Some of the work’s available for sale, should anyone fancy saying thanks for a decade of words and links by buying me a lovely tapestry gift.
  • Timelineify: Listen to an artist’s catalogue in chronological order thanks to this Spotify tool – NO, YOU’RE WELCOME!
  • Learn To Code With LinkedIn: We are, thankfully, now at a distance of a decade from the boom in ‘LEARN TO CODE!’ exhortations, and people are now a little more realistic about the employment prospects available to you as a result of your being able to code some basic HTML and Java – what with the imminent AI-ifinication of a significant proportion of the bottom end of the dev market it’s perhaps not QUITE the career silver bullet you might have been sold back in the day, but, equally, having a basic working knowledge of How Some Of This Stuff Works is genuinely useful (I say that as someone who can’t write a fcuking line, by the way, but who can just about understand the principles behind it). Should you have decided that NOW IS THE TIME for you to finally master the Dark Arts (not THOSE ones ffs) then you could do worse than check out this selection of free learning resources available of the world’s worst social network – this is available til mid-December, so there’s plenty of time for you to give it a go.
  • A Trillion Tiny Little Poems: This is rather lovely. The developer describes it as such: “a trillion / quite tiny / little poems generates untold billions of quite tiny little poems in a miniature haiku format of 4 then 3 then 4 syllables…or at least it tries too but sometimes the source poems get their meter completely wrong for reasons i am simply unable to explain (reason/explanation: i am quite poor at poems)…rather than a trillion tiny poems there’s only 5,268,024, but maybe 5,268,024 is the secret definition of a quite tiny little trillion or somethging, maybe, perhaps, possibly. anyway occassionally it blurts out something surprisingly beautiful though more often as not it just churns out rubbish” Many of these are gibberish, but that makes the occasional glimpse of meaning that crops up even more special – I just got this, and may now get it tattooed somewhere intimate: “some poems were / bleak roses / quite the relief”
  • The British Seaside Simulator: Published just too late to make last week’s Curios, this is the latest bit of silliness from Matt Round who has coded a web EXPERIENCE that lets you enjoy the peculiar purgatory that is the British seaside – specifically, the British seaside as experienced from the inside of a slightly-too-warm estate car in which you are having a desultory ‘picnic’ (limp, sweaty cheese sandwiches on wholemeal bread) as the horizontal rain beats across your windscreen and the sound of a provincial radio DJ whimpers tinnily into your ears. This is really beautifully-observed (the radio stations in particular are a lovely touch), although it’s so intensely well-realised that you might find it…a bit depressing tbh.
  • Fridge Floppers: Move the fridge. That’s it. No more, no less. MOVE THE FRIDGE! This is a very enjoyable little puzzle game which has a pleasingly-kinetic feel to the controls and movement.
  • Pacman The Roguelike: What might Pacman look like were it designed now, and had all the needless bells and whistles of the modern triple-A game experience grafted onto its basic gameplay? It might look a little like this tbh – a really smart play on the traditional Pacman which adds pointless joke mechanics like ‘companions’ and ‘crafting’ and ‘levelling’ which initially feels like a simple gag but which you realise as you play actually creates a pretty interesting new play experience whilst also working on some level as SATIRE. This is far better than it needs to be, and a really fun way of killing 30 minutes before you can get to the pub/back on the pipe (delete per your personal preferences).
  • Connections: You know the Only Connect ‘wall’ game which the NYT ripped off earlier this year? YES YOU DO STOP LYING TO ME! This website lets you make your own, bespoke versions of the game to share with friends – select your categories, select your words, and then share the link with anyone you fancy to see whether they’re smart enough to crack your doubtless-fiendish conundra. If any of you fancy making one of these and sharing it with me, I can chuck it in next week’s Curios for THE COMMUNITY to test themselves against.
  • A Little Game Called Mario: This is an interesting idea – a collaborative project to create a fan-made Mario-a-like game, with the twist that the code repo is open which means anyone can go in and tweak the gameplay, level design, etc, making the whole thing a massively-collaborative endeavour. The resulting title is a messy combination of trad Mario mechanics and a lot of VERY HARD platforming bits (and, bizarrely, a level that appears to have been inspired by Dance Dance Revolution) including quite a lot of bullet-hell-style bits; basically this is an exercise in level design sadism and experimental, barely-functional mechanics, but it’s fascinating to see how the different people across the community approach level creation. There are LOADS of different examples of creative design in here, so it’s worth having a bit of an explore and a play with a range of different levels to get a feel for it.
  • Ad Nauseam: Finally this week, via Rosie & Faris, comes this rather fun little platformer themed around working in an ad agency. SHOOT THE CLIENT! DODGE THE FEEDBACK! SEE IF YOU CAN LEAVE THE OFFICE BEFORE MIDNIGHT DURING A PITCH WEEK! This is rather good, and you should 100% dedicate 20m or so to trying to complete it.

By Jonas Örtemark



  • Falling Down The Internet Hole: A *delicious* Tumblr compiling links to sites with a particular, vaguely-old-school, often Geocities-ish aesthetic – this really is a portal to some top-notch web vibes and some EXCELLENT odd internet, I highly recommend giving this one a click.
  • Obscure Videogames: Sharing screenshots and gifs and marketing materials from old games you might not have heard of – there is some GOLD in here, but if nothing else I urge you all to click and scroll down just far enough so you can enjoy the truly majestic 16-bit graphical representation of a wrestler ripping their leotard off which, honestly, is practically erotic.


  • Supinatra: Impressive-if-creepy-and-a-bit-body-horror-y makeup and accessory design by Russian artist Maria Luneva (via Blort).
  • Surface of Wikipedia: Created to act as a sort of a negative impression of the storied ‘Depths of Wikipedia’, this Insta account instead celebrates the incredibly mundane on Wikipedia – you will be genuinely amazed at some of the things documented here that apparently have Wikipedia pages (the concept of ‘something’, for example – WHY DOES THAT NEED A WIKIPEDIA PAGE?), and this is another in the long, long list of reasons why Wikipedians are, honestly, some of the most magically-peculiar people on the planet.


