Webcurios 03/05/24

Reading Time: 37 minutes

Hello everyone, hello hello! For those of us in the UK, this weekend is a GLORIOUS THREE-DAY WEEKEND, and oh look what a surprise it’s going to rain all weekend FFS BRITAIN CAN YOU DO NOTHING RIGHT?!?! Still, on the plus side, at least we get to watch some of the worst cnuts in the world get the first of their MASSIVE ELECTORAL BATTERINGS while the drops hammer down – silver linings and all that.

Anyway, that’s by way of brief introduction to this week’s Curios, which as ever on weekends such as this contains more than enough internet to see you through until Tuesday (unless, heaven forfend, you have, I don’t know, BETTER THINGS TO DO with your three days of illusory freedom than spend them indoors, clicking like some sort of dopamine-starved ape in captivity) – I hope you enjoy ALL OF THE LINKS!

Oh, and before we move on, a quick note of congratulations to two Friends of Curios who have new projects out this week; Jared, whose frankly INSANE ‘Big Book Of Cyberpunk’ anthology was published this week in the UK and which is sort of a must-read for anyone interested in the genre (and, frankly, even if you don’t think you are), and Caitlin, who relaunched ‘Links I Would GChat You’ this week, with a subscription tier, and whose newsletter is one of half-a-dozen (see also Garbage Day, Today in Tabs and a couple of others) which I really do consider essential reading.

Anyway, enough of all this sickening niceness and camaraderie – on with the cynicism and the links and the general sense that we’re all going to die and, honestly, that it can’t come soon enough!

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and you’re alright, you can live forever for all I care. 

