Webcurios 04/11/22

Reading Time: 38 minutes



I have spent a reasonable chunk of the past few years successfully ignoring Elon Musk, and now here I am being forced to hang on every word he fcuking says for Tedious Professional Reasons and, let me tell you, I do not like it one bit. I know that phrases like ‘spare a thought for the poor journalists’ are unlikely to elicit widespread approval but, really, just imagine what it would be like to have to actually spend time thinking about that fcuking man and his horrible flying monkey sycophants (it is not fun, let me tell you).

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and you should be grateful that this isn’t hosted on Substack and that I am not trying to push you into ‘Web Curios Chat’ because, honestly, can you IMAGINE?

By Jenna Barton



  • Mastodon: So, look, let’s get all this stuff out of the way quickly so we can go back to focusing on ephemera and not the seemingly-significant damage being wreaked on my favourite social media platform by a man who will, I strongly believe, soon come to realise that being responsible for what literally millions of people say on the platform you own is NO FUN AT ALL.  I obviously featured Mastodon way back in the day when it first launched, and I equally obviously created an account and signed up to an instance, and perhaps even more obviously have not gone back to it since because, honestly, it was empty and fiddly and no fun. BUT! If you are feeling like you simply can’t any more with Twitter, or at the very least want to explore somewhere to migrate to should That Man continue to dismantle it, you may want to explore Mastodon. It’s basically like Twitter, except it lacks the fundamental thing that makes Twitter good, namely ‘all the people’, and it’s…well, it’s a bit fiddly to get your head around how it all works. Effectively Mastodon operates on ‘instances’, each of which are basically a different version of the platform with their own rules on what is and isn’t acceptable, and all these different instances have varying degrees of contact and connection with other instances, and…oh, ffs, it’s just NO FUN. I have rather enjoyed seeing Mastodon advocates on Twitter this week attempting to educate normies on how easy it is to port your life over – “if you’ve ever run your own email server, this is basically a piece of p1ss”, ran one particularly optimistic comment, to which most reasonable people’s answer is “GYAC mate I have no desire to ever ‘run my own email server’, I just want stuff to work and to be able to get 16 RTs for a mild joke about Matt Hancock chowing down on wallaby sphincters” – but, honestly, it’s a bit of a faff. Still, should you be interested then there’s a helpful guide to the platform which does a reasonable job of explaining How It All Works and What It All Means, and here’s a tool to find people you follow on Twitter on Mastodon, and here’s a bit of code that lets you crosspost to both simultaneously if you feel like straddling the divide for a while (in my head this is a bit like JKVD in that now-iconic Volvo ad from about 10 years ago). Oh, and this is a typically-smart bit of writing by Dan Hon about Twitter and Mastodon and migration and communities and utility and fragmentation which neatly sums up a lot of how I feel about moving my digital life elsewhere (DONWANNA).
  • Nicheless: So one of the problems with ‘migrating to a Twitter alternative’ is that, fundamentally, Twitter does its ‘thing’ almost perfectly – or, at least, I can’t conceive of a better means to enable near-instantaneous textual communication from any individual to a potentially-infinite audience (let’s leave aside all the things that Twitter does very imperfectly, like context and nuance and user safety). Still, if you’d like something that is ‘Twitter, but slightly different’ and want to be one of what I imagine are literally HUNDREDS of people currently using a nascent social platform, perhaps Nicheless will be up your street. The gimmick here is that each post can be up to 300 words long, which the developers say will allow for NUANCE and DEEPER THINKING and LESS KNEE-JERK REACTION (lol these are human problems not software problems, kids), and which doesn’t have like counts or follower counts or anything like that. It also, from what I can tell, doesn’t have anyone really using it, but perhaps that will change after free Twitter becomes an unusable hellscape.
  • The DALL-E2 API: This is a very boring link and one which should only click if you are REALLY interested in API access to Dall-E2 – but for the two of you for whom that is the case, fill your boots! This is quite exciting, in a geeky sort of way – any developer can integrate OpenAI’s image generation magic into their site or app with a few lines of code – which, fine, you could do with SD too, but I think this is simpler and also ‘safer’ given the slightly more restricted nature of what you’re allowed to generate with Dall-E2. Basically expect to see every fcuking website under the sun chuck in some AI image generation magic over the next few months, because why not? Honestly, if you happen to work on any STAGGERINGLY DULL brands – think, I don’t know, a maker of cavity wall insulation – why not consider leavening your otherwise-skullfcukingly-tedious online presence with the ability for your customers to generate a sad-eyed puppy on a specially-dedicated webpage, driven by the ‘insight’ that people like puppies more than they like cavity wall insulation? You can’t think of a good reason, can you? See? That’s strategy, that is.
  • SD Libraries: Another week, another selection of Stable Diffusion models trained by other people and made available online. So here you can download and play with SD variants that have been specifically trained on the work of various different artists so as to mimic their specific style with particular efficacy. It’s not just artists, of course – for example, one of the 100+ models on here appears to have been trained exclusively to generate images of N64 consoles, which is a genuinely-odd thing to focus on – but there are a lot of what look like people’s names here, suggesting that a significant proportion are literally just designed to replicate the work of human artists. Which, obviously, is basically stealing, and is an excellent working example of how we really haven’t spent anywhere near enough time thinking ‘hm, how ought this stuff work to ensure that it is fair to the people whose output feeds the machines and to prevent them from being effectively marginalised by said machines to the point of obsolescence’ (ie we have spent no time at all thinking about this). If you’re interested in the questions around the rights and wrongs of this, there’s a good bit in the longreads section which touches on it – if, on the other hand, you couldn’t care less and just want to play with a stable diffusion model which has been taught to produce nothing other than images of a stranger’s border collie (no, seriously) then that’s ok too.
  • The Stable Diffusion Bias Explorer: The other thing that we’ve not really quite come to terms with is the fact of bias in models created by massive image sets – which is why this little toy on HuggingFace is a useful reminder of How This Stuff Works and The Assumptions That It Has Baked In As A Result. The tool lets you compare SD outputs for various professions, as well as letting you add adjectives to said outputs – so, for example, you can compare results for ‘engineer’ and ‘competent engineer’ and see how certain types of faces seem to be related to specific qualities in the ‘mind’ of the machines, and how said relationships can quite obviously be seen to be born of the very 20thC biases and assumptions of the images that the models were trained on in the first place.