  • Leftwing Britain: Lol, ok, not quite, but this is genuinely interesting information which was published this week as part of the annual publication of the British Social Attitudes survey, now in its 40th year, which tracks public opinion on a range of issues, and which this year threw up some interesting data on how exactly the British think of poverty, opportunity, social mobility and the role of the state and the individual. This is a really good piece of analysis by Sam Freedman, who looks at the numbers and the surprising conclusions that it’s possible to draw from them – to whit, that people in the UK are increasingly likely to believe that state intervention to reduce income inequalities is A Good Thing, and that there is a parallel rise in the numbers of people who believe that greater public spending and state intervention would be of benefit to the country – there’s SO much interesting stuff here digging into where people sit on a left-right spectrum, and how that varies by age, and how the numbers perhaps don’t look quite as one might expect, and why that might be, and why (fingers crossed, eh?) the Tory party lurching further to the right after its hopefully-inevitable electoral defeat next year will see it fcuk itself even further into the sun from an electability perspective. This is interesting AND useful, and to to be honest if you find this interesting you could do worse than check out the whole report here.
  • The Noughties: I know a couple of people who have slept with Russell Brand – I am aware that they are not in an exclusive club – and while there was never any indication from them that they had anything other than a splendid time in the man’s company, I can’t say that this weekend’s revelations came as a huge shock to me. What has been interesting is the speed with which the media has rushed to condemn the prevailing culture of the rough 2004-12 era (see the link to ‘Vulgar Britain’ earlier on), and the number of pieces that have sprung up all doing the same hand-wringing bit, often from people who I remember full well being very much ‘of the establishment’ at the time and who I don’t recall being anywhere near so censorious when they were enjoying the gak back in 2006. Anyway, the main link here is to Zoe Williams in the Guardian, who is very good on the broad era but who, oddly, fails to mention the Guardian’s own role in elevating that sort of culture by giving Brand a column for years when he was at the height of his ‘jellied eels and fingering and Proust, oh my!’; schtick; if you’re in the market for more, then Sarah Ditum (yes, I know, but) in Unherd (yes, I know, but) is also good on the prevailing culture of the time; and this thread by Caspar Salmon does a good job of deconstructing the relationship between Brand and laddism and how both evolved as a reaction to the perceived ‘threat’ to traditional masculinity posed by the rise of (at least the appearance of) feminism in the popular culture of the 90s. I had a genuinely odd (and not wholly pleasant) moment this weekend, when I saw this story about Noel Fielding and Pixie Geldof from 2007 doing the rounds and I realised that it was entirely plausible that the story was placed by the PR agency where I was working at the time – it didn’t feel…great, I must say. This tweet by Rob Palk resonated with me quite a lot.
  • GPT and Jobs: Another week, another link to Ethan Mollick’s newsletter (it really is excellent, I offer no apologies) – in this post, Mollick looks at new research from Harvard University and Boston Consulting Group (which this week inked a deal with Anthropic to integrate Claude into its service offerings, and which, it’s fair to say, has something of a vested interest in making this stuff look like THE BEST POSSIBLE FUTURE) which seems to show that workers using LLMs as part of their workflows are faster, more efficient and (in the main) produce ‘higher quality’ work (as assessed by human peers) than those working without LLMs (as ever with this stuff, this is just ONE study; also, the effects, as seems to regularly be the case, are most pronounced when it comes to less-competent workers). Which may or may not interest you, fine, but I’ve been having to do a bit of work around the whole ‘how can we use this stuff to make more money?’ question and there really is some baseline practical stuff that you can implement which I reckon can shave 10% off general admin time for most bullsh1t white collar jobs like yours and mine. Anyway, this is worth bookmarking for next time you need to have an argument with IT about unblocking GPT from your machine.
  • Simulating HIstory With GPT: I enjoyed this a lot – another piece examining some of the ways in which LLMs can be integrated into teaching practice in interesting and creative ways, here Benjamin Breen describes some of the ways in which he’s used GPT in his classes to get students to engage critically with the study of history, and to help get them used to research and fact-checking in ways that are possibly more creatively-engaging than your traditional classroom methods. To quote Breen: “I’m envisioning an assignment in which my students will simulate the experience of being sold flawed copper by Ea-nāṣir, a real-life shady copper merchant in Mesopotamia circa 1750 BCE (one who, in recent years, has unexpectedly become a meme online). Crucially, this is not just about role-playing as an angry customer of Ea-nāṣir — or as the man himself, which is also an option. As illuminating as the simulations can be, the real benefit of the assignment is in what follows. First, students will print out and annotate the transcript of their simulation (which runs for twenty “turns,” or conversational beats) and carefully read through it with red pens to spot potential factual errors. They will then conduct their own research to correct those errors. They’ll then write their findings up as bullet points and feed this back into ChatGPT in a new, individualized and hopefully improved version of the prompt that they develop themselves. This doesn’t just teach them historical research and fact-checking — it also helps them develop skills for working directly with generative AI that I suspect will be valuable in future job markets.” I think this is such a clever way of using an LLM, and the sort of thing that might useful be adapted for all sorts of similar purposes in other industries or areas of study.
  • How To Make Those Spiral Image Things Using AI: Yes, I know that you’re BORED of the visual trick already, but be aware that normies probably haven’t seen it yet and as such there’s probably some decent mileage to be made in being the first to adapt this for a billboard or print campaign (for a brand with the right logo, this could look rather cool I think). Anyway, this article contains an explanation as to how it works and how you can do it yourself, along with a link to an external site that can help you knock an image together – and here’s another one, should you want one.
  • Your Car Talks To You: This is a piece looking at how integrating natural language tech into self-driving cars lets the vehicles communicate what they are doing any why in simple, easy-to-parse language, helping us better understand what the machine is ‘thinking’ at any given time, and offering an easily-comprehensible rationale for each driving decision it takes – which is interesting from the point of view of cars, fine, but also struck me as a neat illustration of the most exciting power of LLMs, specifically their ability to act as near-universal translation tools. There’s something genuinely exciting about the imminent arrival of multimodal AI which will let us start to attempt to get The Machine to explain the world to, and the things that we will be able to build on top of that tech – the ability to analyse video and audio using conversational interfaces is going to be transformational, I think.
  • Bard Updates: Bard is by a long way the least-good of the big name LLMs, but it does have one or two things going for it (multilanguage support and the ability to analyse/read images, specifically) – and now it’s been given a host of updates, including the ability to plug into your personal Google Suite and ‘analyse’ your information and data, so that you can ask it questions about your email inbox, say, or get it to find, collate and summarise specific types of file from your GDrive. Except, per this New York Times review which is an exquisitely-embarrassing read from start to finish, it doesn’t actually seem to work properly, or indeed at all. Still, early days and it’s worth looking at the updated feature list as it gives a decent indication of the broad direction of travel of this stuff and the sorts of things that will be coming to the next versions of GPT et al soon.
  • China, AI and Student Labour: I know I’ve featured multiple pieces in recent months which look at the human labour that sits behind China’s AI efforts, but I make no apologies for including another one – this is Rest of World’s take, which focuses in particular on the way in which AI companies are effectively co-opting the country’s students to do the tedious, repetitive data-labelling tasks required to train LLMs, GANs and other generative AI systems, and is a convenient reminder of the fact that each and every one of these systems is on some level built on the labour of people who it’s likely were being paid somewhere in the region of the square root of fcuk-all for their time.