unpopped bubblegum bubble that has saliva all over it, gross

By Suzanne Saroff



  • Cosine Club: Ok, I probably need to preface this one with a small caveat – I don’t really listen to algorithmically-mandated streams (I am OLD, and so it’s Radio4 all day and then ‘stuff I have bought and uploaded to YT Music’, and I don’t do Spotify, and oh God even writing this stuff down makes me feel like some sort of weird Cnut figure (the king who did the whole ‘sea’ thing, not a poorly-bowdlerised swear, to be clear)), but for those of you who do there’s an outside chance that this won’t be quite as jaw-droppingly magical as it was for me. BUT! Just give it a try – seriously, I think it is MAGIC. This came to me via the lovely people at LWSTD, and it is basically the most astonishing ‘find a soundalike’ tool I have ever seen, ever – basically the site has about 1.3million songs in its database, and if you type in something it knows it will then proceed to spit out a selection of tracks that ‘sound a bit like it’, ranked by exactly how similar The Machine thinks they are. The thing is that the ‘soundalike’ tech is SO INCREDIBLY GOOD – it somehow isolates very specific elements from a song, a synth line, say, or an individual drum pattern, and so you will be presented with songs that don’t, at first listen, quite match, but which you will then suddenly realise share a fundamental piece of musical/structural DNA, and, honestly, it’s like one of those optical illusions where you realise that – DEAR GOD! – it is simultaneously an old woman AND a young woman! I can’t stress quite how amazing this repeatedly felt to me – fine, I am pretty much the opposite of ‘musically gifted’, and have ears that somehow manage to be simultaneously made of cloth AND tin, but I lost count of the number of times I found things that matched my original input in ways that JUST MAKE SENSE. It’s worth pointing out that the selection of music in here tends to skew quite heavily towards beats and techno and the more obscure end of the spectrum, and it’s bad at hiphop (in that it doesn’t really seem to have much), but if you have a passing knowledge of any sort of dance music whatsoever from the past 30 years then you can have some quite insane fun with this. I personally recommend thinking of the maddest, oddest track you can, plugging that in and then following the rabbithole – some personal highlights for me have been finding this frankly insane Diamanda Galas version of ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’, which really does have to be heard to be believed, and this genuinely superb bit of…90s? German hiphop, and SO MUCH MORE. Seriously, I can’t stress enough what an incredible way of finding new, interesting and, frankly, incredibly weird music from all over the world, and if you’re a DJ I can imagine this is also just incredibly professionally useful. Please, please, please give this a go, it really is quite astonishing.
  • Otto Von Schirach: I don’t normally put music in this section, but following on from the last link I wanted to give this person his very own bulletpoint (he will never know the honour bestowed upon him, chiz chiz) – Otto Von Schirach is an American musician who makes…oh, Jesus, I can’t. Just click the link and have a listen and spend a few moments with your eyes closed trying to imagine what sort of venue you would be likely to hear these sorts of sounds in – this feels to me like the auditory equivalent of being inside a can of Monster Energy while it’s shaken VERY HARD by some unpleasant kids who are blowing clouds of unpleasantly-scented Blueberry-Pineapple-Bubblegum Lost Mary smoke at you, but you will doubtless have your own similes you’ll want to deploy.
  • A Friend Is Writing: I was having a brief chat with someone about sound on webpages this week (I’m a thrilling interlocutor), and we agreed that as a rule it’s…kind of annoying, frankly. There are, though, exceptions, and this – which, if I’m honest, is more of a collection of short essays than it is a ‘fun’ webtoy or anything similar, but please don’t let that put you off – is an example of the audio design really working with the ‘point’ of the project in a way that reinforces the message rather nicely. ‘A Friend Is Writing’ is basically an essay about ‘text on the web’ – the design of textual communication, the design conventions of modern chat interfaces, the strange chaos of multi-platform, multiparticipant conversations, and what that all means for meaning and focus and memory – but it’s presented in a way that perfectly underpins every single message it’s delivering about attention and focus. You really do need the sound to be on for this, and if you find it annoying initially then, well, I think that’s sort-of the point. Really, really nice design work, imho, by Callum Copley.
  • Friend: Many, many years ago – circa 2010, I think – I came across a device called the ViconRevue, which was a pendant designed to be worn around the neck and whose gimmick was that it would capture video of what it saw 24/7 (doubtless appalling-quality video, but still). This was very much the nascent era of that particular strain of quantified-self-ing which was huge in the 00s, and there wasn’t really any suggestion of what the fcuk you were supposed to do with a thousands of hours of intensely-mundane first person footage, but it felt somehow interesting and full of vague possibility. Friend (the name does rather scream ‘DON’T THINK US CREEPY!’) is a fully-funded Kickstarter project which still has three weeks to run and which offers you the chance to own an “open-source AI wearable for effortless conversation capture. Just connect it to your mobile device and automatically save high-quality transcriptions of meetings, chats, and voice memos wherever you go. Get instant summaries, key highlights, mind maps, to-do lists, and more – no tedious note-taking required. Liberate yourself to fully engage in conversations with this ultimate hands-free solution.” So, basically, a forever memory for every conversation you have, with the contents automatically transcribed, fed to the Machine and filleted however you ask…Is this something we want? I don’t think it’s per se bad by any stretch of the imagination, but I am increasingly…interested in questions around what happens to us when we don’t really have the opportunity – or the excuse, frankly – of forgetting, where everything we say to anyone ever is a potential receipt…I’m not, personally, convinced that a world in which we’re all recording our conversations all the time is going to do great things for everyone, but, equally, it’s hard not to imagine, as the cost of this stuff comes down, and battery life becomes less of an issue, and you can keep a reasonable class of AI model loaded onto your glasses as a local, lightweight build, that that’s not a reasonably-likely direction of travel. Anyway, chuck these people some money and YOU TOO can start to apply the whole ‘my personal STASI’ approach to your interpersonal communications!
  • Future Record: I’ve wondered a few times over the past few months at the lack of any interesting, or good, branded use of generative AI stuff from an advermarketingpr point of view – this effort, by BMW, continues the trend of every single branded instance of the tech in the wild by being pointless and underwhelming (sorry, but really). This is a MAGICAL AI MUSIC TOY designed to…er…help you ‘create a record that embodies what ‘Tomorrowland’ means to you’ (Tomorrowland being a Belgian music festival, as I learned when trying to work out what the fcuk that sentence was supposed to mean), and which does so by taking you through a series of questions which inevitably get compiled into a prompt to feed to Suno or whatever music gen AI is sitting in the back. Choose a stage name, dedicate your record to something (I began to suspect that this was utter tripe when I was presented with a menu of options that included ‘my son’, ‘the galaxy’, ‘nature’, ‘the people of tomorrow’ and ‘the ocean’ – sadly you’re not allowed a freetext input here, meaning I wasn’t able to craft a hardstep banger dedicated to ‘The Great Satan, Devourer of Worlds’), choose your BPM (it was at this point that I realised that this was very much a Northern European activation, as the music starts at a reasonably-hard 120 and lets you crank it up to a pleasingly aggressive 172), pick the ‘vibe’ (euphoric, melancholic, etc), and finally pick a ‘way you feel about tomorrow’(!) from a list of options (‘exhilerated’! ‘Unified’! ‘Euphoric’! Er, ‘wistful’!) and BOOM! You have a genuinely-dreadful piece of reasonably-generic EuroDance which you will never, ever listen to or think of ever again! Was that worth the spend, BMW? WAS IT????? I would posit that it was not, even if it did allow me to create this masterpiece and share it with all of you (in fairness, I have to say the DJ talking your track in is a nice touch, but JESUS GOD THIS IS SO HORRIBLE).