  • Rewind: On the one hand, there is no way that this will work as well as advertised and as such it’s probably significantly less scary and scifi as it sounds on first investigation; on the other, FCUK ME THIS IS SO SCARY AND SCIFI (if I hadn’t decided a few years back that I wouldn’t use this comparison any more because it’s lazy and frankly boring, I’d invoke the spirit of that TV show about how technology can ACTUALLY sometimes have creepy and unintended social consequences!). Rewind purports to be “The Search Engine For Your Life”, which in many respects, fine, is effectively what things like Evernote have promised for years, except this takes things a step or two further by allowing you to search through ‘anything you’ve seen, said or heard’. It’s in early access, and it will be Mac-only, at least initially, but, honestly, this looks sort of like witchcraft – it’s worth watching the demo video, because whilst I’m usually sceptical about this sort of thing it really is rather impressive and made me momentarily think ‘hang on, this could be useful’ rather than my usual ‘I want to forget, not to remember, why must you make me remember?’. Basically if you’re the sort of person who believes in the vital importance of ‘keeping the receipts’ for everything, then a) you may like this idea a LOT; b) you’re kind of a nightmare and everyone finds you annoying, rein it in a bit please.
  • Breathhh: I think I’ve said before that I have…limited time for digital mindfulness tech, but this particular variant on the theme at least had the benefit of making me laugh out loud at how ridiculous it is. Breathhh (the name is, remarkably, not the most ridiculous thing about it) is a free browser plugin which purports to offer you AI-driven realtime advice on when you might want to do a small bit of mindfulness and meditation. I have dug through the site and they are…not exactly forthcoming about how this works and, specifically, what they mean by ‘AI’, but I am DEFINITELY SURE that this isn’t because it’s all made up lies. I am SO tickled by this – the idea that the app’s constantly watching your browsing habits and thinking ‘hang on, they’ve just sat staring at the Samaritans contact details for 20 minutes – IT’S TIME FOR SOME BREATHING EXERCISES AND MAYBE SOME POSITIVE AFFIRMATIONS!” I also particularly liked that, whilst the basic service is free, there is also a paid option, which strikes me as…optimistic. Still, who knows, maybe this really IS a magical solution that will enable you to browse the web in a more MINDFUL way! Please do let me know (and also, I have a bridge to sell you).
  • Horse Kicks: Via Lauren Epstein comes this EXCELLENT bit of odd – “Lexington, Kentucky is home to the world’s greatest equine athletes. For far too long, these multi-millionaires have been fitted with traditional, run-of-the-mill horseshoes. Horse Kicks is here to change that. Based out of Lexington, Kentucky, the Horse Capital of the World, Horse Kicks was founded to offer horses of all breeds and disciples the drip they deserve.” Yes, that’s right, this is TRAINERS FOR HORSES. Neigh-ki, if you will (COME ON THAT WAS A FCUKING GREAT GAG WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?). These are, as far as I can tell, an entirely-real thing, made to order by one Marcus Floyd, and I am SO HAPPY that this exists and I would like all the horses at the next Olympics to be wearing these for dressage please thankyou.
  • Introspectabilia: You know, whilst obviously it’s a terrible shame that quite a few people will have taken something of a haircut on the whole NFT thing, it’s also gratifying to know that the whole scene really was as empty and fraudulent as it looked from this angle. Still, it’s not totally dead yet, as evidenced by this website which is basically a showcase of a bunch of NFT art accompanying a real-life pop-up exhibition which is looking to tour in the coming year. “Introspectabilia is a pop-up exhibition of digital loops & physical artworks by design studio illo. It explores our relationship with technology by depicting 10 emotions we often feel online, despite being unnamed yet.” The website presents artworks from the exhibition, which are (sorry!) all available to buy as NFTs – but that’s got nothing to do with it really, and I can forgive the artists for having a go at monetising their digital art, and the work here is significantly more interesting than the glut of poor-quality vapourwave-aesthetic giffery that characterised the NFT boom of 2021. I…I like this, and I don’t think I’ve said that about anything NFT-related for over a year so WELL DONE EVERYONE!
  • The Miniverse: Another week, another entry for Matt’s Big Book Of Brands Who Have Been Absolutely Taken To The Cleaners By Some Silver-Tongued Metaverse-Peddling Snake Oil Salesman And Who Will Have Some Difficult Conversations About Value For Money And ROI Coming In The Next Financial Year If There’s Any Justice. This week it’s Mini who take the mantle of ‘idiots who should have known better’ – even worse, they have called their poorly-coded, pointless and unsatisfying digital sandbox ‘The Miniverse’, which is unforgivable and should alone be enough to condemn whoever’s responsible to an eternity of poorly-rendered VR experiences. The Miniverse (sorry) is – and this may shock you, so hold on to your seat – a series of 3d environments in which the user moves around…for no discernible purpose whatsoever! Exactly what the user is supposed to get out of this – a website in which you can ‘drive’ a Mini around a series of slightly-fantastical ‘zones’ – is unclear, but it’s certainly not ‘fun’; the environments are, fine, at least, pleasingly-odd and full of ramps and curves and loop-the-loops, but the experience of driving is genuinely horrible and glitchy and weightless and crap (contrast this with the Slow Roads driving toy featured last week which was pleasing and weighty and beautiful), and there’s simply no point to any of it – you don’t learn anything about the cars, and there’s not even the most basic ‘click to book a test drive near you’ functionality, and I just don’t know why it exists. Except I do – it’s because one of YOU fcuks, you advermarketingprdrones, sold them it. You should be ashamed.
  • All The Starlinks: This is a live(ish) map of all the Starlink satellites currently in orbit and FCUK ME are there a lot of them. Is…is there a plan for what happens when our orbit gets full? Because that’s sort-of possible, right? Is surrounding the planet with space junk going to be the sort of thing that comes back and bites us in a century or so when we’re finally in a position to try and escape the horrible burning mess of a planet we’ve created so as to go and do it all again a few hundred light years  away?Things I am simultaneously happy and sad that I will never know due to being long-dead.
