Webcurios 05/05/23

Reading Time: 37 minutes


I once worked at Buckingham Palace, you know (apologies if I’ve bored you with this before) – they used to advertise Summer jobs in the Guardian back in the day (THE IRONY), and as a result I spent two genuinely-enjoyable months working in the gift shop and the ticket office (you can read more about that experience here, in a now-classic example of Muir juvenilia – it’s good to see that, er, my prose has ‘evolved’ in the 22 years since I wrote that!) – perhaps I would have been better-disposed towards old sausage fingers, old jug-ears, had I been allowed to meet him when he came to visit one day, instead of unceremoniously having my shifts rearranged so that I was not in fact working because, to quote my boss (the fabulously-named Nigel Dickman, who I really hope Googles himself and finds this – NIGEL, YOU WERE A COLOSSAL W4NKER AND EVERYONE HATED YOU, AND YOU ARE STILL THE BEST EXAMPLE OF NOMINATIVE DETERMINISM I HAVE EVER ENCOUNTERED) “we can’t be sure you won’t do something stupid” (he was, in his defence, right).

My only other familial connection to the royal family comes from the fact that my dad was a contemporary of the soon-to-be-king’s at University – apparently he was ‘notably stupid’, but maybe he was just being BITTER AND REPUBLICAN.

Which is all by way of unnecessarily long-winded preamble to this week’s CELEBRATORY SOUVENIR CORONATION NATIONALISM DIVINE RIGHT JAMBOREE CURIOS! I promise you that there are EXACTLY enough links contained in the following emailnewsletterblogtypething to distract you until the whole disgusting orgy of unmerited wealth and tone-deaf pageantry is over and we can go back to wishing they’d just hurry up and sell Buckingham Palace to Peter Thiel or something.

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and they will be first up against the wall come the revolution (fingers crossed, eh?).

By Austin Harris



  • Call Annie: I’ve never had an Amazon Echo or other smart speaker; I’ve been exposed to them, obviously, mainly in the houses of friends who seem to employ the devices solely as a means to keep their sticky offspring occupied for five minutes inbetween driving them to various Improving Social Engagements, but I’ve never seen the appeal of having a surveillance box in my home, feeding aggregated data about my wants and desires and habits back to the Bezosian mothership. I’ve never felt like I’ve been missing out, but the recent rumblings about Amazon’s inevitable integration of natural language processing into the Alexa software has made me momentarily curious as to what it might be like to have an intelligent-seeming digital interlocutor in my kitchen. Whilst you can’t get your hands on that particular version of the future quite yet, you are able to play with Call Annie, a little experiment in AI tools created by one Francesco Rossi and through which you can have a live, practically-realtime voice conversation with an LLM (you have to hand over your phone number, but I can reassure you that so far Francesco doesn’t appear to have handed over my details to criminals; if you’re paranoid, though, just use your work phone! What’s the worst that can happen? NB – Web Curios accepts no responsibility whatsoever for any fraud or damages that may result from the handing over of your work phone number to an entirely random website). This is…look, it’s obviously a bit crap, and it’s still like having a ‘conversation’ with a largely-moronic dullard who won’t, despite my best and most persuasive urgings, agree to tell me how to dispose of the body currently rotting in the compost heap at the end of the garden (jokes!), but, equally, it is FCUKING AMAZING. The latency is reasonably low, the voice model it’s using isn’t horrific, and, honestly, it’s actually sort-of fun to chat to the bot as you go about your business (note to my girlfriend – IT IS NOT AS FUN AS CHATTING WITH YOU), and I can honestly see the appeal of being able to just vocalise questions on the fly and have the AI spit out answers into a hovering window over whatever it is you’re working on. As I seem to find myself saying more and more often in Curios, whilst this isn’t *the* future, it certainly seems like *a* future.