  • The Female Reciters of Clubhouse: This is SO interesting, and one of those fascinating stories about technology finding a specific, niche use that its creators almost certainly never envisaged. Lockdown-era darling Clubhouse (you remember Clubhouse, don’t you? “We’ve reinvented phonecalls and broadcast radio; yes, that’s right, we’re now worth $10bn”) limps along, having recently announced its latest pivot to audio messaging a few short weeks ago, but has unexpectedly found itself being used by a nascent community of young Muslim women who are using the platform as a place to recite the verse of the Qur’an in a safe space and with a woman-only audience.
  • Being 13 (and a Girl): I have recent found myself wondering whether my generation (I am ‘young GenX’, whatever that means) is the first which hasn’t found itself hitting middle-age and wishing it was young again – I currently look at How Things Are and How Things Seem To Be Going and, honestly, I would rather eat my own face than be 17 right now, but I imagine that had I been 43 in 1997 I might have felt rather differently and have bitten your hand off were you to offer me the chance to go back to my youth. This superb New York Times piece looks at the experience of being a teenage girl in New York in 2023 – the author, Jessica Bennett, spent a year recording the lives and feelings and emotions of a coterie of 13 year old girls, who shared their thoughts with her via diaries and voicenotes each week, and whose lives are here presented as a patchwork view of ‘what it is like to be young right now’. OBVIOUSLY this is not in any way representative of The Whole World, and New York is not America, let alone the rest of the world, but at the same time it’s hard to imagine that the experiences of any other 13 year old girls in the West being significantly different, and as such this feels like a decent snapshot of a certain facet of youth experience here at the fag end of modernity. I can’t speak for you, but, honestly, I can’t pretend that the vast majority of this sounds anything other than intensely miserable. Poor the kids.
  • 2Girls1Bottle: This has been widely shared this week, with a degree of reverence that, personally, I think feels a *touch* out of place – still, see what YOU think. This is a profile of TikTok ‘creators’ Mixie and Munchie in The Face, two London women who’ve built a following on the app by posting videos of themselves making cocktails, silently, in fast food joints. Which, you know, is fine! It’s a bit! First rule of social media – find a thing, stick to it, double down, know your niche! Content 101! Except, well, this piece goes on to treat the schtick with the wide-eyed reverence of someone frotting themselves senseless over the Abramovich show (about which I am similarly unimpressed fwiw), featuring analysis like: “In a video posted on 11th July 2023, Mixie rolls fake ice cubes like dice on the table. She holds one up, beauty guru-style, using the inside of her palm to pull focus like Jeffree Star or NikkieTutorials might. There are no numbers on the ice cubes, but the gesture is clear: these are the winning ​“dice”. It’s a bizarrely soothing experience, like watching someone divining the future from chicken bones in an internet age. For another video, they go pastoral. Munchie grinds an Oreo in a pestle and mortar then sprinkles the dust into a medium-sized pot of what appears to be dirt. Daintily, she digs into the biscuit-dust and pseudo-soil, then eats it. It has the same appeal as being a child and creating a potion, or actually eating earth in your garden.” Do you…do you maybe think that we’re possibly analysing stuff on the web TOO MUCH? When I was at college, some friends of mine and I became briefly obsessed with the idea of cucumbers as a symbol of…something or other (I forget what, exactly) and for a month or so took to placing them EVERYWHERE as a sort of running gag (that didn’t work because no fcuker noticed them, but webs) – I don’t think that would have warranted a deep-dive critical analysis, and I personally don’t think this stuff does either. Maybe, just maybe, we should stop attempting to deconstruct everything kids do on the web? Maybe they’re just fcuking around? MAYBE IT DOESN’T ACTUALLY MEAN ANYTHING AT ALL AND THE JOKE IS IN FACT ON YOU, THE FACE!
  • Fictional Brands: Such an interesting article looking at the practice of creating fictional brands for film and TV shows – so, for example, ‘Duff’ on the Simpson’s, or the 50s-inspired faux-products in Wes Anderson’s latest film.
  • Weather Influencers: Another piece from Rest of World, this one looking at the growing number of hyperlocal weather ‘influencers’ in India, who are bringing a centuries-old practice of predicting rainfall for their village and its immediate environs into the 21st century thanks to smartphones and readily-available weather data. I think I want a name for this sort of thing – the very ‘first novel in the Sprawl Trilogy’ low-rent Gibsonian vibe of centuries-old customs married to modern tech means, like someone doing the I-Ching using an app on their smartwatch.
  • Ernie Barnes: A profile of an artist whose work you’ll recognise even if you don’t know their name – Ernie Barnes painted The Sugar Shack, one of the most iconic (sorry) and widely-reproduced pieces of North American Black art of the 20th Century, and this profile looks at his life and work and the way in which his approach to both the practice and sale of art enabled the distribution of his works through affordable backchannels to African American households the length and breadth of the States. Also, he was a pro basketball player! Some people are just too talented, it’s most unfair.
  • The Fake IPL: This is a CRAZY story – did you know that there’s a lucrative Russian gambling market that works by effectively running fake cricket games, 24/7, and running rigged books on them? This is honestly jaw-dropping – the scale of the operations described is insane, as is the general principal of ‘setting up an entirely-faked cricket league purely for the purposes of being able to run a book on it’, and even if you broadly disapprove of, you know, the crime and the people trafficking and the gambling, you sort-of have to admire the chutzpah and the sheer ambition on display here.
  • Who Deserves To Eat At Noma?: Yes, I know, you read all the ‘what it’s like to eat at the world’s best restaurant’ pieces 15 years ago when they were first published – BUT, Noma is going to close soon and it will never exist again, and it’s always nice to read someone’s account of eating – and not totally enjoying – a meal that I am never going to be able to experience. I liked this essay a lot, despite the general sense of (self-?)loathing exhibited by the author throughout.
  • The Berkeley Hotel Hostage: A piece from 20 years ago, all about Douglas Adams and his writers’ block, and how he was once cured of it by basically being kidnapped and kept in a hotel by his publishers’ until he’d finally delivered what he owed them, but also about the weird horror of being captured (kidnapped, again, to an extent) by one’s own success.
  • Soft Spotted Animal: A beautiful essay about the body and obsession and pathologies and control and loss and picking at yourself until there are holes all over you. Horrible and wonderful and sad, this, by Ellie Eberlee.
  • Index of Porosity: ANOTHER beautiful essay (really, though, this is A Good Week for high-quality prose) about music and death and love and AIDS and funerals and memory; I want to describe this as ‘crisp and elegant’, though I have no fcuking idea as to why.
  • All My Fathers: Heredity, generations, ancestry and family, wrapped up in recollections of three generations of men that preceded her by Lee Reilly.
  • La Dolce Vita: Tanya Bush spends a summer in Italy, working in an agriturismo where each week a group of North American tourists descent to learn to cook, or to play at learning to cook, and to eat – Bush is employed both as kitchen help and as bulwark between the Italian host/organisers and the tourists, and the piece recounts her increasingly-bleak experience as the Summer passes and the atmosphere becomes more oppressive…I didn’t think I’d hugely enjoyed this when I finished it, but it’s stuck with me all week – personally I think it works a lot better if you read it as a slightly-oblique horror story, but see what you think.
  • On Silence: Finally this week, it seems apposite to finish with this essay by Ella Bassist which looks back at her life and the way men have repeatedly treated her and the Me Too moment and what happened, and didn’t happen, next. It is brilliant, but bleak: “In learning how to write about sh1tty (and litigious) men, now I know to say, “I remember this happened, and that, in my opinion, it happened like this.” I know to acknowledge the possibility that what happened, happened only to me. I also know that only two of us were there, that one of us gets to be believed, and that no matter what I say, someone else can say I’m lying and sue me for libel.”