  • People Missing The Old Web: Molly White, of ‘Web3 is Going Great’ fame, this week asked people on Twitter (and elsewhere) ‘what do you miss about the way the web used to be?’ – she writes up her thoughts on what she found, and about how we might get back to that sort of way of thinking and being online, here, but the thing I found more interesting was reading through the replies to her original question. There’s something fascinating about seeing how everyone else characterises what *they* consider to be the halcyon days of being online, and while White is right that there’s a degree of ‘the reason I think it was better is because I was <20, and loads of things from when we were <20 get fixed in our minds as ‘better’ because that’s just how we work’, there’s also a lot of interesting commonalities – the idea of the web being a place you visited and then left rather than a constant film over every aspect of your life (oh, ok, the ‘film’ analogy is mine), the idea of things feeling ‘made’ rather than prefabricated, the lack of ubiquitous monetisation…I am pointing at this not because I’m some sort of miserable old fcuk staring back at the past and feeling vaguely-nostalgic (although I’m not saying that’s NOT the case either), but more because I think there’s actually quite a lot of interesting and potentially-useful qualitative anecdata in here about how, should you be building something for the web in 2024, you might consider thinking about it should you want to STAND OUT or just, you know, make something that people like and which doesn’t make them feel miserable or sad.
  • Hypnovels: An AI-enabled tool to help people market their books, basically. Per the blurb, “Not long ago, while working on the launch of a sci-fi book about artificial intelligence, we stumbled upon an idea: Could we use a book chapter to prompt an animation? Instead of mimicking movies based on books, we decided to create a unique visual language that set AI free to transform the words into one cohesive hypnotic dream.” Which, if I’m honest, sounds more interesting than what this ends up in practice being – to whit, you plug in a chapter of your book, pick from a few variables in terms of visual style and (I think) V/O, and feed it to The Machine, which will then spit out a video featuring a synthesised voice reading out your chapter while semi-abstract animations, featuring elements inspired by and drawn from the text, unspools beneath the audio. This isn’t…bad, to be clear, it’s just that a whole chapter of a book is quite long when being read out, and even longer when it’s being read by AI (the tech is, as ever, getting better by the second, but I personally can’t really stand machine-generated voices for longer than about 30s at a time), and as such the animations simply aren’t coherent or interesting enough to hold your attention alongside the narration. That said, it feels like there might be *something* here, just not quite in this shape.
  • Sleep Coach Layla: From what I’ve heard, having a new child is largely terrifying – the whole ‘I have no idea what I am doing, why am I responsible for keeping a human being alive, what if I break it?’ thing being particularly acute amongst new parents – and the vexatious issue of ‘how to make the little fcukers sleep for longer than 30m at a time’ is particularly tricky to navigate. Based on the fear of fcuking up, and the importance of getting it right, would YOU take advice on ‘how to get your kid to sleep’ from ‘a black box on your phone’? Would YOU pay a tenner a month for the privilege? In the vanishingly-unlikely instance that the answer to either of those questions is ‘yes’, then WOW will you like ‘Sleep Coach Layla’, an app which effectively outsources the question of ‘so, what’s the best way of instilling good sleeping habits in my kid?’ to what I presume is an open source LLM. Maybe one of the hidden emergent properties of generative AI is its uncanny ability to get a nine-month old kid to sleep through the night! It is possible! But, equally, I really fcuking doubt it.
  • Electronic Sackbut: This is ace. The Electronic Sackbut is a musical instrument housed at the Canada Science and Technology Museum, which is, based on the image on this website, made out of wood and wire and old transistors, and which, thanks to THE MAGIC OF THE INTERNET, you can play a virtual version of on this webpage. “Unlike electromechanical instruments such as the Hammond organ (with which Le Caine was familiar), the Electronic Sackbut used an entirely different method of sound generation and control known as voltage control. This method later became the standard approach in electronic music. Because it pioneered this technique, the Sackbut is considered to have been the first synthesizer. The Electronic Sackbut produced only one note at a time, but its systems for control of that one sound were extraordinary: the keyboard was sensitive to vertical pressure, so that alterations of pressure produced changes in volume, and it was also laterally sensitive, so that side-to-side motion produced subtle (or dramatic) sliding changes in the pitch of the sound. While the right hand played the keyboard, selecting notes and controlling volume and vibrato, the left hand operated an innovative waveform control device that could continuously change four different aspects of the texture of the sound. It was for this versatility in pitch and timbre that Le Caine named his instrument the sackbut, after an ancestor of the modern trombone dating from the Renaissance and Baroque eras.” This both sounds great, and is also just slightly-overengineered – I really enjoy the way you can twiddle the knobs on the digital machine, for example, and that toggling switches and features has a visual cue (you’ll see what I mean when you click – it’s really rather cute), and the only thing that could possibly improve this would be the ability to record your vaguely-renaissance-sounding plinks and plunks.
  • View From The ISS: A nice bit of webwork combining a view of where the International Space Station currently is in its orbit above the planet with the livestream of what it’s seeing RIGHT NOW as it passes across the skies (OK, at the time of writing (814am, for those of you who like to be told) it’s seeing the square root of fcuk all given that it’s traversing Canada and it is nighttime there, but you get the idea I hope).
  • The Nostalgia Machine: There’s been a study doing the rounds in the past few weeks demonstrating with ACADEMIC RIGOUR what we have all known for years – to whit, that the BEST MUSIC IN THE WORLD EVER, for you, is most likely to be that which you encountered when you were about 14/15, and this is where people’s tastes tend to begin to calcify. Should you wish to scratch a particular musical itch and GO BACK IN TIME, this site neatly does that for you – plug in a year and it will spit out THE GREATEST BANGERS from that 12 month period. It is, sadly, North American, which means that it’s based on (I presume) the Billboard 100 or radio airplay or something, which means that there’s an awful lot of incredibly generic MOR/AOR stuff and forgettable R&B on the lists I’ve spun up, but there’s also enough stuff that I actually remember to make it worthwhile. This really would benefit from a ‘click to make this a Spotify playlist’ button, or even a YT playlist tbh, but, quibbles aside, it’s fun for a few minutes of past-spelunking.
  • Animate Your Words: This is a demo on Github, but it’s really rather lovely – basically it demonstrates how, using AI, you can effectively make elements of a printed word animate in a way that speaks to the meaning of the word being animated. Which, yes, is a godawful attempt to explain what the fcuk is going on here, but thankfully there’s a video right at the top of the page which does a far better job so you can stop reading this rubbish now and click the link, I don’t mind, really.
  • GlobeTrots: This week’s ‘viral content sensation’, at least in my corner of the web, was this TikTok channel, whose entire thing is doing ‘Top 10s’ of slightly obscure, slightly odd things, set to muzak and with an AI voice over. ‘The Top 10 Largest Tescos in the UK!’, ‘The Top 5 Spots for Knifecrime in the UK!’ (admittedly less ‘lol, BIZARRE’, that one), ‘Which Country Has The Highest Number Of Tanks?’, that sort of thing. I don’t know why these work – partly because lists are always sort-of compelling, partly the deadpan V/O, partly the fact it’s…just so sh1t? And, inevitably, because it plays into the increasingly-accurate international stereotype of ‘England as a country where it always rains and people are obsessed with terrible shops and everyone is cry-laughing about how much it sucks and how it costs £30 to breathe and will CUT YOU IF YOU SLAG THE KING’.