  • Rewrite Iran: Another bit of AI-enabled campaign work (I’m not including the recent ASICS one, mainly because it was EXACTLY the same ‘we’re going to release training data to make the AI machines fairer and more representative, just like we did with stock photography three years ago!’ schtick that I have been suggesting as a lazy PR tactic for at least a year now and I am irrationally annoyed that noone has emailed me to tacitly acknowledge that they stole this admittedly-incredibly-obvious idea from here) – this is a nice use of textual and visual AI, and the inherent biases included in them based on their training sets, to make a real-world political point. To quote the ‘About’ page: “this project was written entirely by AI trained using Iranian history. It tells the story of Iranian women in the year 2026. Although the future it imagines is bleak, you can explore the impact of actions you can take to help re-write the story and create a better tomorrow.” Each chapter of the text takes real history and then presents an imagined future taking you up to 2026, with the text being ‘written’ (in now-classic post-ChatGPT style) as the viewer reads it, to really hammer home the whole ‘THE FUTURE IS BEING WRITTEN BY YOUR CURRENT INACTION’ message – across education, reproductive rights, access to political office and a variety of other areas, the website demonstrates in effective fashion the potential impact on women’s rights of a continuation of the present political regime around sex- and gender-based rights. A nice piece of work, nicely made, and (much as it pains me to point at something good and smart and say ‘hey, you can rip this off!’) the sort of thing whose basic principles can be applied across a bunch of fields to similar campaigning effect imho.
  • Ukraine In CS:GO: Staying with the campaigns for a second, I thought this was a really well-thought-out idea (via Ged, to whom thanks) with some proper ‘insight’ (sorry) behind it. CS:GO, for the uninitiated, is venerable online shooter Counter Strike: Global Operations, a game played on PC which has been around for AGES and which despite not having the shiny annual reskin of a COD or Battlefield still maintains a dedicated playerbase worldwide – many of whom are Russian. This is a map designed for the game’s active modding community, which is modeled on a fairly standard-looking Eastern European conflict zone – except there’s a room on the map which houses a wealth of interactive information detailing the truth of Russian activities during the war in Ukraine, presenting news reports and maps and images of what has ‘really’ been going on (with the obvious caveats about wars, casualties and ‘truth’) designed to reach Russian gamers who might be getting a…somewhat skewed picture of the conflict from domestic news sources. This is a really smart piece of work commissioned by Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat – according to Steam stats, it’s been played nearly 20,000 times in 4 days, which feels like pretty good numbers to me, and it’s (ANOTHER FFS ARE YOU TAKING NOTES?) very neat use of games as a communications medium.
  • Robots Playing Football: Before we leap two-footed into this week’s malodorous pit of AI sludge (sorry in advance, but I will try and make it short), a brief bit of AI-adjacent future magic for you to enjoy. ‘Robots playing football’ has, for years now, been a pretty reliable bit of lightweight internet video comedy – look at them stumble! Look at them shuffle! Fcuk off, Boston Dynamics, you can’t even perfect a simple wall pass what is wrong with you? – and whilst this isn’t going to make any existing pros fear for their immediate futures (although as a Chelsea fan I would happily take any of these lads over the prospect of spending any more time paying João Félix’s wages – sorry, that was a brief digression into FootballChat but it won’t happen again) it is undeniably quite impressive. The robots here (via Ben Matthews) exhibit some pretty sophisticated behaviours, narrowing angles for shots, quick changes of direction, and a frankly suicidal defensive impulse that shows them attempting to save shots with their ‘faces’ wherever possible – perhaps most impressive is the ball control on display, and the fact that at various points in the video linked here they…they seem to sort-of know what they are doing. If we can just pick up the pace on this we’ll all be able to enjoy robo-enabled real-life Speedball II in just a few short years.