By Seth Armstrong


Webcurios 15/09/23

Reading Time: 38 minutes

HI EVERYONE HI HAPPY FRIDAY! The sun is shining, the birds are singing, and I am trying to stay positive before I have to spend a portion of the weekend reading Elon Fcuking Musk’s fcuking biography (there are strong professional reasons why this is necessary; I am not *that* sort of masochist) – how are YOU? What is going on in YOUR world?

Don’t worry, I don’t expect you to tell me – we don’t have that sort of relationship, after all – but this is the sort of ‘caring interaction’ I am increasingly informed is required if you want to ‘grow your newslettering community’. Am I doing it right?

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and if any of you have any JUICY INFORMATION as to exactly how many people the BP guy was boning then I am ALL EARS.

By Hagar Vardimon



  • Chat2024: I was previously pretty relaxed about next year’s US elections – and tbh I’m still relaxed, it’s not my fcuking problem and we’re all going to die anyway so, well, wevs! – but over the course of the past month or so I have become…somewhat more concerned that several tens of millions of people are going to do something incredibly stupid (again). Still, we’re still at the ‘let’s pretend it’s going to be anything other than a miserable contest between two nonagenarians’ stage of things, which means that there are multiple candidates vying for attention and airtime and with THOUGHTS AND VIEWPOINTS that you might want to consider (if you’re a North American, at least) – and now, thanks to the MAGIC OF MODERN TECHNOLOGY, there’s a simple and easy way of doing so…VIA THE MEDIUM OF AI! Chat2024 is a PR/marketing project by a company called Delphi, which it may not surprise you to learn wants to sell you DIGITAL CLONES of yourself, and it basically lets you ‘interrogate’ all of the potential candidates for the 2024 sh1tshow in one fell swoop. Type in your questions, and you’ll get a selection of different answers from the ‘candidates’ (or more accurately the chatbots based on their policies) which, so the press release almost-inevitably says, will help voters make up their own minds without having to do anything so difficult as, I don’t know, read a manifesto, or pay attention to what it is that these people say. This is fascinating, in part on a technical level and in part in terms of What It All Means – there’s limited detail on the site about exactly how the makers have built the models, other than some vague ‘trained on material such as speeches’, but I presume it’s a standard ‘we ripped everything we can find that these people have ever said and trained a model on each of them’ thing, and the Q&A feature…works reasonably well, as far as I can tell (and there are certainly reasonable guardrails in place that mean it’s so far prevented me from getting any of them to say anything reprehensible), and as a quick way of getting a rough overview of differences of opinion and perspective on various issues this is…maybe good? – there are even ‘citations’ to where it’s pulling certain positions from, to give you a vague sense of confidence that it’s not lying to you. Then again, I obviously don’t know the first thing about the granular detail of the DeSantis campaign’s fiscal policy objectives and so I would have no fcuking idea if ths DeSantisBot (for example) was wildly misrepresenting the man’s ideas – and while there are bits of the bots’ output that are referenced, there’s also quite a lot of stuff that isn’t…I don’t quite know how I feel about this, to be honest. On the one hand, maybe this is a really useful new way of letting people engage with policy and quickly and simply find out what their potential representatives think about stuff; on the other, I can’t help but feel that the propensity of the current generation of LLMs to just, well, *make sh1t up* possibly presents one or two not-insignificant problems for this tech and perhaps is maybe a reason why people relying on this stuff for information is, generally, still A Very Bad Idea. I suppose the main thing that sprung to mind when I found this was ‘fcuk, it’s actually going to be reasonably trivial for ANYONE to spin up something like this come about May 2024, which means there is going to be SO MUCH MAD STUFF being created around the eventual candidates campaigns’, which feels…a bit troubling. Anyway, that’s all by very long-winded way of saying that anyone who fancied making something like this for the inevitable 2024 UK General Election would fcuking CLEAN UP, coverage-wise, so get on it.
  • Stable Audio: After Google and Meta’s efforts in the ‘text to audio’ space (see Curios passim), this week Open Source AI people Stable Diffusion have got in on the act, releasing their Stable Audio product to the world – and it’s good! Really good! It’s been slightly hugged-to-death by the internet in its first 72h of life, so you might need to wait a bit to make it work properly, but once you get access it’s as magical as previous iterations of this tech, with the added advantage that it lets you specify the duration of output of your generations, meaning you can make upto 2mins (I think) of completely royalties-free instrumental music for whatever purposes you can conceive of – AND this model can apparently do drum’n’bass and slightly-trickier forms of composition, which the Google and Meta models I previously tried haven’t quite managed to achieve. Nothing you generate here is going to be bothering the charts, I don’t think, but, as previously repeated ad nauseum, you really never need to pay a stock music library for painfully-generic backing tracks ever again. I really think there’s something fun that could be built with these things at this point – I would quite like the chance to have a sort of four-track AI studio that let me play around with layering different AI-generated elements to…well, to almost-certainly cacophonous and horrible effect, but it would be a nice toy to mess around with. CAN ONE OF YOU FOR ONCE MAKE THE THINGS THAT I REQUEST, PLEASE? It feels like the least you could do. Oh, BONUS STABLE AUDIO CONTENT: here’s a little guide to audio prompting, should you desire one.
  • River: I LOVE THIS IT IS WONDERFUL. Also, I can’t *really* explain or describe it very well, so you’re just going to have to trust me a bit here. ‘River’ is a project by Max Bittker (whose work it turns out I’ve featured a few times on here in the past) which effectively acts as a sort of…visual connections scrapbook thingy? Oh, ok, fine, even by my standards that’s a risibly-lazy attempt at communication – let’s try again. River presents you with a series of images upon loading – click on any image that appeals to you and the images will reload, with the new pictures being morelike the one you just clicked…and so you go, clicking and following whatever aesthetic thread you choose, creating a personal, never-to-be-repeated journey through a visual landscape being generated just for you. I can’t stress what a glorious way of navigating images this is, and how lovely the way you tweak and refine the images you’re presented with – there’s a section in Michael Ende’s ‘The Neverending Story’ (which, by the way, you owe it to your inner child to read; if you have only ever seen the film, know that you only know half the story and that the book starts to get good once the film ends) in which Bastian, the ‘hero’, wonders through a palace of rooms of seemingly infinite doors, each door chosen taking him to yet more doors which are in small ways thematically linked to, and inspired by, the doors that came before…well basically it feels like that HYPERSPECIFIC thing, but in online form. It is BEAUTIFUL and, honestly, were it not for a strange and frankly misplaced sense of duty towards YOU, mysterious and unknown reader, I would stop typing right now and just click this for a few hours. It really is that wonderful.
  • All AI, All The Time: This is the video channel of one Darragh Walsh, a ‘content creator’ who has been doing the YouTube thing for a while now (instructional videos – nothing particularly interesting or novel, but equally nothing nefarious or grifty, just another kid attempting to mAkE a LiViNg In ThE cOnTeNt MiNeS) but who at some point in the past few months has pivoted to making ALL of their content using AI – the scripts, the videos and the voice overs on every single video on this channel are the product of a suite of largely-free tools combined to MAKE CONTENT with approximately 10% of the effort. You can read a Twitter thread here in which Darragh explains their thinking and methodology – these vids aren’t doing great numbers on release (a few k views, in general), but I assume that the play here is long-tail utility and building up a bulk catalogue of content which will produce a regular stream of residual revenue, and, well, I suppose…fair play, Darragh? I mean, the content is terrible, but then again so much of the rest of YouTube is too…Actually, no, sorry, I don’t mean to be mean to Darragh who I am sure is a nice person, but THIS IS HORRIBLE. This is what people were talking about a few months ago when they started to get a bit worried about ‘a flood of useless, junky, AI-generated dreck flooding the web’, and it’s coming to YouTube (see also: this channel creating entirely AI-generated ‘animations’ about history – they are TERRIBLE, but I did find the thumbnails with their single-word captions (“BRUTALITY”! “URINE”! Inexplicably, “CONSOLE”!) strangely amusing) and I am reasonably confident that there are going to be literally tens of thousands of kids in bedrooms across the world spending a not-insignificant portion of their afternoons and evenings churning this sort of stuff out in the hope of winning some sort of minor algorithmically-mandated payout lottery. Which is nice.
  • OpinionGPT: One of the (many, tedious) WE ARE DOOMED prophecies that I have been wanging on about for a while now around AI is the whole ‘everyone will have their own virtual assistant in their pocket which they can consult on whatever they fancy, and the whole ‘open source’ thing means that it is actually going to be a pretty trivial matter to have an assistant which espouses whatever weird, fringe, mad set of beliefs you like best and which presents a very specific and doctored version of ‘truth’ in response to any questions’ thing – neatly illustrated here by this project, which lets you ask questions of a bunch of different LLMs which have been tweaked and trained so as to make them espouse quite clearly-distinct political viewpoints. From the homepage: “ What happens if you tune a model only on texts written by politically left-leaning persons? Or only on texts written by right-leaning persons? Only on texts by men, or only on texts by women? Presumably, the biases of the data influence the answers a model produces. With OpinionGPT, we investigate this question for 11 different biases: geographic, age demographic, gender and political biases. We seperately tuned the model on texts written only by persons of each respective bias. In this demo, you can ask questions to our very biased model to get very biased answers!” This is SUCH an interesting project (by the Humboldt University in Berlin, in case you care) and a perfect example of how odd things are quite possibly going to get in the next few years.
