NO MORE JOBS! WE WILL NEVER WORK AGAIN!
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.
WE KICK OFF THE MUSIC THIS WEEK WITH A GENUINELY WONDERFUL SELECTION OF OLD BLUES AND CRACKLY COUNTRY-TYPE SOUNDS WHICH IS PERFECT FOR A RAINY FEW DAYS SUCH AS THOSE WE ARE CURRENTLY STUCK WITH IN LONDON!
THE SECTION WHICH DOESN’T FEEL HUGELY REASSURED ABOUT THE AI FUTURE AFTER BLETCHLEY, PT.1:
- 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.
- 1ft.io: Long-running paywall-evading website 12ft.io 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.
SOMETHING OF A BREAKNECK CHANGE OF MUSICAL PACE HERE WITH AN HOUR-LONG D’N’B SET FEATURING HARRY SHOTTA AND A BUNCH OF OTHER EXCELLENT MCs BUT WHERE IMHO THE DJ IS VERY MUCH THE STAR – THIS IS PROPERLY EXCELLENT SO TURN IT UP LOUD PLEASE!
THE SECTION WHICH DOESN’T FEEL HUGELY REASSURED ABOUT THE AI FUTURE AFTER BLETCHLEY, PT.2:
- 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.
THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!
- 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!
THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!
- 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.
LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!
- 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.
AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:
- Last up this week, more rap with an accent (yes, I know that everyone has an accent and this is nothing but disgusting Southern-centrism, I AM SORRY) – this is a track by former Beta Band-er Steve Mason, featuring vocals by One Da, and all filmed in Moss Side which gave me SUCH flashbacks. I really, really like this and I hope you do too – this is called ‘Moss Side Fish Fry’. Oh, hang on, THAT’S IT BYE SEE YOU NEXT WEEK I LOVE YOU BYE!