  • Pi: ANOTHER LLM! I find myself saying this with tedious regularity (so I can only imagine how bored YOU must all be), but it bears repeating – WOW does the novelty of this stuff wear off quickly! A few short months since we were all getting blown away by ChatGPT and here I am greeting the release of an entirely new natural language AI with barely a shrug. In fairness, Pi doesn’t, from my brief plays with it, seem to do anything hugely different – its blurb suggests that it’s designed to be more ‘conversational’, more of an interlocutor than a magical AI factotum, and the company behind it (called Inflection, and part-owned by Reid Hoffman who you will of course recognise from the performative misery-oubliette that is LinkedIn) is pushing it as a ‘companion’ (although very specifically a non-human one), and it does a reasonable job of talking you through simple questions and decisions…but, honestly, I am not 100% certain what the point is of a digital interlocutor who offers blandly positive bromides about whatever you ask it. Still, if you want to experiment with the imminent future in which everyone is getting their own life support and advice and assistance from a totally different LLM with different weightings and biases and priorities, then you might have some momentary ‘fun’ comparing this with the various GPTs and Poes and Bards and the rest – personally speaking, the idea of having to make allowances for people because their insisting on using a locally-trained, madly-conspiratorial version of AI to guide their every waking action is already making me feel tired and like I might possibly engineer myself a massive cardiac arrest at some point in the next five years just to make this all stop.
  • Blue Willow: Do YOU want all the creative power of Midjourmey but don’t want to have to pay a monthly subscription to get access to the good, reality-bending AI image generating toys? You might want to try Blue Willow, then, which seems, as far as I can tell, to be the next-best alternative (certainly it works better for me than SD or Dall-E) – although it won’t be as good as Midjourney’s new 5.1 update which is out…soon, and you still have to use it via Discord which, sadly, makes me hate it and means that I will likely never touch it again.
  • Microsoft Designer: Microsoft don’t need me to do their PR for them, so I will keep this very short – anything Adobe can do, Microsoft can basically release a broad simulacrum of, and so it is with Microsoft Designer which is their new, currently-in-beta, AI-enabled design studio – it’s worth clicking the link and having a bit of a play around and seeing exactly how easy it is to spin up social ads and banners and slide designs and YT thumbnails. Although – and this is perhaps a small fillip for the low-to-mid-level graphic designers currently sketching out prototypical Sarco Pods in their spare time – it’s worth pointing out that, despite all these tools, I still can’t make anything that doesn’t look like total dogsh1t because I lack even the most basic aesthetic sense of what ‘nice’ looks like, and as such there will always be a role for people like you (tasteful, elegant, refined) to help people like me (ugly, misshapen, an anti-aesthete) ‘see’ beauty. Or at least there will be for about 24m until The Machine gets good at that too.
  • AudioPen: This is an interesting idea – effectively an autosummariser for your voicenotes, AudioPen promises to take whatever garbled nonsense you give it in terms of an audio file and condense it into pithy, effective prose which you can then use wherever and however you fancy. If you’re the sort of person who prefers dictating to typing then this could be genuinely transformative (although there’s also something darkly amusing about a version of this that subtly but undeniably alters the transcripts of what you say to achieve some sort of hidden and potentially-nefarious goal).
  • Dream Date: I’m slightly surprised that I’ve not seen more people trying to make fun promo things out of the current spate of AI tools – something like this, by Canadian agency Reflektor, which lets you create a tiny little virtual corner for you to share with someone special in your life. The idea here is that you can make your PERSONAL PERFECT DATE SPOT using AI – which, obviously, you can’t, but what you CAN do is answer a few questions and generate a nice-looking little 3d model of a slightly-blurry corner unit building that in some small way reflects the answers you gave about, I don’t know, your preferred breakup style, or exactly how into pegging you are. This isn’t very polished, but for some reason I found it very cute indeed and maybe you will too (and, who knows, maybe there’s someone in your life who REALLY wants a gently-indistinct voxel image of a tiny park rendered by an unknowable machine ‘intelligence’).
  • Touring Test: This doesn’t really work, fine, but I am glad that people are trying to make these things – Touring Test is a little AI-enabled guessing game, where you’re asked to identify the city being referred to in each question by picking it on a map. The clues are created by The Machine, and come in the form of a CRYPTIC POEM or haiku or an AI-generated image – and this is where it all falls down, because they either tend to the impossibly-gnomic (“Snow falls on cedars / The tawny owl hoots twice / Come home, Hunter Bill” – NOW TELL ME WHERE YOU ARE, MOTHERFCUKER!) or the slightly-too-obvious (“Look at St Basil! / Majestical onion dome / Fcuk off Vladimir”, etc). Still, I like the fact that people are experimenting with this stuff and trying to experiment with how you can use this sort of ‘creativity’ in fun, ludic ways – see also this light ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’-style text adventure, in which you choose a character and wander through the vaguely Fighting Fantasy-style scenario trying not to get eaten by a werebear, which again doesn’t quite work (it tends to get stuck, and it’s not that deep) but shows promise when it comes to what you might be able to do with this stuff in a few months time.