  • Coca Cola’s Y-3000 Cam: Coke was the first big brand to publicly jump on the AI bandwagon thanks to horrible, dead-inside management consultancy Bain, and I am going to go out on a limb and assume that this activation is the fruit of that agreement and the OpenAI collab. Coca Cola is releasing a BRAND NEW FLAVOUR OF SUGARWATER, DESIGNED BY AI!!!! Which is obviously HUGELY exciting (although, er, haven’t we done this before?)  – in case you’re curious, it tasted like all the red soda flavors got together and threw a party. Cherry, strawberry, raspberry, generic “fruit punch” – those were the tastes I sensed most”, so,  er, now you know! – and is accompanied by an AI digital experience! Click the link (mobile-only) and take a photo of anything you fancy; hit a button and watch in AWE as whatever you snapped gets magically transformed into a FUTURISTIC and MAGICAL scene thanks to the POWER OF AI! What that actually means in practice is that your photo will have some of the surfaces swapped out with vaguely-shiny and reflective materials (THE FUTURE) and there will be a slight sheen to it, and, basically, it will look almost exactly like every other AI-doctored or generated image you’ll have seen over the past few months. This is VERY underwhelming considering the violent amount of money that’s been spent on it, and I am honestly slightly disappointed that ‘light visual style transfer’ is the most interesting thing that the combined intellectual might of a bunch of management consultants and a bunch of advermarketingprdrones has managed to envision. Also – and perhaps this is the root of my dismay – HOW DID THEY MISS THE OPPORTUNITY TO BOOK BUSTED FOR THE PRODUCT LAUNCH!?!?! Amateurs, these people, I tell you.
  • AI-Augmented Blogging: This is quite tricky to explain (I say that far more often than is probably reasonable, don’t I?; shall I…shall I just *try harder* and *write better*? Let’s give it a go!) but basically it’s an experimental bit of webwork that asks ‘what would it be like if stuff written online also included generative AI elements which enabled the reader to engage with and interrogate the text using textual AI interfaces?’ – so for example, as you read the linked blogpost, you will find areas in which you can ask questions of an LLM, to engage with the themes raised in the piece; there’s something hugely interesting in the questions this raises around reader and author and intent, and when I found this this week I got a very real frisson (get me with my fancy words) of excitement because it feels very much like there is *something* interesting here (although, fine, I am not smart enough to work out exactly what that is or what shape it might be; you think about it for a while, it’s 8am and I am already getting a bit fatigued of brain and finger).
  • The Open Audiobook Collection: Or, to give it its full name, The Project Gutenburg Open Audiobook Collection – this is a wonderful initiative and a superb resource which I literally can’t find anything bad to say about at all. I mean, look, you can’t really criticise this, can you? “Project Gutenberg, Microsoft, and MIT have worked together to create thousands of free and open audiobooks using new neural text-to-speech technology and Project Gutenberg’s large open-access collection of e-books. This project aims to make literature more accessible to (audio)book-lovers everywhere and democratize access to high quality audiobooks. Whether you are learning to read, looking for inclusive reading technology, or about to head out on a long drive, we hope you enjoy this audiobook collection.” So click the ‘browse collection’ button (or just click here) and browse the INSANE archive of old titles – finding something you ACTUALLY want to listen to might be tricky, fine, but why not take a punt on something curious-sounding, like “The Glory of the Trenches” by one Coningsby Dawson (oh, ok, maybe not that one), or some improving Plato, or maybe some Jack London short stories…I am very glad this exists.
  • Roma Testimonies: The persecution of the Roma during the Second World War is something that often gets forgotten amidst all the other horrors – this is an archive maintained by the Czech Academy of Sciences and which collects testimonies of people from the Roma and Sinti communities who suffered at the hands of the Nazis in WWII. From the site: “The experience of the Roma and Sinti during World War II is still a neglected topic, although the consequences of the wartime genocide and persecution are still felt by Roma communities today. Moreover, even in the few publications about the Roma and Sinti Holocaust, the perspective taken from documents written during the war by the state administration and police forces often prevails. On the contrary, the key idea of our project is to convey to the widest possible readership the testimony of the Roma and Sinti themselves and thus their personal and irreplaceable experience of the Second World War. We hope that the Testimonies of Roma and Sinti project will contribute to greater awareness of their genocide and will be an irreplaceable source of information for researchers, relatives of the victims, or anyone else interested in this important topic.” You can search the archive by birthdate, place of birth or name, should you be interested in looking for specific individuals or locations, or you can just browse the testimonies – this is obviously…affecting, but it’s an incredible piece of historical archiving and an important collection.
  • Fish Letters: Who wouldn’t like to receive a heartfelt digital message from a friend or loved-one in the shape of a fish? NO FCUKER, THAT’S WHO! Mikimoto is a Japanese company which was, according to the cursory Google I did when I found this site, the originator of cultured pearls and the first company in the world to produce them commercially – I have literally NO IDEA why they created this bit of digital marketing, but you can use it to send anyone you like a message (via email, or a shareable link) which will be presented in the shape of a fish made of words. If you have some really, really bad news to deliver to someone today, or a tough conversation to get through, why not soften the blow by communicating it via the medium of an inexplicably-piscine piece of digital communication? It will DEFINITELY make it all better. “Yes, fine, I understand you’re upset Philip, but at least I took the time to deliver the “I don’t love you any more” message via whimsical digital billet doux!”
  • Poised: One of the many terrible things about The Era Of Digital Work is the degree to which so much of what we are all forced to do professionally these days exists in a feedback vacuum – there are few things more soul-destroying than doing an already-pointless presentation to an audience of dead-eyed morons, other than doing so via Teams or Zoom and as such having no fcuking idea exactly how badly your schtick is going down. So THANK FCUK FOR POISE, then, an AI-powered (obvs) product which basically (as far as I can tell from an admittedly pretty casual glance at the site) monitors your performance on calls and offers you DIRECT AND REALTIME encouragement and feedback on how you’re doing with little popups that tell you that you need to be more assertive, or that remind you that you really should try not to say “er…” so much when you present. This sounds, to be clear, HORRIFIC – if you’re the sort of nervous person who struggles with presenting or confidence in the workplace, I am not totally convinced that being constantly monitored and assessed by a nameless, faceless AI judge is going to make you perform better but perhaps you feel differently. Personally this feels like the sort of thing that might tip someone over the edge, professionally-speaking, but then again my ‘career’ is a joke so what do I know? That was rhetorical fwiw.
  • Slingshot: This is entirely-frivolous and none of you need it in your lives, but at the same time there is something genuinely pleasing about both the idea and the execution here. Slingshot is a new app which exists solely to give you an easy and fast way of sharing photos with your friends – you open the app, you select a friend from your contacts list, you ‘pull back’ on the screen to take a picture and then let go to ‘fire’ it to your friend. Yes, a totally pointless gestural interface but SUCH a fun one, and frankly we need more of this sort of design ethos in our lives.
  • Iskarioto: A Twitter account sharing short AI-generated animations, via Rene’s ever-excellent links roundup – your appetite for this stuff will track closely with your tolerance for/interest in the AI art aesthetic and the current state of this tech, but in general there’s an interesting mix of styles and techniques here which make it worth a follow.
  • Shot Glasses: The Wikipedia entry about shot glasses this week taught me that there is in fact no global standard to what constitutes ‘a shot’, and that as such the capaciousness of shot glasses varies wildly from country-to-country, and that this is why you should never, ever get into a situation where you’re being challenged to down nonspecific spirits in Bulgaria – SERIOUSLY GUYS WHAT THE ACTUAL FCUK?!
  • The Url Poetry Club: A new project by Kris, The URL Poetry Club sits neatly at the intersection of three of my loves – prose, verse and LINKS – and is a glorious little website creating short poems from links and words; the resulting works function both as bits of verse to be read, but also as verse-in-digital-space, if that makes any sort of sense at all…I love the way that this makes one think of the connections built through linking sites to each other, and how the act of this selection and curation and arrangement itself builds new networks of meaning – attempting to communicate this stuff inevitably makes me feel like I might turn myself inside-out with embarrassment and pretension, but, well, it’s nice to try and be sincere every now and again. I love this, and I would quite like to encourage more people to think about the web and links and ideas in this sort of way. If that makes sense. Which it might, I concede, not.