By Anthony Gerace (via TIH)



  • Prosperity Quest: Welcome back to the world of ‘massively-overengineered game experiences designed to somehow promote financial literacy via the medium of a gentle, 3d adventure game’! Yes, that’s right, once again an international financial services institution has seen fit to spaff a bunch of its digital marketing budget on some sort of vaguely-educational ‘game’ – oh, hang on, this time it’s Intuit, which is apparently an accountancy software provider rather than a bank. Still, fcuk it, the principle is the same – wander round a nicely-rendered 3d environment, completing tasks and learning about such exciting principles as ‘profit’, ‘loss’, and ‘massively overleveraging yourself in a desperate attempt to keep ahead of the coming tsunami of financial ruin’ (the last one, fine, may be an invention of my own). This is actually…quite fun (ok, ‘fun’ with a very small ‘f’, but still) and is actually rather nicely made/designed, and, honestly, if you work in advermarketingpr for something tedious and unfun like – well, like accounting software, for example – then why not spend the afternoon playing around with this under the guise of ‘research’? DO IT.
  • Beautiful Air Patterns: Oh, this is so so so pretty! Effectively a bunch of air traffic data layered over a world map, this lets you zoom anywhere in the world and pull visualisations of the movements of aircraft – you can select various types of data (so, for example, ‘all the planes’, or ‘high performance aircraft’ or, should you be so minded, ‘balloons’) and each will produce a different, beautiful visualisation of the movements of the craft, beautifully coloured and just generally presenting as pieces of semi-abstract art. Take a moment to scroll around the airspace of a country you’re familiar with – there’s something lovely about seeing the takeoff and landing routes being represented like this, and when I look at London’s data it’s possible to see the exact ways in which flights route over and around the city, which is, weirdly, giving me proper visual memory flashbacks of what the city looks like from the window as you make those turns…I love this, and I am pretty much the opposite of an aviation nerd, meaning if you like planes and stuff then you probably want to take a beta blocker before clicking this lest it all become Too Much.
  • Folio400: This is a project that formed part of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s First Folio – the first printed edition of his collected works – which took place last year and which I singularly missed. Anyway, this contains all sorts of information about Shakespeare and his works and the history of the Folio, and where copies can be found, and the people involved in its genesis and eventual publication…if you’re interested in the Bard then this is pretty great, and there’s an outside chance that there will be some of you whose kids are in the throes of exam season and who might find this maybe slightly useful (but, more likely, your kids in the throes of exam season really don’t need you throwing additional ‘helpful’ sources and resources at them as they struggle to cram several years of learning into their already-overstuffed skulls).
  • Watch Films On Atari ST Cartridges: Look, this is far, far too geeky and too technical for me, and probably involves you having to do all sorts of actual technical and vaguely-codey stuff, but for all I know there may be some of you for whom the allure of a home crafting project that will eventually allow you to watch full films in terrible resolution via the medium of a games console from four decades ago will be almost powerfully-erotic, and so I leave this link here for you.
  • We Expire: I’m rather a fan of this idea. We Expire is another ‘message from beyond the grave’ services to enable you to let people know when you’ve shuffled off this mortal coil (or been taken seriously ill). “WeExpire is an opensource tool for creating emergency notes that can be read by your trusted contacts only after your death or if you are seriously injured. Soon after you write your note, it will be encrypted and converted into a QR code which you can give to a person you trust. When this person tries to access your message, WeExpire will try to contact you via email as soon as possible; if you do not reply within the period of time you previously defined, your note will become visible to your trusted person.” So basically a Dead Man’s Switch – but, generally, A Good Idea, I think.
  • Explain That Stuff: Oh God, this is quite incredible, and all, apparently, the work of a single human being. Explain That Stuff has been apparently going for AGES (sorry, sorry, late again), and is basically a resource (primarily designed for kids and young people, but not exclusively so) full of articles which Tell You How Things Work And Why. “Explain that Stuff is an online book written by science writer Chris Woodford (author of many popular science books for adults and children). It includes over 400 easy-to-understand articles, richly illustrated with over 4000 photos, artworks, and animations, covering how things work, cutting-edge science, cool gadgets, and computers. We take the “pain” from explain and the “tough” out of stuff! There’s more information on this website than in your average expensive science book, it’s  continually updated, and it’s completely free to use!” I am in awe of this, and have fallen slightly in love with Chris Woodford – the generosity on display here is astonishing, the amount of work and care and attention that has gone into building the site and the corpus of information, and to give it away for free is SO NICE and genuinely warms the cockles of my nonexistent heart. Aside from anything else, the ‘About’ Page is an object lesson in how to clearly and cogently address any and all questions about a website, copyright, reuse and fair use, and is so eminently sensible and clear that I want to point other publishers at it with a short note reading ‘learn’.
  • Classics Garage: Do you like cars? Do you like CLASSIC CARS? Do you like looking at classic cars from a variety of angles, admiring their paintwork and the flare of their exhausts and the detailing on the hubcaps? Do you wish that there was a website that let you do that to your obsessive heart’s content? OH GOOD! This is, as far as I can tell, just a hobby/showcase site, made by the frankly-fabulously-named Anderson Mancini (seriously, WHAT a name), which features 4 different models of vaguely-luxe vehicle that you can perv at digitally to your oily heart’s desire.
  • Doom Scroll: Via Andy, this is a really nice bit of clever webwork which basically uses smart coding and (I presume) some sort of parallax effect (is this wrong? Am I being an idiot here) to basically give you a little game-like interactive experience styled to look and feel like Doom. Basically as you scroll you ‘move’ through the map, on rails, with the ability to click to ‘shoot’ the various monsters as you pass through. It’s very much a trick, but a very neat trick, and I wonder whether there might be some of you for whom this might act as EXCITING CREATIVE INSPIRATION.
  • One Button Tekken: Ok, this is quite niche, but also quite funny and also feels like there might be a vague half idea in here somewhere. Tekken 8 is a fighting game which came out a few months ago – in common with all fighting games, the core mechanics are based around what is effectively a very complicated game of ‘rock, paper, scissors’, with players attempting to put together strings of moves that will be either complex enough, or disguised enough, that their opponent won’t be able to either work out or input in time the presses required to trigger the string of counters that would protect them (basically – I had to learn about this stuff when PRing StreetFighter IV about 17 years ago, and it stays with you a bit). Anyway, someone on Twitch has set up a bot which plays online Tekken matches in a very particular way – by simply spamming one button, repeatedly, over and over again, which amusingly seems to be enough to achieve a pretty decent ranking in global leaderboards. You can read more about the project here – I really like the idea of creating these very silly, very specific bots and putting them out into the wild to see how people play with them, and it feels like there’s…something in this, but I’ll admit to flagging slightly at this moment in time so I’ll leave it to you lot to figure out what.