  • Play Chess Against Grandmasters: I rather like this idea – this site has taken a bunch of matches played by ACTUAL CHESS GRANDMASTERS and used their moves to create a series of ‘bots’ against which you can play, which bots will attempt to play the moves that the GMs did in actual matches when confronted with the same board. Which in theory works fine, but which obviously only works if the board is configured in a way that matches one of the database entries for the GM you’re playing against – which means that if you’re, like me, a terrible chess player whose personal style can best be described as ‘suicidally idiosyncratic’ you will regularly find yourself arranging the board in configurations that would never happen during a match between two players who actually know what they are doing. Still, if you play a bit this could be quite a fun training toy.
  • The TIME Magazine Faces Project: Ooh I like this – “This is an examination of an archive of Time magazine containing 3,389 issues ranging from 1923 to 2014, focusing on images of faces. We extracted 327,322 faces from the archive, categorized all of them by gender, and obtained detailed characteristics of a subset of 8,789 of those faces. We use computer vision analysis, combined with contextual research and methods from the humanities, to elucidate trends and patterns in the visual culture reflected by the publication. In particular, we are examining how representations of the human face have changed over time, and seeking relationships between the visual features we discover and their corresponding socio-political contexts.” This is really nicely done – you can see the faces extracted and arranged by similarity, see how the average face featured in the magazine has changed over the years, see the proportion of faces of different ethnicities, etc etc. Aside from anything else this is a great resource for anyone looking to research the changing nature of How Media Represented The World in the 20th and early-21st Century.
  • Infinite Conversation: This is SUPERB – well done Giacomo Miceli, whose work it is. Infinite Conversation is another ‘look what you can hack together with all these exciting new AI tools!’ project, which in this case has created an imagined conversation between Werner Herzog and Slavoj Žižek – Giacomo doesn’t explicitly name the tools used, but I would imagine it’s a combination of GPT-3 and one of the voice synth toys (I seem to recall at least one of them has an off-the-shelf Žižek model) and the resulting output is, whilst obviously gibberish if you spend a minute listening to what they are actually saying, quite remarkable. There’s a fluidity to the dialogue that is oddly, almost unpleasantly, human, in part aided by the fact that both interlocutors aren’t native English speakers and as such the slightly-halting nature of text-to-speech software doesn’t jar too much, and it made me think that it’s actually going to be incredibly easy to create convincing audio fakes of people speaking in their non-native tongue. Honestly, this really is quite astonishing and made me feel a bit ‘funny’ in that now-familiar ‘I both like and fear this and don’t quite understand how to feel as a result’ way.
  • 3d Pollen: 3d models of pollen particles which, if you like, you can print out using the 3d printer that you OBVIOUSLY all have knocking around at home. If I had such a thing – which I don’t – I would use it to print out models of pollen and then hand them out to all my hayfever-suffering colleagues as a nice ‘here’s to the start of spring’ gift as soon as their noses started running, but I’m particularly nice like that.
  • Inside The Great Pyramid: I’m probably not going to ever visit the Great Pyramid of Giza – tangentially, there’s something quite oddly-liberating about admitting these things to yourself as you age; “nope, never going to swim with dolphins; turns out, don’t care!” is a freeing thought, for example – but I now feel like I sort-of have anyway, thanks to this really rather good 3d tour which has been created by (I think) the Giza project which is part of Harvard University. You can properly explore the inside, although I have to warn you that I wasn’t able to find any evidence of either mummies or some sort of murderous Anubis-worshiping cult anywhere in the interior, and it’s pretty fcuking incredible to be honest. One of those ‘oh, look, the internet is in fact actually really good after all’ moments which, honestly, are a bit rarer than I would like them to be.
  • National Parks: A map of all the national parks around the world, which is a GREAT resource if you’re the sort of person for whom a holiday has by law to involve thick socks, hiking boots and those sorts of weird skipole things that middle-aged German walkers seem to carry with them everywhere but which they never actually seem to do anything with other than gesticulating angrily at me to get out of their way as they pass me, wheezing emphasymatically (this may not be a word but I don’t care), on a mountain trail. Why does France have so few national parks, by the way?
  • Freetone: Adobe and Pantone have done a fcukery, which basically means that unless you pay a monthly subscription fee you will no longer be able to get exact Pantone colours in your Adobe products. Which, obviously, is something of a p1sser given the fact that Adobe have one of the world’s most hateful near-monopolies. You can read more about the issue here if you like, but the main link here takes you to artist Stuart Semple’s free plugin which will effectively let you get around this. “FREETONE by Stuart Semple contains 1280 colours including digital versions of his Pinkest Pink, Incredibly Kelinish Blue, Black 3.0 and TIFF. That unlocks a whole books worth of very Pantone-ish colours. 1280 Liberated colours are extremely Pantoneish and reminiscent of those found in the most iconic colour book of all time. In fact it’s been argued that they are indistinguishable from those behind the Adobe paywall.” Designers, fill your boots.
  • Moonwalkers: These look like a joke, but, apparently, is a REAL THING which has raise nearly £250k on Kickstarter with three weeks still to run. Do YOU want the magical ability to ‘walk at the speed of a run’? If the answer to that is abreathless, sweaty ‘YES MATT YES I DO’ then you might want to get involved with these – attachments which you clip onto your shoes and (as far as I can tell) turn them into what basically look like rollerskates BUT WHICH ARE ELECTRIC! So you’re basically strapping small cars to your feet which will help you walk more efficiently and faster and HOW IS THIS SAFE? HOW DO YOU KNOW THAT YOUR LEGS WON’T START MOVING AT WILDLY DIFFERENT SPEEDS? I can’t think about this without having very vivid visions of eating a LOT of curb, basically, and it’s freaking me out rather. Also – and this may or may not concern you, but it’s worth mentioning – these look REALLY silly, a bit like orthopaedic footwear of the sort that you’d normally associate with this guy (TOPICAL REFERENCE). Obviously these will become hugely popular because, as I have often and amply demonstrated, I am basically the anti-Nostradamus, so YOU SAW THEM HERE FIRST.