By Laurie Simmons



  • The Terrible Ads of LinkedIn: I really, really hate LinkedIn – I also (this is a bit of a tangential rant, but if you’ll indulge me for just a moment) REALLY hate the current spate of articles suggesting the fact that young people are now using it makes it in some way ‘cool’. GYAC YOU FCUKING IDIOTS WHY DO YOU THINK YOUNGER PEOPLE ARE USING LINKEDIN NOW IS IT DO YOU THINK BECAUSE THEY ARE COMING TO AN AGE WHERE HAVING A PROFESSIONAL PROFILE ON THE WORLD’S ONLY BUSINESS-FOCUSED SOCIAL NETWORK IS NECESSARY? WOULD YOU HAVE WRITTEN PIECES 30 YEARS AGO SUGGESTING THAT CVs ARE SOMEHOW COOL BECAUSE 21 YEAR OLDS ALL OVER THE COUNTRY ARE WRITING THEM? YOU WOULD NOT, WOULD YOU? FCUK’S SAKE. Ah, that feels better. Anyway, this is by way of poor-quality introduction to the fact that you can now peruse the LinkedIn ad library and MY GOD is it a soul-destroying cavalcade of poor-quality grift and low-rent copy, and, in a weird way, it’s sort of uplifting – whatever terrible, pointless drudgery you’re engaged in today as part of your quotidian attempt not to die of exposure or starvation, console yourself with the fact that at least you’re not brokering LinkedIn Brand Partnership deals between a manufacturer of industrial endoscopy machines and a Daily Good News inspirational updates Page (no, really, that is a thing). There but for the grace of God go we all.
  • That Guy: Ordinarily I don’t tend to do ‘this week’s viral trend’ content on Curios – mainly because, er, I tend not to be aware of it, what with not being on Instagram and largely eschewing TikTok – but this, which came via Anne-Helen Petersen, amused me enough to make an exception. TikTok recently released a new filter which gives people facial hair, which has led to loads of women trying on themselves and realising that, with said face-fuzz, they end up looking like ‘A Certain Type of Guy’ – this link takes you to an Insta reel which compiles a bunch of TiKToks of women embodying Types of Guy and, honestly, some of these are perfectly observed – “I look like I have a podcast” is, well, perfect.
  • Meltdown Flags: It’s not exactly a controversial position to suggest that perhaps the planet’s large bodies of ice are melting perhaps a touch faster than we might in an ideal world wish them to – or at least it shouldn’t be, yet, well, here we all are! As part of the increasingly-futile-seeming attempts by individuals and organisations worldwide to make people take notice of What Is Going On, Melting Flags is a project designed to raise awareness of the fact that so many countries are going to be in not-insignificant trouble as a result of rising sea levels – specifically, it’s “a climate data initiative that visualizes the effects of global glacier retreat by reducing the amount of white in the flags of countries with glaciers.” This is a really neat bit of design and visualisation which does an excellent job of conveying the differential impacts of glacial retreat, and which will almost certainly have no effect whatsoever on anything (sorry, but, well, it’s true, isn’t it?).
  • Mind Window: The name here strikes me as oddly-sinister (I don’t know why, but it puts me in mind of the sort of terrible invention that would be spoken of by deep-voiced scientists in a pulpy 50s scifi movie – “We must activate the Mind Window, or Planet Terra is lost!”, that sort of thing) but I am really curious about the project. This has been going since 2020, apparently, and is a research project designed and undertaken by the University of Arizona – from their description: “Do you ever wonder if there is some rhyme or reason to how you think? How often are your thoughts focused on troubling topics, the past, the future, or memories and imaginative thinking? Mind Window helps you to track the way that you uniquely think and discover how these patterns of thought may affect your well-being. Mind Window is part of a scientific research project to develop a large international database of thoughts in daily life. The purpose of this app is to identify patterns of thinking by asking questions about user’s thoughts at random moments throughout their day-to-day life.” There is limited information on the site about what, if anything, the collected data to date has told the researchers, but I am very much into the idea of a worldwide project that seeks to find out whether, for example, everyone actually feels the same specific sense of dread and ennui at around 17:37 on a Sunday.
  • The News Clock: The Pudding’s ‘Clocks Team’ (this is now canon – there is a Pudding Clocks Team) continues to ship at an impressive rate; this latest project is a clock which uses news headlines featuring the time to, well, tell the time; so right now it’s ‘Apple Watch Series 09 is official’ and ‘Who Will Succeed Mitt Romney? 04 Candidates’ o’clock. This is less fun than the previous two iterations (personally the YouTube clock is my favourite so far), but I applaud the commitment to the project  now do the Stock Market clock, please (actually that isn’t a wholly-terrible idea, you know).
  • Neptune In Space: My note for this in the GDoc where I store my links each week (one day I will share that magic with you – ONE DAY) reads, simply, ‘bafflingspacedesignthing’ and, well, I’m not sure I can improve on that to be honest. A project by designer Callie Mc (whose personal website is very pleasing too), this self-describes as “an explorative design lab translated across time and space orbiting curiosity and discovery”, which, honestly, tells you pretty much nothing – it’s an interesting exploration of design ideas and themes and how combining them creates rules and forms that create aesthetic sense (or at least that’s what I think it is – you might think something completely different, which is fine but also WRONG), and it’s also just sort-of baffling, which I like.
  • The Iconographic Encyclopaedia: I had before this week never heard of The Iconographic Encyclopaedia, but now I know that “In 1844, German publisher Johann Georg Heck started compiling his illustrated encyclopedia, covering wide range of subjects from astronomy to zoology”, and that “Published between 1849 and 1851, the 10-part collection comprised 500 steel engraved plates containing more than 13,000 illustrations and more than 1.6 million words of detailed descriptions” (and now you do too). This website lets you explore all the illustrations and diagrams as well as the copy, arranged by theme, and it’s genuinely fascinating to browse through and see exactly how wrong we were about everything just 180 short years ago.
  • Video Translation: You may have seen videos of this tech doing the rounds this week, but I can’t stress enough quite how incredible this is and how much it will make you go ‘no, hang on, that might in fact be actual magic’ when you see it in action. This is a new product by Heygen Labs which basically takes any video you give it and creates a version in any language you care to mention – but it does so in YOUR voice, and it adds decent lipyncing, meaning that to the casual viewer it looks as though you’re speaking, say, German, in your natural voice, like it was the most normal thing in the world. Honestly, I don’t think I can overstate quite how insane this  is – the speed and the quality is quite remarkable, not least because this would have been entirely impossible about a year or so ago.
  • Planta: I like plants, I really do, but I am so bad at keeping them alive that it feels rather like they don’t like me very much to the extent that they would rather suicide themselves than spend another minute in my company (I refuse to countenance the idea that it’s my incompetence or neglect that’s killing them, no siree) – if you, like me, are more brown-than-green-fingered (I am sure I have used that phrase before, and it hasn’t gotten any less unpleasantly-faecal sounding since last time, has it? Sorry!) then you might find this app, which offers help and guidance on all aspects of plant husbandry, from indoor houseplants to allotment-type vegetables – it identifies plants, helps you monitor light levels, gives you reminders to water the fcuking things, and, basically, if you can’t keep a peony alive with this then there’s no hope for you and you might as well just patio over the whole fcuking garden.
  • Bike Index: It’s entirely plausible that this site will be common knowledge to all of you who own bikes, but in case not…Bike Index purports to be the world’s largest bike registration site/portal, on which you can sign up and record the details of your velocipede in the hope that when it inevitably gets nicked in three months’ time you can alert the users here and get people to look out for it; the idea being that if you see a bike for sale you can quickly check the reg against the database here collected and see if it has in fact been unlawfully-liberated from its owner. It’s not entirely clear to me what happens then – is the idea that you politely inform the vendor that they are in fact dealing in stolen goods, and that they thank you fulsomely for the intel and alert the local constabulary post-haste, and then arrange swift repatriation of the bike in question to its rightful owner? Because, honestly, that seems a *touch* fanciful, but I guess I admire the optimism here. Anyway, this is an international endeavour and is the very acme of A Good And Nice Idea, so I encourage you all to sign up your bikes and never buy one from the nice bloke down the market without first running the serial number through this site.
  • Modern Serial: It feels very much like I have featured this before, but a cursory flick through the archive suggests it’s new to me, and so perhaps it will be new to you too. Modern Serial is a smart way of making classic texts episodic via email (in much the same way as the ‘Dracula Via Email’ project from a few years back – was it a lockdown thing? It feels like a lockdown thing – which gave readers the Bram Stoker novel as a series of email updates) – sign up, pick a book, pick a delivery cadence and ENJOY as a new section of classic fiction ends up in your inbox in regular, bitesize chunks. This is SUCH a good idea, and I wonder whether it could be extended to, well, anything – I quite like the idea of being able to learn like this, being sent small bits of learning around a subject area on a regular basis, accumulating over time; the selection of books here is limited to out-of-copyright works, but that encompasses some wonderful material and in general this is a really rather wonderful idea, executed superbly.
  • Organic Maps: Ooh, this is potentially super-useful for all of you middle-aged dads who dream of getting on a bike and just fcuking off for a few weeks with nothing but a rucksack, some suitably fit friends and a route featuring a lot of remote pubs for company; Organic Maps is a “a free Android & iOS offline maps app for travelers, tourists, hikers, and cyclists based on top of crowd-sourced OpenStreetMap data. It is a privacy-focused, open-source fork of app (previously known as MapsWithMe), maintained by the same people who created MapsWithMe in 2011. Organic Maps is one of a few applications nowadays that supports 100% of features without an active Internet connection. Install Organic Maps, download maps, throw away your SIM card (by the way, your operator constantly tracks you), and go for a weeklong trip on a single battery charge without any byte sent to the network.” Hugely useful for all your off-network travel needs
  • Trickle: Ooh, this is potentially really useful – Trickle harnesses THE POWER OF AI to help you make sense of, and organise, your screenshots. You upload your screenshots to the site, it analyses them using…some AI (not sure what it’s using here, does Bard have an API that would let them use that?) and annotates them based on what it ‘sees’ in the image, creating a bunch of metadata and tags associated to each screenshot, making them searchable and, well, useful. Genuinely potentially helpful to anyone who spends a lot of time working (specifically, designing) on their phone, this is also a really interesting glimpse into all the fun things that are coming down the line with truly multimodal AI in the next few months.
  • Pika: Another text-to-video app, offering an alternative to RunwayML – this is, like Runway, incredibly shonky at present, but you can very much see glimpses of how crazy this is going to get in ~1 year’s time. Annoyingly it uses the Midjourney ‘Discord-as-a-command-interface’ model, which personally makes me never want to touch it again, but it’s definitely worth a play if you’re interested in seeing how it stacks up against the best-in-class (or just if you want to make some really unsettling, melty-faced short films).
  • EmojiGen: Yes, I know, emoji generators are OLD HAT and SO 2020, but this is a NEW VARIANT, powered by AI, and it is ACE. Type in whatever you want it to generate an emoji of, and it will deliver, creating a small, C&Pable graphic for you to drop into whatever conversation you’re currently having on whatever platform you prefer (I presume that this is built on the DallE API or an open source GAN, with a pre-prompt of ‘an emoji of’ or something similar). There’s a selection of examples that people have generated on the homepage – I particularly enjoyed the very wholesome result for ‘threesome’ – but I encourage you to play around and make your own, as this is FUN.
  • FAU’s Roman Boats: OK, so this isn’t the MOST compelling site I’ve linked to this week, but it made me laugh SO MUCH and as such I must share it with you, so that you can inevitably click the link and not understand what the fcuk it was that I found so amusing about what is, on the face of it, a pretty dry website detailing the efforts of one Professor Dreyer of the Friedrich-Alexander University in Nurenburg to build a working replica of a roman boat (he is now apparently ‘investigating how ancient bread ovens worked or how accurately Roman catapults could shoot’ – I have to say, Professor Dreyer sounds like a lot of fun). I’ll give you a clue – scroll down and observe the AMAZING offer to buy your very own small replica Roman boat. Honestly, I don’t know why I find this so funny but there are literal tears streaming down my face as I write this. Perhaps I am overtired.
  • The Small Web: I am increasingly convinced that there is a COMING TREND towards people rediscovering the joy of sharing odd and obscure links to weird little webprojects, presaged by that fcuking Guardian piece the other week and supported by things like this, which I am seeing start to crop up more and more and which feels like it’s coalescing into…something of a movement, maybe? Not quite sure where I’m going with this tbh, but when Kris and I did the Tiny Awards earlier this year we both got a sense that there was a real appetite for things that broke the quotidian drudgery of the functional web of 2023 and helped people find the unexpected online; so it is with this project, by alternative search engine people Kagi, which is basically ‘stumbleupon, but for posts on personal websites’, and which lets you effectively hop from blog to blog like it’s 2002 and you have just discovered the concept of the webring. This is gorgeous, and another place you could legitimately lose hours to as you hopped from essay to diary to project page to photodump, all the while exploring the tiny, home-carved corners of the vast infinity of cyberspace that people have decided to call home. I promise, by the way, that when everyone and their fcuking dog is doing ‘updates of interesting stuff they found on the web’ I will not get all miserable and salty and “I FOUND THE CONCH YOU CNUTS” (I will totally do that, apologies in advance).
  • Dungeons and Degenerate Gamblers: Finally this week, a very fun little demo of a larger game in which you play a version of blackjack against a cast of antagonists as part of a vaguely-fantasy-themed ‘quest’ – this is a lot of fun, and tweaks the basic gameplay of ‘21’ in a series of interesting ways, with power-ups and special moves and all sorts of other clever additions. A genuinely enjoyable hour or so’s play, this, with a full game that you can eventually purchase if you feel so minded (and, if you like this sort of thing, there’s a much-shinier version of the same sort of thing – but this time based on poker rather than blackjack – available on Steam which I can heartily recommend).