  • AutoGPT Accounting: What happens if you let AutoGPT take over the management of your finances (or, perhaps more accurately, what happens when you tell Twitter that that’s what you’re doing in pursuit of attention)? Follow this Twitter thread and find out! This is, aside from my slight scepticism as to the extent to which this is 100% real, quite interesting – this is less about getting the AI to suggest speculative stock punts and more about using it to do simple-but-tedious things like root out old subscriptions that you’re not using any more but still paying for, and for drafting letters in sh1tty legalese to help you claw back refunds from recalcitrant vendors. This is, even if only 30% real, properly interesting, and feels like the sort of thing that should have an awful lot of personal finance SaaS products looking nervously over their shoulders (along with everyone else).
  • Explore Mmm: I featured Mmm on here YEARS ago when it first came out – it’s one of those lightweight, ‘build a no-code online presence with a vaguely-00s, slightly post-vaporwave aesthetic’-type services, and thanks to Andy Baio I found out this week that they now have this section on their site which showcases some of the ways people have used the service and the things they have built with it. On the one hand, this is a genuinely-interesting way of seeing some…very idiosyncratic page design in some VERY bright colours; on the other, this is a really lovely way of exploring a bunch of complete strangers’ personal websites and going wandering through other people’s heads (in the digital sense – I’m not suggesting anything invasive here, promise) which, frankly, is very much the whole point of Curios and which I heartily endorse as a pastime.
  • Endangered Crafts: If you’re anything like me (and fcuking hell I hope you’re not) you will have spent much of the first half of 2023 engaged in some deeply-existential questioning of the self – questions such as ‘what is the point of me?’ and ‘will they ever invent The Place of Happy Release?’. If any of you are looking at white collar employment with less certainty than you might ideally like, why not spend some time over the long weekend perusing English Heritage’s ‘List of Endangered Crafts’ and thinking which of these you might like to retrain in to preserve it from extinction? The list features professions and crafts which are either now ‘extinct’ in the UK (meaning they no longer have skilled practitioners in the country who can make the things in question) or at danger of extinction (meaning there are a vanishingly-small number of people who still know how to do or make a thing, and not enough people learning to preserve the discipline in the future) – would you rather be an ‘Account Director’ or would you instead like to retrain as a glass-eye maker? NO FCUKING CONTEST! Seriously, all of these jobs sound better than ‘d1cking around with PowerPoint’ – LET’S BRING THEM BACK! Baggsy training as a corn dolly maker.

By Ada Zielinska



  • 90s Malls & Stores: As the title suggests, this is a link to Americana – still, the 90s aesthetic is the 90s aesthetic, wherever in the world you might have been at the time, and so this frankly incredible motherlode of imagery, I seem to recall reading all found in a single place and uploaded to Imgur as a bit of social history, will resonate with your if you’re a certain age, wherever you are from. There are about 100 photos in here, of empty retail outlets in what are presumably suburban shopping centres, racks of pristine baggy beige suits of the sort popular only for an approximate 3-year period in North America…honestly, you could train a GAN just on these and you’d be able to create an entirely-convincing everlasting video of liminal mallspace. Which tbh feels like an undergraduate art project just WAITING to happen.
  • The Roger: I wouldn’t normally bother including the website shilling Roger Federer’s exclusive range of high-end designer trainers, but there was something about the design of this site that tickled me (quite aside from the fact that, however much of an all-time athletic great you are, there is literally no way in which ‘The Roger’ isn’t a risible name to give to anything, footwear or otherwise) – I think it’s the way that the site features no borders, meaning that you’re presented with an INFINITY OF THE ROGER whichever direction you scroll in, or perhaps the way that there obviously aren’t enough trainers to fill THE INFINITY OF THE ROGER and so some bits are just filled in with some bland inspirational quotes or some slightly-inexplicable looping CG gifs of abstract shapes in motion, all in soothing millennial tones. Why? WHY NOT, THIS IS THE ROGER!