  • Air Bark: Do you regularly fly internally in the US, or transatlantically from London to New York? Do you wish that when you did so you could, rather than sharing a plane with pesky people, instead share it with LOVELY DOGS? Well apparently that is now a thing that you can do, thanks to Air Bark, a seemingly legitimate and going concern, which will, for a fee (we’ll get to that bit) take you and your pampered pooch on a plane ride like no other, with planes kitted out especially to provide comfort for your pet. “The planes we operate are Gulfstream G5s and we never book to their full capacity to ensure you and your dog have enough room to spread out comfortably. The cabin will be prepped with calming aids such as: pheromone, music, warm lavender scented refreshment towels, and other comforts to help each dog feel settled. Our concierge will also have a ‘just in case’ bag filled with calming treats, leashes, poop bags, and more will be provided at the gate. Once onboard, dogs will be served their beverage of choice (water, bone broth, you name it),  during ascent and descent to ensure they do not experience any ear discomfort commonly caused by the change in cabin pressure. In addition, a variety of BARK-branded treats, snacks, and surprises will be served throughout the flight experience.” Are you reading this and thinking, “Hm, this is increasingly sounding like a way of parting some very rich people who are very used to getting what they want from an obscene amount of money”? YOU’RE RIGHT! The price of a flight from NYC to London, or vice-versa, is $8,000. One-way. 8 FCUKING GRAND, to spend multiple hours on a plane surrounded by – let us be clear – dogsh1t. Air Bark, you are marvellous, imaginative grifters and I applaud your chutzpah!
  • Crying Minecraft TikTok: Click the link. Go on, click and watch the short video. What do you see there? You see, seemingly, a young Asian man expressing performative, tearful distress as some sort of baffling, Minecraft-based…stuff happens in the other half of the split-screen – so what this actually is is a streamer doing the ‘Minecraft TNT Challenge’, where the gimmick is that they ‘have to’ keep streaming until they create a tower of bricks of a certain height on a Minecraft map…but if viewers donate, they can trigger TNT blocks to spawn atop the tower, thereby destroying some of it, thereby setting the streamer back. So, the idea is that this is a torture loop – the viewers are paying money to keep the streamer trapped in this sisyphean purgatory of building and building and building, and ostensibly getting off on the tears and distress being shown on the streamer’s face…except the streamer is using an AI filter, isn’t crying at all, and may in fact not even be there (it’s theoretically possible to automate all of this with a bit of work). You can read more about the phenomenon here if you like – I am presenting this largely without comment, other than ‘fcuk me it is genuinely astonishing how many different ways we have found to effectively ‘w4nk for pennies’ in the digital age’.
  • Slice of Live VR: A YouTube Channel posting very high definition point of view videos, designed specifically to be experienced via a VR headset – I’m including this mainly as I am told that the resolution and quality here is a step above the majority of 360 or first-person video you see on the platform, and there’s something quite impressive about the degree of ‘presence’ afforded by the experience if you use a headset to experience it. The videos are a decent mix of ‘walking about places’ – the most recent ones are ‘spring break’, fine, but you can ignore those unless you’re some sort of weird creep and instead enjoy ‘wandering around Vegas’ or ‘hiking an appalachian trail’, should you be one of the still-vanishingly-small number of people who own an Oculus.
  • Colle: Colle is a lovely magazine/newsletter that focuses on collage as a medium, and where I occasionally lift artists for the images in this newsletter. It’s just had a redesign, and it’s worth subscribing to if you’d like a weekly hit of interesting contemporary art/design in your inbox (or if you’d just like to explore the archives, which are fulsome).
  • Barry’s Tire Tech: I LOVE THIS I LOVE THIS SO MUCH. Barry is a retired tire engineer from, I think, somewhere in the US. Barry has chosen to share his wisdom and knowledge, or at least the bits of it pertaining to tires, with the world. THANKYOU BARRY! To be clear, this really is just a website about tires, and as such it’s likely to be of limited interest to anyone who doesn’t have a particularly-technical question about, I don’t know, the optimal PSi on a Goodyear, but it’s a lovely example of a type of website I adore, where someone who knows stuff just decides to share that knowledge BECAUSE IT IS THE GOOD AND RIGHT THING TO DO. Going back to the earlier point about ‘stuff you miss from the past internet’, it’s so nice being reminded of an era where people didn’t feel they had to sell or monetise every last fcuking thing in their lives in order just to make ends meet.
  • Talk To Me, Human: Ok, I haven’t had a chance to try this yet – and to do so you need to pay a one-off fee of $5, which may put most of you off to start with – but it *looks* interesting and I think it might be worth checking out, particularly if you work in or around games or narrative design. Talk To Me, Human is a ‘game’ – or at least it aspires to be one – which leverages LLMs (no idea which) to make natural language conversation the core gameplay mechanic. The game takes place entirely in-browser (suggesting its using a GPT API) and basically requires you to talk your way into, out of and around a variety of different scenarios with a range of different conversational companions to achieve a set of goals – so, for example, ‘gain access to your office’, ‘sweet talk your boss’, ‘go on a date’, all of which is achieved through either talking or typing to the characters and seeing how they respond as part of a ‘natural’ dialogue engine. As I said, I haven’t tried this yet and can’t vouch for its competence or quality – and, honestly, I have pretty serious doubts about whether this can be anything other than an incoherent mess – but I am interested enough to give it a go for the price of a coffee (maybe you will be too! Let me know what you think if you do try this).
  • Super Moxio Bros: Someone’s recreated the first level of Super Mario using only typewriter marks on paper (which makes no sense when I type it, but will make PERFECT SENSE as soon as you click. Go on, click).
  • Games on LinkedIn: I continue to lose friends and alienate people on LinkedIn, mainly by posting a link to this every week along with some horrible, sneering commentary about how everyone on the platform is dead inside – perhaps I ought to interrogate why it is I seem so keen to render myself entirely unemployable? Hm, no, actually, let’s not dwell! – but this week I can’t help but feel vaguely-better-disposed towards what is literally NOONE’s favourite digital platform, because this week LinkedIn launched GAMES! That’s right, you can now play a selection of Wordle-ish games on the platform, three so far but doubtless with more to come, in order to…look, you know and I know that this is simply a smart way of gaming interactions in order to massively swell average user engagement/dwell-time on the platform (come on), but I do sort of enjoy the official line being taken by LI that suggests it’s a ‘new way to network’ – “How did you find your new job, Tonya?”, “Well Aimee, it’s funny really, I just kept posting my incredibly impressive Crossclimb scores and eventually someone from KPMG tapped me up!”. It’s not, it is yet another way to waste your time while simultaneously cosplaying as someone who LOVES WORK, but, well, who really even cares anymore?
  • Fallout In Excel: Finally this week, if you REALLY want a game you can play at work without anyone having the faintest idea what you’re actually doing, pay $5 Australian dollars and download this, which lets you play a surprisingly-sophisticated version of Fallout in Excel, in a way that makes it look like you’re doing something terribly complex with numbers and cells whereas in fact what you’re doing is attempting to scrounge together enough bottlecaps to buy a new pistol. Superb, honestly, and FAR better than you think it’s going to be.