By Lucy Lippard and Jerry Kearns



  • Strange Flowers: Not in fact a Tumblr! Noone cares! Via the wonderful Nag comes this superb blogtypething, whose raison d’etre is to…hang on, it’s worth reproducing the ‘about’ page in full because it is unusually joyful and explains perfectly what this is all about. Strange Flowers is “a cabinet of human curiosities, a celebration of some of the most eccentric, extravagant and extraordinary personalities of the last 200-odd years. It is a product of the blogger’s obsession with history’s footnotes, paragons of vivid individuality who elevated the craft of selfhood to an art. Because often it wasn’t what they left behind, but how they lived that was their real masterpiece. They might be difficult, ridiculous, contrary – even tragic – but never, ever dull. Strange Flowers constitutes an alternative universe Who’s Who, a pantheon of ill-deserved obscurity which roams the worlds of literature, art, science, aristocracy and bohemia, low life and high society. Unique and fearless, some of these rare blooms emerge from the shadows of history as unsung influences on our lives, others served as inspiration for fictional characters that became better known than their models. Some may have travelled under the banner of Dandyism, Dadaism or Decadence, but this is an account of individuals, not movements, and most of our subjects were avant-garde without a garde to be avant. More interesting are the elective affinities, private connections, the bequest of tastes and sensibilities from one esoteric nature to another. Some squandered early promise and slid into squalor and ignominy. Others lived and worked in eremitic isolation, finding scant recognition only after death. Whatever their fate, Strange Flowers aims to celebrate the individual by remembering those who, having inherited the basic materials of existence bequeathed to us all, fashioned them into something heroically, wilfully odd, and often sublime.” This really feels like it should be a book, or a documentary series, or a podcast, as well as this superb blog – there is SO MUCH amazing and interesting stuff in here about so many incredible people.
  • Tenement Town: Also via the Nag (THANKYOU) comes this website (I have checked the source code and this isn’t a Tumblr either, chiz chiz – standards here really are slipping, and I am SORRY) which collects and presents old and forgotten stories of the people who lived in Edinburgh in years past, when the social and economic profile of the city was…different, and this is a lovely urban history passion project. To quote its creator, “I’m Diarmid Mogg. I’m interested in the stories of ordinary people who lived their lives in the places where we live today, and I spend a lot of time writing about them, mostly using stories I find in old newspapers. The newspaper archives contain a lot of interesting scraps of information about the people who were here before us, and about the places they lived, and I often search the old papers for mention of the addresses of tenements that have caught my eye to see what stories I can find. Tenement Town takes a look behind the doors I pass every day, and offers glimpses of the lives that were lived over the centuries in the places Edinburgh’s citizens still call home.” Super-interesting, particularly for those of you who live in, or haved lived in, Edinburgh.


  •  The London Night Cafe: This is a great idea – recently opened in Whitechapel, the London Night Cafe is a place that offers a nocturnal space for people who want somewhere to work or just hang out late at night without having to be in a bar, club or other booze-related establishment; it’s open overnight and you pay just over £8 for the privilege of being able to sit somewhere and work, or read, or think – tickets are on sale in advance, they do events on some evenings, Thursdays are phone-free spaces…generally this seems like A Good Thing, and if you’re a London insomniac or the sort of person who a) can only work at night and b) can only work in a place that isn’t their actual house, then this could prove very useful indeed.
  • Sofy Guerrero: Guerrero does watercolour illustrations, near-photorealistic, of translucent plastic objects (and other things too, fine, but it’s the translucent plastic objects that I particularly enjoy here), and they are excellent.