  • WikiScroll: I nicked this from B3ta if I recall correctly (THANKS ROB!), and seeing as I’m admitting that I may as well admit that I am nicking the following observation too – to whit, that this infinitely-scrolling version of Wikipedia (the more you scroll, the more INTERESTING FACTS you will be exposed to) is, as things stand, significantly more interesting than Twitter’s current incarnation and, even better, significantly less full of people who want to pay the world’s richest man a monthly stipend. Honestly, this is SO SO FUN, and proof, if ever any were needed, that EVERYTHING is interesting (apart, let’s be honest, from advermarketingpr).
  • Memogram: This is a bit hard to explain, but I’ll do my best (this usually presages some sort of horrific prose car crash, so apologies in advance for whatever mangled explanation I attempt to foist on you from hereon in). Memogram (via Nag, I think) is a project by Swiss designer Jamy Herrmann (and I think it was their graduation project, and as such is a couple of years old now) which basically adds a small frictional layer to the photographic process – her prototypical Memograp app and device lets users take a photo as normal with their phone, but rather than the image being immediately displayed on the screen, instead the image is interpreted by machine which seeks to determine what the picture is of; that description is then printed out on a tiny printer, along with a code which will allow the user to access the actual image shot at a later date. I LOVE THIS AND I WANT IT IN REAL LIFE – there was another project a few months back that did something vaguely-similar in terms of using machine vision to interpret a photographic image in terms of prompts and then recreate what had been ‘seen’ using a text-to-image generator, and this feels in a similar space; there’s a lot of really interesting stuff to be explored at the intersection of vision and language and the chinese whispers effect of shifting from one to another and back again, and I particularly like the delayed gratification of the ‘you’ll get your photos when I say so’ aspect of the project. There is SO much that springs to mind here – if nothing else, I would love to see a photobooth where rather than providing me with a photo of myself, I instead get a poem written by The Machine based on its interpretation of what it thinks I look like (for example), but that’s a frankly banal idea and I’m sure you can do better. COME ON, DO BETTER FFS.
  • The Wayback Wanderer: A Twitter project (not sure how many times I’m going to be able to type that sentence, which is in itself a miserable thing to type) which, in its own words, “Generates videos of old web pages and media files archived by the Wayback Machine. Posts every 3 hours (except Sundays)”. Have you ever wanted to see a selection of animated gifs displaying how web pages of the past used to work? No, of course not, but who’s to say that that’s not exactly what your life has been missing all these years? NO FCUKER, etc!
  • Eat The Invaders: Not, sadly, some sort of sci-fi call to action in which the people of Earth are asked to band together to protect us from some sort of extraterrestrial takeover by bravely committing to repel the invaders with nothing but the might of our jaws, molars and gastric juices, but instead a US-based campaign which aims to tackle the problem of invasive species across North America by, er, encouraging people to eat them. Here you will find recipes and cooking instructions for all sorts of species that are deemed ‘nuisances’ by people who know about this sort of thing – so if you’ve ever wanted to know how best to prepare an armored catfish, say, or what you might do with the several-dozen river rat corpses that you just happen to be in possession of then, well, you’re in luck! There’s a whole load of stuff here that isn’t specifically animal-related, so even the non carnivores amongst you can find useful things here should you feel like going full forager, and whilst many of the species here listen won’t crop up in your Home Counties garden (I appreciate there probably aren’t too many wild pigs running riot in Kent) you might find some useful foraging tips (or, just maybe, this is the time when you finally do something about those fcuking squirrels and eat the evidence).
  • All Of The US TV Memorabilia: This is a BIG auction – if there was a TV show made in the US at some point in the past 100 years, chances are there’s something from said show available to buy at this auction taking place in the next month or so. You want, er, literally half the set of the sitcom ‘Cheers!’? YOU GOT IT! You want an actual jukebox from Beverley Hills 90210? GREAT! As you might imagine, a lot of this stuff isn’t cheap – still, what price sitting at the same place as Norm and Cliff and the guys? So what if your wife doesn’t understand? There’s a lot of this that has what I believe the kids call ‘strong divorced man energy’, to my mind at least, but that doesn’t mean it’s not fun to browse.