By Liz Sexton



  • Super Yu-Gi-Oh: There are a few aspects of the millennial experience that I simply do not understand, and card-battling games like Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh are some of them (see also: Dragonball Z, Harry Potter, Ariana Grande, Starbucks, giving a sh1t about stuff) – still, I understand that they are very popular and for some of you will be charmingly redolent of YOUTH and THE PAST and TIMES WHEN THINGS WERE SIMPLER AND BETTER. Even if you don’t have the first inkling about how Yu-Gi-Oh works, though, or even really what it is, you will be impressed by this link which takes you to a Twitter thread detailing how a French streamer has made a quite-incredible AR layer to allow themselves to do some next-level streaming of their card-based hobby. You have to watch the clip to get the full effect – and there’s a link to a YouTube video in subsequent tweets which will show the full extent of the build – but, basically, imagine that when you played a card you got to see the monster associated with said card doing all of its monster-y stuff on screen via the magic of AR and you get the idea. This is, to be clear, not technically revolutionary – this sort of thing has been on shelves for a while in various forms – but what’s amazing is that it’s all DIY. Again, one of the genuinely-exciting things about the past 12 months has been seeing the proliferation of insanely-powerful tech and software that can be frankensteined together like this to make some quite remarkable things – it makes one almost hopeful.
  • The Solo AI Awards: One of the occasionally-annoying things about not having the first idea as to who reads this and what they click on (a deliberate choice of mine, by the way, before anyone offers to build analytics into the Curios experience – honestly, I really don’t want to know how few people care) is that I have no idea whatsoever whether any of you will find this link interesting or useful. Still, fcuk it, I don’t do this for you, I do it for ME. Ahem. Anyway, the Solo AI Awards is a new prize for AI artworks which was announced recently and which is currently accepting entries – “SOLO AI ‘23 Awards is an open call that aims to foster, acknowledge and support the use of AI as an artistic tool within the paradigm of the digital world. AI’s new aesthetics and languages are shaping the contemporary art field at an accelerating rate, raising a full range of questions about the present and future of artistic creation regarding issues such as originality, creativity or authorship. For this reason, SoloJSN, hosted by Colección SOLO, creates SOLO AI ‘23 Awards to encourage artists to expand and enrich the possibilities around innovative digital art. SoloJSN will grant one artist 10.000 euros from among 10 finalists eligible for the possibility of taking part in a collective exhibition held at Espacio SOLO” I will be fascinated to see entries and winners from this – I hope that one of you knows someone who should enter.
  • NaNoGenMo: It’s November, which means NaNoWriMo (you don’t need me to explain this to you, do you? Good) but also its lazy cousin NaNoGenMo, in which coders work to create a generative novel through the month of November. It’s been going since 2013(!), and, honestly, this week I lost more time than I care to admit going back through the years and seeing how generative text has changed and evolved over the years. This is perhaps the first time that it’s feasible that someone could create something…actually quite readable, so this is probably worth keeping an eye on even if you’re not thinking of participating yourself. As previously noted, by the way, I think it would be quite a lot of fun to see if you could palm off a NaNoGenMo text as a NaNoWriMo text – although, fine, it would be Bad News for novelists.
  • This House Does Not Exist: You know the drill by now – imagined images of houses along with descriptions of said houses. These are really rather good – quite architect-y in style – and tbh I quite want to live in at least three of the ones I’ve spun up on the site.
  • Haircuts by AI: Using Stable Diffusion, this lets you upload three photos of yourself and then, if you pay the site a fiver, generate a bunch of different haircuts for you to see what you look like. What’s interesting about this is less the idea – so far, so standard – and more the monetisation model; whilst $5 seems a bit steep to me, I could totally imagine something like this being quite an attractive ‘fcuk around and find out’ toy for a $1 fee. Which, given how quick and relatively-easy it is to train and set this stuff up, means that an enterprising developer can set up a bunch of things like this with low-level price points and probably keep a reasonable peppercorn income coming in with a bit of light promotion across socials. This is, guaranteed, absolutely an area in which one or two people are going to make quite a lot of fast cash in the next 12 months or so.
  • Simpsons Albums: Album covers that look like single frames from The Simpsons, because it is law that there is no facet of human existence or experience that cannot be filtered through Matt Groening’s yellowfaced prism.
  • SuperTunnel: This is a lovely little student project by Vinicius Suerio as part of their MSc in interaction design, which lets you model a tunnel through the earth from any location. “For thousands of years, physical objects have been used to represent data – like using pebbles to account for votes in ancient Greece. Such representations, especially newly computer-supported ones, became the focus of an emerging field called data physicalization. As part of my master’s in interaction design, I explored how data physicalization and tangible interaction could be combined. More specifically, I studied how an object might convey data not through its shape, but only through our interaction with it. I proposed a tangible and embodied

artifact (a shovel equipped with orientation sensors) that could be used by visitors of Earth sciences museums. By pointing the shovel to the ground at different angles, visitors could learn where in the world they would end up, if they were to dig a hole towards that direction.” This is simple but SO nicely-made and  satisfying to play with, testament to the power of good interaction design.

  • Yarn Picker: I presume that, given winter’s closing in and we have all been told that our mortgages will cost eleventymillion quid a month and we can’t afford to turn the heating on, that you will all be planning on spending the winter months knitting an increasingly-voluminous series of scarves and hats and jumpers in an attempt to stave off both boredom and frostbite. In which case, you might find this site useful – you can pick any shade you like from a colourwheel, and the site will provide you with a bunch of yarn brands that you can buy that match the colours you’ve selected. The site’s American, and I know literally nothing about knitting and whether or not the brands it recommends will be available internationally, but, well, here’s hoping. If anyone wants to knit me a scarf, by the way, that would be lovely.
  • Lost Cat: Oh God I love this – WONDERFULLY pointless but very charming indeed, and I am slightly sad that it’s taken me this long to learn about it. Steve Chapman is one a mission to get as many copies of his ‘LOST CAT’ poster pasted up around the world as possible; currently it’s in over 50 countries, including Antarctica, but I think we can help spread it more widely. Steve explains: “One day whilst walking I saw a lost cat poster.  Whilst it was sad that somebody had lost their cat I couldn’t help but notice how majestic the picture was of the animal.  Tall, proud, slightly cross-eyed.   The picture made me wonder whether the cat was actually lost or whether the owners were just showing off what a great cat they had. When I got home I painted the cat and then decided to turn the piece into a poster to show off my painting of the magnificent beast.  A couple of days later I took a bunch of posters and put them in random places around London.  Surprisingly they elicited a remarkable response with pictures of  my (Not a) Lost Cat posters popping up everywhere on social media and people asking if they could get involved. On the back of the London experiment I decided to expand the project and see how many locations around the world I could get the (Not a) Lost Cat posters put up in.  Since then the project has taken on a life of its own with posters now in 52 countries across all seven continents.” If you happen to live outside the UK, could you maybe consider printing and putting up one of these? GO ON I NEVER ASK ANYTHING OF YOU GO ON FFS.