By Noelia Towers




  • Julian Frost: Via blort comes the Insta feed of Julian Frost, whose illustrations and animations are just…lovely feels like damning them with faint praise, but they really are, and there’s a pleasing late-70s/early-80s vibe to the style here which I very much enjoy.
  • John Holcroft: More illustration – still gorgeous, but possibly a little on the dark side compared to the previous link. Again, though, there’s a certain aesthetic here that reminds me slightly of work from a few decades back, in an entirely-positive way.


  • ‘Western’ Music: We start this week’s longreads with an essay by Ted Gioia, which I LOVED for the clear, cogent way he patiently explains that thinking of ‘culture’ as ‘Western’ (Gioia’s talking specifically about the history and evolution of music in this piece, but his observations naturally extend to basically all of the arts (and beyond, frankly) is, basically, very dumb indeed. This is a summary of a much wider and deeper argument made in a book he published in 2019, but I love it because it’s a perfect rebuttal to any fcuker who attempts to construct arguments about ‘cultural’ superiority (which, what a surprise! Has a tendency to in fact be code for ‘racial’ superiority!) or the idea that ‘western civilisation’ has, or had, any sort of monopoly on high culture, and how in fact the history of the world is littered with clear examples, proof, that social and cultural progress occurs most often and most profitably in areas and at times when cultural, ethnic, social, demographic cross-contamination was rife. Basically all the racist Twitter accounts with PFPs of statues of Marcus Aurelius are wrong, and this is why.
  • The Internet Is Like A City: I found this piece interesting if not wholly convincing – my friend Simon pointed out that there are one or two intellectual inconsistencies in the arguments presented in the article which slightly undermine its point, but in general it presents some really interesting ways of thinking about systems, whether the internet or indeed anything else. The basic premise here is as follows: “ I’ve been rereading architect Christopher Alexander’s famous 1965 essay A City Is Not a Tree. In it, he argues that the fundamental problem of city planning lies in the limits of our minds and how we intuitively categorize our surroundings. These biases are unknowingly reproduced by top-down administrators and designers, often with good intentions, but make for bad outcomes. Reading his essay in 2024, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the internet. Nowadays, seemingly everyone seems to admit online life is getting worse, both in quality and how dynamic the web used to be. At the same time, we’ve seen big tech platforms and governments be more proactive about making the internet “safer” and more “truthful.” Yet, the problem practically remains the same, if not worse. A City Is Not a Tree can provide us with some answers. As Alexander argued almost 60 years ago, our minds are inclined to categorize the world as a tree, but an organic society and city actually resembles a semilattice. And just like with a city, organizing the internet like a tree stifles it completely.” Super interesting, if theory-heavy, about how the shape and arrangement of knowledge and information structures materially affects the way we parse that information and the way it works within a system.
  • The Mad Ideas of Balaji Srinivasan: I know, I know, the vast majority of you don’t live in Silicon Valley, and might reasonably look at me posting yet another link to a piece on ‘the madness of the libertarian plutes’ as overkill. BUT! I think this is interesting and worth a read, because a) if you haven’t noticed the disproportionate impact of the way in which these people think on the way the rest of the world works then I don’t think you’ve been paying enough attention to, well, anything over the past few years; b) you’ll never guess which Private Equity Vampire and Curios-obsession Srinivasan is feted by (you might, actually)! This guy is part of the Andreessen nexus, people who in turn have the ear of political leaders and dreadful plutecnuts like Musk, and they say things like this and mean it: ““What I’m really calling for is something like tech Zionism,” he said, after comparing his movement to those started by the biblical Abraham, Jesus Christ, Joseph Smith (founder of Mormonism), Theodor Herzl (“spiritual father” of the state of Israel), and Lee Kuan Yew (former authoritarian ruler of Singapore). Balaji then revealed his shocking ideas for a tech-governed city where citizens loyal to tech companies would form a new political tribe clad in gray t-shirts. “And if you see another Gray on the street … you do the nod,” he said, during a four-hour talk on the Moment of Zen podcast. “You’re a fellow Gray.” The Grays’ shirts would feature “Bitcoin or Elon or other kinds of logos … Y Combinator is a good one for the city of San Francisco in particular.” Grays would also receive special ID cards providing access to exclusive, Gray-controlled sectors of the city. In addition, the Grays would make an alliance with the police department, funding weekly “policeman’s banquets” to win them over. “Grays should embrace the police, okay? All-in on the police,” said Srinivasan. “What does that mean? That’s, as I said, banquets. That means every policeman’s son, daughter, wife, cousin, you know, sibling, whatever, should get a job at a tech company in security.” In exchange for extra food and jobs, cops would pledge loyalty to the Grays. Srinivasan recommends asking officers a series of questions to ascertain their political leanings. For example: “Did you want to take the sign off of Elon’s building?”” SOUNDS GOOD DOESN’T IT?
  • A Time We Never Knew: I’ve shared a few pieces in the past couple of weeks touching on the SMARTPHONES ARE BASICALLY LIKE GIVING KIDS SKAG moral panic, mainly suggesting that the question is perhaps a touch more nuanced than the Haidt argument paints it as – this is another one, but this time by a young person who very much takes Haidt’s position (to the extent that he’s published this), and, look, I am of a different generation and this doesn’t speak to my experience, but it was a surprisingly emotional read – as someone who has lived through the times described here, I have to gently suggest that it wasn’t perhaps the caring utopia of interpersonal connection that the author here describes, but, equally, it’s hard not to read this and think ‘hm, yes, ok, I do see your point’: “I am grieving something I never knew. I am grieving that giddy excitement over waiting for and playing a new vinyl for the first time, when now we instantly stream songs on YouTube, use Spotify with no waiting, and skip impatiently through new albums. I am grieving the anticipation of going to the movies, when all I’ve ever known is Netflix on demand and spoilers, and struggling to sit through a entire film. I am grieving simple joys—reading a magazine; playing a board game; hitting a swing-ball for hours—where now even split-screen TikToks, where two videos play at the same time, don’t satisfy our insatiable, miserable need to be entertained. I even have a sense of loss for experiencing tragic news––a moment in world history––without being drenched in endless opinions online. I am homesick for a time when something horrific happened in the world, and instead of immediately opening Twitter, people held each other. A time of more shared feeling, and less frantic analyzing. A time of being both disconnected but supremely connected.”