  • Get A Rabbit: We begin this week’s longreads with John Lanchester on typically-excellent form in the LRB, ostensibly reviewing three books about data and statistics but in fact taking the reader on a fascinating journey through some of the ways in which the modern world’s (understandable, and mostly-helpful) obsession with quantification and data and analysis have had interesting, unexpected and often unintended and unwanted consequences, and all the reasons why unlimited data and statistics and the analysis thereof are not necessarily enough to protect from Bad Outcomes. I think Lanchester’s a better essayist than novelist, personally (that said, this is one of my favourite ever novels and I have read it two-dozen times and I cannot recommend it highly enough to each of you, especially if you enjoy food and cooking), and this is a wonderful example of what makes him so good – this sweeping essay takes you from Maoist statism through the racism of 19th-and-early-20th Century North America, to modern football, to a clear-eyed takedown of the current UK taxation system and throughout manages to be entertaining, educational and occasionally even funny. This really is superb.
  • Thinking DNA: There was a point about halfway through this essay – which starts out as a summary of the life and work of Barbara McClintock, a woman who spend her career studying the genetic makeup of corn in Iowa and who is the most interesting scientist I had never, ever heard of, and which ends up as a series of questions and provocations about what cellular biology can teach us about how LITERALLY EVERYTHING IN THE WORLD FUNCTIONS – when I started getting that weird fizzing feeling in the back of my head that pops up every now and again when I am reading something properly stimulating and curious and exciting; honestly, this is truly fascinating and thought-provoking (at least for me, a man for whom biology is a terrifying and mostly-closed book). Here, this should give you a feeling for it – I promise you that this is SO thought-provoking, you really won’t regret reading it even if you (like me) tend to find Hard Science a bit much: “Take our brains, for example, with their neurons. For Levin, the use of electricity to carry information is not exclusive to brains. That’s not a philosophical stance, so much as an empirical one. Bioelectricity, as McClintock noted, is a pervasive phenomenon across kingdoms of life. “The unique computational capabilities of bioelectric circuits likely enabled the evolution of nervous systems, as specialized adaptations of the ancient ability of all cell networks to process electrical information as pre-neural networks,” Levin writes. The brain’s special feature is not the ability to store or spread information, but its speed. Let’s recall the old saw: “Plants are just very slow animals.” And then consider that it might be actually true.”
  • Artist Datasets: This is really interesting, and touches on stuff that I had never thought about before reading this. It’s easiest just to quote the opening paras here, as they do an excellent job of framing the premise of the piece: “In 2018, artist Anna Ridler spent three months taking 10,000 photographs of tulips. From purchasing each tulip to manually writing every image label, Ridler made physical the laborious, painstaking process of deliberate dataset creation. She eventually used these photographs to produce downstream generative artwork—but the Myriad (Tulips) dataset is a work of art in its own right. Ridler describes the process of dataset creation as craftwork: “repetitive, time-consuming…but necessary in order to produce something beautiful.” When I look at Myriad (Tulips) today, I’m struck by the prescience of Ridler’s work. Debates on AI and art have intensified over the past year. An increasing subset of artists are rightfully angry that their work is being used to train AI systems that will compete against them. A growing mountain of lawsuits, strikes, and congressional hearings speak to the anxiety rippling through creative industries. Previously in Reboot, Amanda Wong discussed the complicated visual aesthetics of AI art, concluding that we must “actively shape [the] meaningful production, creation, and consumption” of AI art. I want to pick up where Wong left off by focusing on the meaningful production of datasets.” This covers all sorts of fascinating questions about taxonomy and selection and bias and representation, and fractional representation of the whole, and feels like the sort of thing that could usefully be read by anyone with an interest in how we use large swathes of information or data, and how we decide what data or information we use in the first place.
  • Roblox: Ordinarily I wouldn’t put ‘a bunch of feature updates by a videogame’ into the longreads here, but I will make an exception for this because I think it’s worth taking a moment to think about how massive this is potentially going to be. There’s a bunch of stuff included in the link, but the big takeaway from Roblox’s latest set of announcements is the introduction of AI-enhanced creative tools, which will let anyone who wants to build something on the platform create assets out of thin air based on conversational prompts – so, for example, create an empty world and then ask The Machine to generate character sprites and scenery and objects based on your prompts, and then use prompts to establish relationships between objects, and and and and…I think what’s most interesting about this is the feeling of crossing a (small, but still) Rubicon in terms of adoption and acceptance; if you consider how many kids worldwide use Roblox, and how comfortable they are going to become (and how quickly) with generative AI as part of their creative apparatus, you get a small idea of what things might end up looking like in 15-20 years when the same kids are adults building the world for real.
  • Your Waiter Is Not Your Extra: Or, “another charming example of all the ways in which the creation of a culture in which Everything Is Content has led to a bunch of weird situations in which people find themselves becoming Content against their will, and of how we are still at the stage of attempting to work out what exactly the social mores around all this stuff are because right now it’s all a bit of a mess” – this article in the WSJ looks at the very modern phenomenon of kids in the US (but this is obviously a worldwide thing) filming their HILARIOUS SKITS for TikTok at restaurants and fast food outlets, and by so doing rendering unwitting extras of the people working there who perhaps are less keen on being background material or, worse, reactive mooks for whatever viral CHALLENGE is keeping the children occupied this hour. We can’t be too far from there being a movement to start teaching kids ‘camera etiquette’ from the age of about 7 (I might start it tbh).
  • Trench Foot Burning Man: For a variety of annoying reasons – mainly associated with the fact that, for reasons known only to them, my girlfriend’s internet provider, 3, classifies The Internet Archive as ‘adult material’ and won’t let me access it; this despite the fact that it didn’t have a problem with the ACTUAL BONGO link in last week’s Curios ffs – I am unable to give you an unpaywalled version of this, but I encourage you to attempt to find it on the Wayback Machine because, honestly, this is one of the purest hatereads you will experience all year. This is an ‘oral history’ of some of the world’s most annoying people – West Coast US tech industry people! Wellness nonces! THE ‘SPIRITUALLY AWARE’! – talking to you about how INTENSE it was at THE PLAYA this year, and, honestly, reading this confirmed to me my long-standing belief that I can never visit Burning Man because I would commit A Bad Crime, perhaps two, within moments of arrival.
  • Selling Tennis: This is a GREAT read, particularly for those of you who work in advermarketingpr and have strong opinions about things like BRANDS and BRAND EQUITY and THE HISTORY OF ADVERTISING (please, if you don’t mind, keep those opinions to yourselves), telling the story of how tennis became US advertisers’ sport of choice in the 70s and 80s, and how Virginia Slims made tabs and racquets strangely-comfortable bedfellows through its sponsorship of its very own women’s tennis tournament. This is FASCINATING, honestly, and for all those aforementioned BRAND-HEADS there is all sorts of useful stuff you can take from it – for the less business-sick amongst you, though, this is just a fascinating throwback to a very different era (also, as an aside you do forget what a weirdly…sleazy time that was).
  • Tiny TVs: A small but objectively-hilarious piece of writing in which an American who is strangely-obsessed with the property-based UK TV show ‘Escape to the Country’ and, specifically, how many of the houses in it have, to American eyes at least, incredibly small and sh1t TVs. That’s literally all this is about, fine, but I personally found her increasing indignation at the refusal of the British middle-classes to have a 90-inch digital funscreen on every single vertical flat surface in their home an enjoyable read.
  • Ignore The Fans: Or, to give you the full title of the piece, “I am begging TV shows to ignore fans” – specifically, this relates to the character of Che Diaz on the SATC revival show “And Just Like That”, and all the reasons why said character is sort of the apogee of bad fan-reactive creative output. I have never watched AJLT (fortunately I was at university during the heyday of SATC, meaning I’ve not really seen much of that either) but there’s been enough DISCOURSE about it across its two seasons to date that I am aware of the character, the criticisms of it and the way in which said criticisms have bled through in terms of the responses of the actors and writers making the show – that said, even if you’re coming at this entirely cold, the piece does a good job of explaining its premise and then detailing exactly why a project which takes its fans’ opinions too seriously will almost always lead to Bad Art. A really good piece of meta-media-criticism, this, by a newsletter with the best name I have seen all year (“All The Heterosexual Nonsense I Was Forced To Endure”)
  • The Influencercation: Or, “How To Take Your Grift On Holiday!” You can’t move right now for people with newsletters (OTHER newsletters, less good ones) talking about ‘community’ and how ‘energised’ they feel by their readers – rest assured that I NEVER think of you fcuks as a ‘community’, and I am largely oblivious to your presence, as it should be – which, honestly, strikes me as just another twist on the parasocial grift that is ‘getting people to pay you money for your mostly-banal observations about life’ (GYAC, literally EVERYONE doing this stuff pivots to ‘life coaching’ at some point or another – ALL of them). This piece is about the NEXT LEVEL version of this – specifically, charging your ‘community’ to go on holiday with you! There is, it turns out, a company that will, for a cut of the total income from the grifter’s audience, arrange an entire ‘community getaway’ for you and your fandom; you pick whether you want, say, a cruise, or some sort of ayurvedic self-harm retreat (probably) and they arrange the whole thing for you; you, meanwhile, cobble together some sort of events programme and prepare to think of the money every time one of your readers attempts to become your actual, IRL friend. I honestly find this sort of thing…quite uncomfortable, but I concede that it might just be because I am a miserable misanthropist who is the very opposite of a ‘joiner’.
  • The Alien Mummies: The recently-launched tech title 404 Media continues to deliver decent stories in its first few weeks; this is a good overview of the slightly-less-exciting reality behind this week’s ‘MEXICAN ALIEN MUMMIES’ story, which, you may be surprised to learn, is possibly not quite as clear-cut as the enthusiastic man talking wildly about ALIEN DNA might initially have suggested.
  • The Pen1s Enlargement SubReddit: On the one hand, there is obviously nothing funny about men who are riddled with insecurity about the dimensions of their junk; on the other, there is something very, very funny indeed about the communities of interest that spring up around this insecurity. This piece takes you inside the /r/gettingbigger community and WHAT a place it is – even if you don’t want to read an article which is mainly about men attaching weights to themselves in an attempt to scare up another 3cm, I cannot encourage you enough to click the link and scroll down enough to see the images of the devices that these people are using. Male readers of Curios – HOW DESPERATE AND MAD WOULD YOU HAVE TO BE TO PUT THAT NEAR YOUR COCK?! (please do not write to me and tell me, this was another rhetorical one).
  • Bernie Taupin: I really didn’t expect to enjoy this anywhere near as much as I did, but this profile of long-time Elton John lyricist Bernie Taupin is a joy from start to finish – it’s funny, candid, contains some great stories, and presents Taupin as a man who has had a genuinely great life, for which you don’t begrudge him one iota. Honestly, this really is a tremendous, fun read.
  • Dolls: A really interesting look at the community of enthusiasts that make up the world of the ball-jointed doll fandom; you will have seen these things online at some point, and I have definitely linked to at least one of the creators named in here before, but there’s something fascinating about this profile of the people who make, and buy, these ultra-poseable, highly-stylised and entirely-bespoke creations, which is made more compelling by a genuinely unusual tone and style to the piece (which is by one Shanti Escalante-De Mattei, who absolutely wins ‘best name of the whole week’).
  • Old Smells: There’s a *bit* of ‘old man mourns the passing of time’ about this piece, fine, but given I am an increasingly old man I think I can probably let this slide. A lovely piece of writing about how some smells from the past are simply gone forever, and the often very good reasons why; this both a good essay and a useful reminder to pay attention to things before they stop existing, or change without warning.
  • Teeth: I have, I am ashamed to admit, horrific teeth; wonky, stained from years of incredibly-strong tea (I honestly shudder to think of what colour my insides are; some sort of deep tannic mahogany, no doubt) and fags and spliffs, exacerbated by unusually-porous enamel; if you didn’t already know, or hadn’t heard me speak, a cursory glance at the dental graveyard in my gob would confirm my English-ness in a heartbeat. Perhaps that’s why I enjoyed this piece so much – a long look at the veneers industry, and how perhaps getting your teeth filed down to tiny nubbins and replaced with blindingly-white facsmiles may not in fact be a great idea in the medium-to-long-term. If you have veneers, maybe don’t read this; if you don’t, then do and thank your lucky stars that you don’t have veneers.
  • Building The Torment Nexus: If you are aware of the ‘building the Torment Nexus’ meme then this will mean very little to you; if you are, then a) congratulations, you too are WASTING YOUR LIFE!; b) you will very much enjoy this bit of writing (annoyingly it’s a Mastodon thread, but I can’t seem to find a way of unrolling Mastodon so, well, this is what you’re getting), which is a not-particularly-subtle bit of satire about every single tech company in the world (and one in particular).
  • I Have No Tongue: An upfront warning about this one – it describes a lot of very unpleasant medical procedures, and what it is like to experience them, and if you are squeamish then you might struggle with it (I had to stop at various points because it got Too Much for me, I am unashamed to admit); oh, it’s also by someone who has terminal cancer, so, you know, bear that in mind. That said, it’s quite an incredible piece of writing – it’s rare to find someone writing so clearly about such a horrible experience, and doing with clean prose like this is particularly remarkable. I personally found it an incredibly hard read, in the main because the authorial experience replicated many of the same things that my mother experienced in the last year of her life and which I couldn’t talk to her about because, well, she couldn’t talk and it seemed somewhat cruel to ask her to use the little energy she had to write on a tiny whiteboard about exactly HOW it all felt awful, but notwithstanding that difficulty I also thought it was beautiful and sad and one of the bravest things I have read in a long, long time.
  • Irene: I don’t really want to tell you too much about this real-life story, but it is JOYFUL AND HEARTWARMING, and I promise will give you a small glow which will totally compensate for some of the unremitting body horror of the last one. This is, broadly, about the impressions we make on people that we will never know, and the joy of piecing together a story, and how wonderful it is sometimes when the web works in the way it feels, in an idealised world, it should.
  • Oxygen: A short sobriety story, about trying to replace drug use with oxygenation treatment; this is slight but I enjoyed it very much indeed.
  • Frisbee: Finally this week, a piece by Thomas Morris which I GUARANTEE will induce real and powerful feelings of nostalgia for the last carefree Summer of your youth, and the friends you had when you were 17, and the feeling of infinite possibility that you can never identify until you know that you will probably never feel it again – this is about being young, and also, a bit, about Ultimate Frisbee, and it is so, so, so lovely. I promise you, you will not regret reading this – it is utterly pure, in the best way.

By Kay Seohyung Lee