  • The Entertainment Memorabilia Auction: This is happening RIGHT NOW! And it is INSANE – there is SO MUCH in here, from silk suits worn by the Beatles to some cans of fizzy pop produced as props for the film ‘Joe Vs The Volcano’, to a bunch of Jim Henson’s Creature Workshop stuff from Labyrinth, to, er, a pair of headphones allegedly owned by Ed Sheeran. Honestly, there is absolute GOLD here, but bear in mind that the prices reflect that and there doesn’t seem to be much below the grand mark. Today is music stuff, tomorrow and Sunday film & TV – yesterday was, it seems, the day they flogged all the Star Wars stuff so if you were hoping to own a maquette model of a landspeeder then a) you can’t, sorry; and b) GROW UP FFS THERE ARE OTHER FILMS AVAILABLE.
  • The Spirit: This is an entirely-pointless but very pleasing bit of particle simulation in (I think) webGL – move your cursor around and enjoy the lovely, soothing particulate sweep as it wafts across your screen. This is going to sound silly, I appreciate, but there’s an odd sense of personality to the particles here which makes me like this a lot (see? Told you it would sound silly).
  • Reddit2Video: This feels a bit cheeky, but, well, all’s fair in love and content. See a video on Reddit that you think would make the basis for good content on another platform? Well use this service to rip the source and repurpose it for whatever other social network you choose – this will reconfigure vids from Reddit to work as material for TikTok, Insta and all your other favourites, which is particularly useful for the ‘I position myself as a talking head to opine over a heavily-annotated video’ content style so beloved of the kids. As an aside, I wonder what it’s going to be like in a few years’ time when literally everyone has spent their formative years training themselves to deliver monologues like a fcuking news anchor or late-night TV host (‘insufferable’ is the answer, in case you were wondering)?
  • Freja Christiana: The website of the collected projects of digital artist Freja Christiana, which are presented without much – if any – explanation and which are slices of small, beautiful digital play and experimentation. I strongly encourage you to take 10 minutes and just click around the various works and see which of them speak to you (I know, I know, but I promise that they will speak to you in some small way). This comes via Kristoffer’s ‘Naive Weekly’ newsletter, which I know I have recommended here before but which I would like to recommend again as it is a source of such WONDERFUL, odd little links and projects that never fail to interest and please.
  • European Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2022: You know the drill by now. Another photography prize with superb entries slightly let down by a website that simply isn’t very good at displaying photos – still, my tedious kvetching about webwork aside, this is another wonderful selection of images. My particular favourites are the one of the spider on the ceiling which is just all sorts of threatening and could basically be a movie poster for a particular type of arachnophobes’ nightmare, and the one of the kid in the bearskin looking like a real-life Max from ‘Where The Wild Things Are’, but, as ever, I encourage you to pick your own.
  • AdjectiveFinder: I confess to being a bit sniffy about writing, at least in terms of my willingness to solicit help from digital assistants and the like (of course, this sniffiness totally fails to take into account the very genuine feelings of horror and revulsion I occasionally get when I read back my work and I realise how often I reuse certain expressions or phrases – do you reckon Jay Rayner gets the same when he realises he’s once again described a dish as ‘spun through’ with something, or Grace Dent when she suggests for the nth-fcuking-time that a particular plate of food has been ‘titivated’? And do you think there’s anything more hubristic than some no-mark sitting in his pants writing a newsletter that’s read by, at best, a dozen or so webmongs comparing his output to two national newspaper restaurant critics?), but this one seems…quite good. Simply give it a simple adjective and it will suggest a superlative for said adjective – so, for example, ‘very open’ could be ‘exposed’, or ‘very stupid’ could be ‘feebleminded’. This seems to work quite well, and feels like exactly the sort of thing that would be superuseful if incorporated into GDocs.
  • Bauhaus Pedagogy: Now THERE’s an enticing title for you. Still, if you’re in any way interested in the Bauhaus movement, or indeed the general history of design, this is a very good site indeed. “With the project ‘Schools of Departure’, the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation is working on a digital atlas of Bauhaus pedagogy after 1933. This atlas combines research into the global interrelationships of Bauhaus with other twentieth century plans to reform design education. Instead of starting from the notion of “influence” of the Bauhaus based on the premise of the Bauhaus as a “centre” with movement to the non-European “periphery”, the atlas renders visible the diverse interconnections. In doing so, it proposes an interpretation of Bauhaus pedagogy as a constantly changing combination of approaches to education, thus challenging the idea of a self-contained Bauhaus teaching concept which was applied as a model in various schools. Travelling concepts in the context of this project are understood as figures of discourse, each with changing connotations of meaning, that keep the explorations of the different schools and learning collectives in constant exchange through their oscillation between disciplines and cultures.” This is actually a pretty-engaging way of learning about Bauhaus and what it meant and its influence.
  • DallE Album Covers: Specifically, a Twitter account that shares Dall-E generatyed images that would make banging album covers. If you are in a band you should probably consider nicking some of these as they all absolutely slap.
  • Flight Guesser: This is technically a game, but, honestly, unless you’re someone with a VERY detailed knowledge of flight paths then you’re unlikely to get much joy out of it. Still, for those of you who are AVID PLANESPOTTERS (who knows? Maybe one of my twelve readers spends all their spare time when they’re not reading Curios hanging out at the far runway at Gatwick South?) then you might enjoy this game – you get shown a ‘live’ map of planes, and clicking on any of them will let you guess where it’s going from, where it’s going, and even its altitude and the airline in question. Honestly, to my mind this is literally impossible, but, well, fill your boots.