  • Student Protests: I wasn’t going to link to anything about this, because for one I am fcuking sick of everything being seen through the prism of North America but, also, because I find the fact that more column inches have been expended over the past few weeks on this story than the REASON for the fcuking protests somewhat appalling. I figured I’m make an exception for this piece, though, because I think if even the New York Times, a paper that’s not exactly been lauded for its even-handed coverage of the whole affair, is saying ‘you know, the protestors have a point, and there doesn’t really seem to be all this massive antisemitism, and certainly not enough to warrant sending in the army’ then perhaps, you know, the US administration and the universities aren’t really in the right here. Oh, one more thing on this point – if I see one more bien pensant liberal making some point about how ‘seeing these kids protesting gives me hope for the future! The kids are alright!’, can I just gently point out that all the people protesting in 68 in Europe and against the Vietnam war in the US, all those BRAVE PROTESTORS fighting for TRUTH AND JUSTICE and PEACE and REVOLUTION, are all the same people who for the past 20 years have been in charge of everything and who have fcuked it all up royally. Do not project people’s current values onto their future selves! People do not work that way!
  • Thames Water: If you’re not in the UK you really can skip this, I promise – unless of course you want a short history of exactly how and why the country’s water sanitation and delivery systems are seemingly irretrievably banjaxed. Those of you who do live here, though, and who want to understand exactly how we have arrived at a position whereby all our streams are bemerded and all our fish are basically filtering p1ss through their gills, could do worse than reading this LRB piece.
  • Saudi AIrabia: SORRY ABOUT THE PUNNY TITLE SORRY! This is all about how Saudi is well set to assume a position at the heart of the next wave of AI, based on the simple fact that a) AI requires a fcuktonne of power, and money, to develop, based on current methods; and, conveniently, b) the Saudis have a seemingly-infinite supply of both! This is interesting less because of the details which are largely as one might expect – money! Deals! MBS waxing lyrical about the state’s transition from an oil-based to an information-based economy! – and more because of what it says both about the shifting locus of global power towards the (Middle) East, and about how seriously we’re taking questions about the potential environmental impact of AI (not really anywhere near as seriously as we ought to be, seeing as we’re seemingly set to just accept that the next wave of it’s going to be powered by oil!).
  • The Zombie Internet: A good piece on 404 Media about the wider impact of AI gunk on the web, and how it’s manifesting on Facebook in particular, and what it reveals about the strange, odd state of the platform itself, a strange mix of bots, the increasingly elderly and people from the East or Global South, and how while it’s not ‘dead’ it’s certainly in a very weird place indeed, a slurry of AI-generated imagery and AI-powered bots and engagement farming and nonsense content and, in the midst of it all, hundreds of millions of normal people having an increasingly low-quality, confusing and bot-addled experience. To be clear, I don’t think this is going to get better and I think it’s going to spread, and I don’t think we know what to do about it or how we might even begin to stop this. INTERESTING!
  • How Cambridge Uses Generative AI: Not THRILLING, fine, but potentially useful to some of you – this is Cambridge University’s recently-published ‘how we use generative AI as an institution’ guide which neatly lays out how they will, and won’t, include AI-generated content or AI-powered systems in their work. It’s clear, simple and sensible, which isn’t always true of these sorts of things.
  • Shop Walmart In Roblox: A sentence I wish I didn’t understand and wish didn’t exist – AND YET HERE WE ARE! This is basically a press announcement, but it’s an interesting development – I confess to being somewhat confused as to exactly what the play here is for Walmart, but then I read this piece which explained to me that the thing that GenA (born after 2010) loves most in the world is…is…SHOPPING! Specifically, shopping online! Apparently, “of over 1,000 U.S. parents surveyed, 16% said their children had an online-shopping addiction, with 22% saying kids prefer online shopping to other forms of entertainment, such as watching TV. Almost half say their kids buy themselves clothes online, followed by 32% that are interested in beauty products.” And when you have that detail, then the Roblox activation makes perfect sense – and you also start to get the creeping sensation that we’re all going to be buried under a stratum of crap if the enviropocalypse doesn’t get us first.
  • AI and Indian Democracy: Did I mention my irritation at Nick Clegg’s recent blase’ comments suggesting that noone was really trying to mess with any elections using AI and that frankly we shouldn’t worry about it so much? Anyway, it was heightened this week when reading this excellent report by Rest of World about exactly how much money is being pumped into the creation of AI-generated propaganda on behalf of the main parties contesting the current Indian elections, how this material is being distributed pretty much exclusively on Meta-owned platforms, and how a significant proportion of it will be targeted at people who are unlikely to have the media literacy to know whether something is real or not, by actors who may not be entirely scrupulous about not, you know, just lying or making stuff up, or labelling their content… – COME BACK AND SAY THAT AGAIN NICK, YOU FCUKER. Or, er, don’t – just continue having a lovely life earning loads of money and not really having to worry about the long-term consequences of this sort of stuff because you’re now a multi-millionaire!
  • The Sound Of Software: This is literally a whole article about sound design for software, and even as someone who knows nothing about design it was SO interesting – I promise you, it will make you think about the role of sound in UX/UI in a properly interesting and different way (or at least it did me – your brain may already think about this stuff, and do so BRILLIANTLY, stop showing off if so).
  • The Problem of Mid TV: This piece got a lot of traction this week, suggesting that all TV these days is mostly just ‘fine’ and that that’s a result of things being algorithmically-smoothed to the centre of the bell curve in an attempt to hit that sweetspot of  ‘mass appeal’, of TV series being conceptualised based on a series of variables that THE DATA suggests will make for a widely-watched show that plays well across multiple markets. As a non-TV watcher I have literally no opinion about this, but I am sympathetic to the argument as an extension of my long-standing ‘FOLLOWING THE DATA IS ACTUALLY A WAY TO REALLY FCUKING BORING WORK’ obsession – having said that, I asked some friends who do watch TV, one of whom works in it, about this, and they were…less convinced, arguing that in part you can explain this simply by there being SO MUCH MORE STUFF. See what you think.