  • The Landscape of Biomedical Research: On the one hand, unless you’re specifically involved in the field of biomedical research you’re unlikely to get a HUGE amount out of this beyond the very superficial; on the other, I am an absolute sucker for these datavisualisation exercises which offer a zoomed-out picture of an entire field and the sub-areas that comprise it, and this is no exception. This is a dizzying and weirdly-beautiful exercise in mapping the different topic areas covered by biomedicine, and demonstrating how the overall locus of the discipline has shifted and changed over the years – in particular, it’s an interesting way of exploring the preoccupations of science over time (as evidenced by everything published in 2020/21, for example).
  • The Anti-Subscription Software Catalogue: Do you need to use software products for creative ends? Do you want to perhaps not have to pay the eye-gouging sums requested of you by the robber barons at Adobe, etc? “This website is a catalogue of non-subscription, free, open-source, and one-time fee software — which can provide relief from monopolized and financialized platforms. Why? The subscription cost can rise at any time, implement region-based barriers, and use deceptive design interactions to entice with tiered features. Say no to creative rent! Just A-S-C instead.” It’s either that or get a cracked version of Creative Suite off the darkweb, and this is LOADS less illegal.
  • Melton Barker: This is a WONDERFUL piece of weird history – in the 20thC in North America, a gentleman called Melton Barker travelled the country, getting small local communities to stump up for the production of a film in which they would star. “From the late 1930s into the early 1970s, Dallas native, Melton Barker and his company, Melton Barker Juvenile Productions, traveled all over the country – from Texas and New Mexico to North Carolina and Indiana – filming local children acting, singing, and dancing in two-reel films that Barker titled The Kidnappers Foil.” The script was always the same, the films were identical other than the protagonists and the location of the shoot, and, from what I’ve been able to glean, Barker wasn’t a crook or a conman and seemingly didn’t make a mint fleecing anyone – the monies he took in covered the cost of the production and of his crew, but it seems that in the main he was motivated by a desire to bring THE MAGIC OF FILMMAKING to the people. There’s something fascinating, to my mind at least, about ‘The Kidnappers Foil’ as some sort of cinematic ‘3’33”’, infinitely reinterpretable by an infinite number of casts, and I quite like the idea of trying to create something similar for a modern audience, a single scripted short that is made and remade and by everyone in their own way as part of a collective global filmmaking project…it would end up being Steamed Hams, or the Bee Movie, wouldn’t it? Although I personally would lobby HARD for a dramatic rendition of ‘How Is Babby Formed?’.
  • Klack: Have your paymasters unreasonably demanded that you start coming back to the office on the regular rather than sitting happily in your pants at home? Do you use a Mac? GREAT! Ensure that you are never invited back in to an open-plan coworking environment ever again by installing Klack on your machine, which will make your otherwise-silent, state-of-the-art Apple-designed input device make the same sort of clacketty-clacking sound of a heavy mechanical keyboard. You’ll be back home in your scanties in no time at all.
  • Lollyphile: I appreciate that the name of this website doesn’t *scream* ‘reputable’, but let me assure you that it’s ‘lolly’ in the ‘Chupa Chups’ sense rather than in the unpleasant and not-entirely-ok hentai fashion. Lollyphile is a purveyor of gourmet lollipops, which may not sound that exciting until you take a look at the flavours and realise that now, finally, you can access the inevitable taste-sensation that is the ‘Blue Cheese and Honey’ lollipop, or even the ‘Mixed Charcuterie’ tasting pack that includes those and some bacon-flavoured suckers just like it’s 2011 all over again. They deliver internationally, so if you want to play a really expensive prank on your children (or, alternatively, if you want to spend upwards of £20 finding out exactly how vile a cheese-flavoured lollipop actually is for yourself) then GO FOR YOUR LIFE.