  • You Have Not Died of Dysentery: Finally this week, a browser game which is basically the hoary old classic Oregon Trail but with less dying of dysentery. Your mileage here will largely depend on the extent to which you are familiar with the original, but there are some moderate lols here if you are – and, if not, this is still a better way of passing 15 minutes this afternoon than fiddling around with slides.

By David Alvarez



  • Awkward Spyro Photos:  Spyro the Dragon, looking awkward. I have a special place in my heart for Spyro from back in the day when I did PR for one of the (not very good) games in the franchise and my colleague Andrea had to do a media tour dressed up in a literal ‘Spyro’ costume like some sort of really sh1t mascot (we got a picture of her in at least one terrible consumer magazine so it was totally worth it), and this made me weirdly nostalgic.
  • Phoebe Bridgers Art History: Phoebe Bridgers is very much one of those artists that means nothing to me whatsoever but whose work I am pretty sure I would have adored had I first encountered it in my teens or 20s. Anyway, this is a Tumblr collating her song lyrics overlaid on artworks for PROFOUND EFFECT.
  • The Blorbo Project: There’s a lot of excited chat over on Tumblr ar the moment about how the recent reversal of the nipple ban combined with Twitter’s well-documented Muskian travails could potentially mean the site seeing an influx of FRESH MEAT and returning to its position as a hugely-culturally-significant platform; stuff like this seems to me to be why Tumblr is forever condemned to be ‘a bit niche’. Does this mean anything to you? If so, you possibly want to reevaluate your life in some small way: “Do you have a favorite blorbo? A poor little meow-meow? A cinnamon roll who never did anything wrong in their life? If so, then we’d love to hear from you! Tumblr and Twitter users who are familiar with these terms – or have at least seen them being used! – are invited to take this survey on what they mean, where we use them, and who they apply to.” All websites cause brainworms, but it’s fascinating to see how the specific nature of the brainworms varies from platform to platform.


  • Things We Won’t Keep: From the most recent Naive Weekly newsletter (mentioned and linked above) comes Kristoffer’s Insta account which he is using to sell off bits and pieces of stuff that he and his family no longer want or need. Which is both an interesting use of Insta, and a pleasing insight into the minutiae of someone else’s life as seen through material possessions.


  • Twitter Thinkpiece The First: One of the most annoying things about the Musk/Twitter thing, from my selfish point of view at least, is that, as someone who writes about social media (not here, you understand; elsewhere, for a Real Publication that Actual People read), I now have to listen to what that fcuking man says and, even worse, because of who he is and the sort of people who seemingly enjoy nothing more than tonguing his slack and gamey bunghole, read a whole lot of commentary about WHAT IT ALL MEANS and WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN from some of the worst people on the web. Which is how I found myself reading Matt Yglesias’ Substack – not something I ordinarily do, and on this showing not something I will do again. I am including this link because it’s a neat example of how crap much of the ‘analysis’ about the Musk/Twitter thing is, and how much of said ‘analysis’ comes from the point of view of people who use the site in ONE VERY SPECIFIC WAY and don’t seem to be able to understand or empathise with other users who are not them, So Yglesias, a man who could famously beef with an empty TL, talks a bit about some fairly banal feature tweaks he’d like to see and then comes out with this STAGGERINGLY dumb line which I would like to reproduce in full so you can laugh at it too: “More broadly, I think left-of-center people working in media or creative fields or academia or political advocacy need to get used to the honestly quite banal idea that many successful and capable businesspeople have right-wing political views. The whole point of right-wing politics is that successful businesspeople should pay less taxes, so there’s a natural affinity there.” Take a moment to really ENJOY that final sentence – and that, friends, is why you don’t ever need to listen to anything Mr Yglesias says ever again.
  • Twitter Thinkpiece The Second: Look, you probably don’t need to read anything else about Twitter and Musk, but if you’re a glutton for it then this was one of the less-bad pieces I read in the past week, characterising the whole deal from the point of view of Musk as a poster, and the fact that a large part of the enjoyment of Twitter for a certain part of the userbase is watching people you perceive as enemies swill down huge quantities of what’s commonly known as copium, and how in a weird way there’s a significant part of all of this that is just about that. I know it’s a thesis of mine that’s a couple of years old, but I still reckon it’s true – you can file this under the wider heading of ‘everything everywhere is kayfabe’. .
  • Welcome To Geriatric Social Media: I thought this was a very good piece, though, capturing much of what I feel about the current State Of The Platforms and Where We Go From Here – specifically, the way in which the rise of video as a the de facto medium for social communication (or at least the medium that works for/is preferred by the largest number of people) is fundamentally altering the manner in which we use platforms and how they work, and how this is presaging a fairly fundamental difference in the way in which we present ourselves and communicate. It’s summed up in this paragraph, but I strongly encourage you to read the whole thing and see if it resonates: “This shift still feels like social media—but in the way that YouTube is considered social media. It’s about feeds and broadcasting in a way that, even with individuals, feels very conscious of people as internet brands. What feels much less ascendant is the more personal and informal status-update form of social media, which we’re seeing get funneled into siloed messaging apps, text threads, and chat communities like Discord. The broadcast-focused version of social media, as Munger suggested, is one with people who argue about politics in green-screened “videos that look more like a John Oliver or Tucker Carlson cable-news clip than anything else.” You could say that social media isn’t exactly dying, but bifurcating. Apps like Twitter—which don’t really offer the ability to split status updates and broadcast capacities or switch to short-form video posting—and Facebook—which are essentially so rotted out by network decay—are not fertile ground for this kind of consumption shift.”
  • Meta Myths: I don’t ordinarily link to Ben Thompson because I sort-of assume that all of you probably read him already, but this recent essay about why he is a bit more bullish on Meta’s prospects than perhaps some others is interesting. I broadly agree with much of what he says here – the decline of FB in the West is only part of the picture, it’s still on the upswing in the developing world, it’s still ‘the internet’ for a significant swathe of the world’s population who literally see its products as the only ways to use the web and the framework through which all their digital lives work, and it still has a really good ad product which is largely unmatched in letting anyone reach potential customers for pretty much fcuk-all money – but personally don’t think he’s critical enough of the metaverse stuff and the insane sums of money being invested in a vision that there is currently no evidence of anyone at all wanting outside of the people who want to monetise it. I actually thought that this article on VICE was a slightly-better ‘state of the Meta-verse’ (lol sorry) piece than Thompson’s, but they work quite well as a pair and if you’re in the business of Having Opinions About Big Tech then you might find them useful.