  • Accidentally Running For President: Specifically, for President of Iceland. This is a great case study of WHY DESIGN IS IMPORTANT and a very funny story to boot. I genuinely hope that a lot of these people who accidentally threw their hat into the ring follow through with this.
  • Taking The Hyperloop: Jon Elledge is an author and journalist who’s also something of a planning and urban transport enthusiast – this week, he decided to see what it was like to do the entirety of the ‘SuperLoop’, a bus route that basically runs around the whole of London, taking in such scenic places as Walthamstow, Harrow and, er, Ilford. It takes about 9 hours, and Elledge tweeted his way through it in the old-school style – this is both interesting (if, er, you like seeing photos of suburban London taken from the top of a bus, which oddly enough I seem to) and increasingly funny, as Elledge begins to realise that this is a very long time to spend alone on buses as they traverse the less-stories parts of the capital. This feels like it could have been written in 2014, in the best way.
  • The Anti-Racism Workshops: You will, of course, remember the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd and the sudden focus on racism and society and the role of white people in propagating that racism that followed – you may also remember that amongst the frantic sharing of black squares on Instagram and performative posting of you holding that Renni Eddo Lodge book, there was a parallel trend for ‘workshops’, often aimed at white women specifically, designed to help them ‘confront’ the questions of their whiteness and their inherent, if unwitting, racism – this piece in the Atlantic looks back at what actually happened at those workshops, and whether they can be said to have made any difference at all. It’s hard not to read this and get a bit annoyed – in part the clear and obvious grifting going on with a lot of the ‘courses’, but also at the apparent belief among a lot of the attendees that the only thing required to address racism and racial inequality was to sit around a lot of people who looked and sounded remarkably like you and to cry about how you felt guilty about it.
  • Paul Auster: For a period of time, Paul Auster was my favourite novelist – this is his obit in the NYT. If you’ve not read his work before, ignore all the people telling you to start with the New York Trilogy – instead, go with The Music of Chance, or Mr Vertigo, instead, both of which give you the signature Auster vibes and voice, the storytelling (he was SUCH a great narrator), and the sense of the strange and the metaphysical/fantastical that permeated all his work.
  • The Daniel Radcliffe Interview: The bit where he mentions Rowling is right at the end, and is by far and away the least-interesting part of this profile – Radcliffe comes across as a genuinely thoughtful and nice person, and I personally found it fascinating to read his account of how he has managed not to become a total fcukup.
  • Escape From Noma: “Let me guide you through my incredible visit to one of the world’s most exclusive restaurants” is a tried and tested content format, which is why it was so nice to read this piece, in which Adam Roberts visits Noma and has a really bad time and leaves early. There’s no criticism of the kitchen or the restaurant here, per se – Roberts felt ill and simply wasn’t able to enjoy the meal – but I liked to read something that acknowledges how eating like this isn’t *always* the super-fun experience it’s cracked up to be (still want to go to Noma, though, in case anyone’s reading this and fancies taking a strange man from the internet for lunch).
  • Haneif Kureishi: Or rather, Hanif Kureishi’s son, Sachin, writing about his father a year or so on from the incident in Rome that rendered the author tetraplegic. I found this beautiful, and not sad at all – hopeful and loving and kind and funny, and a good reminder that terrible and terrifying things can be overcome (even if that which does not kill you is inevitably acting in concert with that which eventually does).
  • Dave Courtney’s Wake: Curios favourite Clive Martin is back in our second Fence link of the week (the latest issue of the magazine really is superb, by the way), attending plastic gangster Dave Courtney’s wake at the Blind Beggar in Whitechapel, and painting a strangely poignant picture of a certain type of ‘criminal’ and the weird demi-monde of hangers-on, fantasists and genuinely-terrifying hardmen that surround them. This is EXCELLENT, and will appeal particularly to anyone who was around the UK in that strange era in which people like Courtney were absolutely feted and fetishised by a certain type of lads’ mag.
  • The Heat Death of the Internet: A short story about, basically, ensh1ttification. I enjoyed this, even though I have to say I found the final paragraph/section a touch on the obvious/twee side – there is a definite THING here, by the way, in terms of capturing a mood/feeling about our current relationship to digital systems and services which I think could usefully be leveraged for campaign purposes (trust me, I hate myself for thinking and typing that even more than you do having read it, I promise).
  • The End Of All Wanting: I’m going to give you the opening paragraph of this – I adored it, but this should tell you whether you will too. “Here’s a story: I was listening to “That’s Just the Way that I Feel” by Purple Mountains on the day I wrecked my wife’s truck. Here’s the truth: I was drunk on a Wednesday, the way I always was. I was in tennis clothes because I’d told my wife I had a lesson on Wednesday nights, allowing me to drink in the office till 8, then use the drive home to verbally practice stories about the lesson. I planned to give her an update on a fellow player, “Phillip Feetshoes,” who played in Vibram FiveFingers instead of tennis shoes. I’d mentioned him before; he was modeled after a regulatory lawyer I knew. It was summer in Austin, but I had the heat on high so I’d have a post-workout sheen of sweat when I got home. I thought about pretending the next lessons were a half-hour later, for 30 more minutes of vodka. Then I ran a stop sign, a subcompact smashed into the passenger side, I blew three times the legal limit and went to jail for the night. I vaguely remember trying to laugh off my field test performance and telling the police that the plastic zip lines they used instead of cuffs were environmentally unfriendly.” There is one line in here that absolutely undid me, but you can pick your own.
  • Wagner In Africa: This is VERY LONG, but it’s utterly superb and entirely compelling, and I promise you won’t notice the length – this is James Pogue, writing in Granta, about the Wagner mercenary group’s presence in the Central African Republic, and the way in which the West, specifically the US, is being edged out of the region by what are effectively neocolonial efforts by Russia (fronted by the Mercs), and how China might follow suit, and, again, it’s both a brilliant piece of writing and a neat encapsulation of just a few of the reasons why the balance of global power over the coming century is set to look very, very different to that in the preceding 100 years.
  • Thousands Hospitalised: Finally this week, a very very short piece of…what, microfiction? Wevs, this is great and made me feel more ‘oh, yes, this is the now’ than almost anything else I’ve read this year.

By Leonard Baby