  • A Dose of Rational Optimism:  This is a review of, and discussion around, “Slouching Towards Utopia: An Economic History of the Twentieth Century” by J. Bradford DeLong, and it is GREAT – the piece analyses the book and its central question, to whit: ““Why, with such godlike powers to command nature and organize ourselves, have we done so little to build a truly human world, to approach within sight of any of our utopias?”, and offers a whistlestop overview of the economic trends which characterised the 20th century along with some interesting analysis of how they ended up failing us. SPOILER: the author argues, persuasively, that neoliberalism might not have been the massive success story its proponents like to claim, as summarised here: “The great puzzle of neoliberalism, DeLong astutely maintains, is how it preserved and even consolidated its intellectual grip even as it straightforwardly failed to achieve the social outcomes it promised. Milton Friedman, DeLong notes, insisted that repealing the elaborate economic management apparatus of the New Deal would produce price stability, something close to full employment, and a socially tolerable distribution of income. But none of that actually happened under Reagan and Thatcher. Inequality skyrocketed, as did unemployment. There are true believers who insist that their program wasn’t sufficiently libertarian—Social Security, the NHS, and defense spending all survived. But the retreat on fiscal and regulatory policy was real, and the results were higher unemployment and deeper inequality. That should have been enough to discredit the program. Instead, DeLong notes, Bill Clinton declared the era of big government to be over, and Barack Obama called for deficit reduction with unemployment over 9 percent.” This is a good read and made me actually want to read the book it’s about, which NEVER happens.
  • Get Blogging: One of the BIG THEMES of this year, at least from my vantage point, has been the sense of a reemergence of a sense of the independent web and individual projects, whether as part of the boom in available free tools for people to make words and pictures and videos with or as part of the creeping realisation that mass-reach social platforms are perhaps not the be all and end all of the online experience, and that in fact eschewing them can occasionally have positive effects. So it is that we now have websites like this, designed to encourage YOU (yes, that’s right, YOU! Or your friends or family or children!) to take up the exciting, Olde World mantle of blogger! I felt SO OLD when I realised that the author (quite rightly, I suppose) felt the need to explain the etymology of the term ‘blog’, but otherwise this is a really good, practical overview on how to get started if you want to make like it’s 2007 again and start SPEEKING YOUR BRANES on your own personal corner of the web. I honestly thing that it’s SUCH a good exercise for anyone who writes even a little, and that you could do worse than taking it up simply as a way of forcing yourself to practice, but as someone who’s almost certainly committed literally millions of words to HTML by now I probably would say that.
  • Becoming The AI Model:  Friend of Web Curios Andy Baio (HI ANDY!) speaks to artists who’ve found their work used to train AI models, and discovers that – unsurprisingly! – they have one or two reservations about the way in which their work has been commoditised. But! There’s nothing they can do about it! This article neatly-illustrates one of the central problems that we’re increasingly seeing with questions of training data and the like – that the technologists tend to simply not quite get the extent to which an artist’s style is an extension of them, and that simply ‘taking’ it and making it available to all can feel like a violation in ways that are significantly more complex than simple questions of ‘rights’. Andy quotes one of the model creators he spoke to as saying “artists won’t really have a say in how these models get written or not,” and it’s hard not to sadly agree.
  • Worldbuilding: File this alongside that longread about the emergence of ‘lore’ as a core part of brand identity from earlier this year – this is an essay (from the occasionally very good Dirt newsletter) which touches on the extent to which the creation of ‘worlds’ (wider narratives, multiple touchpoints through which to tell a brand’s story) is an increasingly important part of business. Much of this is the sort of thing which will have older veterans of advermarketingpr nodding sagely, smiling wryly (yes, I know, noone has ever ‘smiled wryly’ outside of really badly-written novels, but it’s a cliche’ that I can’t help but enjoy) and murmuring ‘ahhh transmedia!’ to themselves (although nothing quite as bad as that risible ‘is Taylor Swift building the real metaverse’ piece which I am linking to here solely to point and laugh), but I found the general concept to be persuasive: basically, “Consumer brands, from the iconic (Nike, LEGO, The Coca-Cola Company) to the newly emergent (Duolingo, Ruby Hibiscus Water, Poolsuite), are equally invested in developing product-oriented worlds. It’s the latest evolution in the ubiquitous pursuit of branding. “Brands” — agglomerations of logos, slogans, and signature aesthetics — are limiting, while “worlds” are immersive and interactive. Branding, then, is just the flimsy precursor to worldbuilding. To contend with our ever-slimming attention spans, even advertisements are concocting persistent storylines with fictional characters and backstories to compel consumers into caring. Jake from State Farm has a mini-series on TikTok, where he performs “good neighbor deeds.” If a story becomes exhausted, a franchise can simply explore more of its setting. A character with a singular narrative has limited branding potential. A world, by contrast, offers infinite possibilities.” Is this cheering? No, not particularly but hey ho – just think, even if you don’t ever get that novel written perhaps you can scratch that creative itch by contributing to the development of the Swarfega Extended Brand Multiverse.
  • History Repeating On You: I link once again to perennially-furious media commentator Mic Wright’s ‘Conquest of the Useless’ newsletter, which this week provided this excellent little bit of analysis of How Columns Work in the UK media – specifically, he dissects a recent bit of writing in the Times about how the 00s were a decade in which nothing happened and neatly demonstrates all the ways in which it is demonstrably either factually incorrect, poorly-argued or internally-contradictory. This is a very good piece of explanatory analysis which does the twin jobs of both exposing the flaws in the column and its writing whilst also demonstrating exactly how these things are constructed from the ground up; it provides yet another compelling argument for the increasingly-vital thesis that all UK newspaper columnists should, without exception, be forbidden from doing the job for more than a maximum of six months (or, perhaps preferably, at all).
  • The Moneyball Effect: Or, ‘why using data to make decisions about everything has perhaps not in fact made everything miles better’. This piece starts with sport and then expands to briefly touch on films and music, but I feel SO STRONGLY that this is effectively the case in almost every facet of human endeavour. Analytics leads to statistical bunching around the most effective strategies, which creates homogeneity, lessening edge-cases and generally making everything more boring. If all you do is listen to the data and the data says X is the most likely action to yield the greatest reward, then everyone who listens to that data will take action X – which means everyone will do the same thing. Which, yes, fine, is an appallingly-reductive and simplistic way of looking at things but, equally, it’s also true. I know that ‘data has ruined creativity’ is the sad, dying cry of the old adland warrior, bleeding to death from a thousand (budget) cuts, but, well, it sort-of feels true.
  • The Rise of the Millionaire LinkedIn Influencer: In a weird way this piece feels like an offshoot of the last – because what is the rise of the LinkedInfluencer other than LISTEN TO THE DATA writ large? People discovered that line-break business broetry delivered numbers, and LO IT CAME TO PASS THAT LINKEDIN IS NOW NOTHING OTHER THAN LINE-BREAK BUSINESS BROETRY! What I find most remarkable about this is the very real sense that…there is no value here. The LinkedIn posts are empty of meaning; the people selling the skill of how to write the LinkedIn posts are selling the ability to sell…nothing. The engagements resulting from the posts offer no tangible value whatsoever. There is no THERE there, no HERE here, it’s just some sort of ponzi scheme of bland business bromides as far as the eye can see. I know I’ve said it before, but I wouldn’t be wholly surprised if LinkedIn was revealed to be a two-decade-long performance art piece in a few years’ time.
  • Social Media As Evidence: We return once again to El Salvador! You might be asking yourself “well, we know that the whole Bitcoin thing has gone a bit sideways, fine, but let’s not judge poor Nayib Bukele solely on his absolutely-definitely-in-no-way-gak-addled crypto dreams! How’s he doing on the other key metrics of governance like, say, law and order?” Well I’m sorry to say that the answer appears to be ‘not so well’, as this report in Rest of World outlines, with ‘evidence’ collected from social media increasingly being used as grounds for prosecution. “The rise of social media-driven arrests in El Salvador came about as a result of Bukele’s push to get citizens involved in his crackdown by reporting suspected crime. In May, the Salvadoran police (PNC) opened an official, dedicated phone line to receive tips from citizens who suspected others of being so-called terrorists, as the government refers to gang members.”. Honestly, El Salvador right now is very much in the ‘fictitious setting for the new Far Cry game’ territory, which is all sorts of miserable. Poor Salvadorians.
  • A Throuple’s Geometry: I confess to having in the past been a bit sniffy about the idea of polyamory, not least because of the propensity of people who are into polyamory to go on about it all the fcuking time as though I am supposed to care about the extremely-tedious admin that goes into maintaining your fcuk rota. This article didn’t change my mind, but I did very much enjoy reading this account of the author, their husband, and the Summer they spent inviting a third man into their marriage.
  • Your Mental Illness Beliefs Are Incoherent: I’m increasingly of the opinion that much of the past decade’s focus on mental health – or at least the pastel-coloured ‘saddy waddy’ version of it that’s presented in the media and advertising – has been actively bad for our understanding of, and empathy with, people with serious conditions such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Freddie de Boer agrees with me, as he argues in this excellent essay which I really strongly recommend you read all of but which can broadly be summarised in this paragraph: “So it’s a great time to be an upwardly-mobile Swarthmore graduate with a professional-managerial class job who never shuts the fcuk up about having adult ADHD and whose penalty for failing to take their medication is that they send only 80 emails in a day instead of 100. Those for whom mental illness is a hashtag. It’s a less cool time to be someone with severe paranoid schizophrenia whose medication comes with punishing physical and mental side effects and whose penalty for failing to take that medication is that they start muttering bizarre conspiracy theories about the Jews. For the former, online culture has limitless patience and support. For the latter, who violate identity norms when sick, online culture has only censure and blame. For years now, the severely ill have been pushed further and further into the backseat of the public discourse about mental illness. With the new insistence that mentally ill people never do anything really bad, that process is complete; those who suffer the least from mental illness now blot out the sun.” Seriously, I know I have made this point a few times of late but this is possibly the best articulation I have yet read about how I feel about the whole thing.
  • The Original Star Trek Pitch: OH GOD THIS IS SO GOOD! This is Gene Rodenberry’s original pitch document for the Star Trek TV show, which outlines the themes, characters and general vibe of the show, before Captain James T Kirk had even been thought of and when noone could possibly imagine how many ignorant space ladies William Shatner would end up having to explain the concept of ‘Earth Love’ to. Regardless of whether you care about Star Trek (and I really don’t), this is SO interesting, partly from the point of view of an early look at something that became a global cultural property but also from the perspective of how to package and sell an idea – this tells you EVERYTHING to give you an idea of what Star Trek could be with admirable clarity and economy of style, and frankly you wish your pitches communicated this well.
  • Common Misconceptions: Yes, ok, fine, this is ‘just’ a Wikipedia entry, but it is SUCH a good one and you will learn LOADS and, look, here’s a small taster: “The word “fcuk” did not originate in the Middle Ages as an acronym for either “fornicating under consent of king” or “for unlawful carnal knowledge”, either as a sign posted above adulterers in the stocks, or as a sign on houses visible from the road during the Black Plague. Nor did it originate as a corruption of “pluck yew” (an idiom falsely attributed to the English for drawing a longbow).[92] It is most likely derived from Middle Dutch or other Germanic languages, where it either meant “to thrust” or “to copulate with” (fokken in Middle Dutch), “to copulate” (fukka in Norwegian), or “to strike, push, copulate” or “penis” (focka and fock respectively in Swedish).[92][93] Either way, these variations would have been derived from the Indo-European root word -peuk, meaning “to prick”.[92] See? MAGIC.
  • Fin De Siecle: A lovely essay about San Francisco and decay and maintenance (recurring theme of the latter half of 2022) and money and inheritance and and and. I loved this.
  • Rabbit Test: Finally this week, an absolutely virtuoso piece of short story writing that imho is going to win awards. I don’t want to tell you too much about it, other than to say that you shouldn’t let the fact that it is technically scifi put you off – this is one of the best things I have read all year, genre fiction or no. Honestly, it is SO good, please do take the time to read this one.

By JC Gotting