  • Trains: I love this. As far as I can work out, the person behind this site lives in a place where they can see a LOT of trains pass by from their window; using a camera and (I think) a Raspberry Pi or similar, they’ve created a setup where the system automatically clocks when a train is coming into shot and proceeds to take photos of its whole length, automatically stitching them together and posting them to this site, which then becomes an automated record of every single train that passes by each day. You can see them either as the stitched, full-length trains, or alternatively as animated gifs of their passing, and I genuinely love the fact that I can click this link and see dozens of gifs of trains passing a window a whole world away, practically in realtime, Pointless and magical and perfect.
  • Walking Japan: Pretend it’s the early days of lockdown one all over again with this ‘walk around Japan’ simulator – select a place and lean back and relax, as you get taken on a first-person walking tour of Osaka or Fukushima or Nara, all accompanied by a soundtrack of (frankly pretty generic) lofi hiphop. This is genuinely rather nice, not least because it’s not just Tokyo and as such is a bit more aesthetically varied than much of the ‘walk Japan’ stuff you tend to see often is.
  • Classical Music Only: This is interesting – the companion site to a popular YouTube channel (you can, I imagine, guess its subject), this provides a really useful way of exploring the classical genre via a selection of curated and guided recommendations put together by the community that has built up around the channel over the years – the site itself is about 6 years old, but as far as I can tell the YT channel’s been going for a decade and is pretty big in the classical space. As a means of spelunking around in the not-hugely-welcoming world of ‘proper music for adults’ (as I still can’t help but think of classical music as a genre, pathetically enough) this is genuinely useful, and there are SO many different playlists and genre introductions to explore should you want a more guided way into the field.
  • EyeCandy: This is SO USEFUL – EyeCandy is a website that offers you practical visual references to all the different camerawork tricks that directors employ and which you will have seen around but may not know the names of. You want examples of dolly shots? Of crash-zooms, of transition rolls, and of about 50 other different techniques I’ve never heard of? GREAT! This is a truly wonderful repository of stuff, and has the added benefit of being presented as sort of infinite scroll collage of gifs, which means you can really immerse yourself in the visuals if you so desire. Honestly, next time you’re working on cutting together an entirely pointless and skullfcukingly-tedious agency promo, why not spend a bit of time scouring this and suggesting ‘helpful’ creative techniques the poor editor might want to incorporate to ‘liven it up a bit’? They’ll thank you, promise.
  • Notes On Love: This is, as ever, one of several links lifted from Naive this week – Notes On Love is just beautiful and to be honest I think you should just click the link and read the words and see how you feel. I could watch this all day, and honestly it’s all I can do right now (it’s 9:50am, for those wondering) not to just abandon this edition of Curio halfway and float in the emo of it all.
  • The Museum of Screens: OH GOD THIS IS THE BEST DIGITAL MUSEUM I HAVE EVER SEEN! I don’t really want to overexplain this as it’s TOO LOVELY, but know that a) it’s arranged in the manner of a first person shooter, as though that FPS was rendered in ASCII; b) it’s an homage to browser games; you wander through the museum and you can look at exhibits to learn more about them, and in each case you can click through and play the games featured; c) but, honestly, it’s so much more than that – please do just click and explore and wander around, and see what you find. I can’t stress how utterly lovely this is, and how much better it is than every single metaverse gallery experience I have seen in the past couple of years (except YOURS – yours was great, obvs).
  • Sweet: A browser-based platform game which I *think* is a promo toy to peddle some Canadian sweets, but, honestly, who cares? Bounce and collect coins and let this momentarily distract you from the fact that we’re once again going to miss an opportunity to off a Royal parasite (in fact, a whole nest of them) this weekend.
  • Air Garden: Finally this week, a pleasingly-gentle clicker game with a light graphical layer – grow plants! Pop bubbles! Clean the air! Make everything better! Ah, if only it were that simple. Still, this is fun and diverting and will give you something to nervously fiddle with as you listen to your partner pledge allegiance to the crown and you contemplate whether to leave them or whether to murder and then leave them.

By Thomas Schostock



  • Craigslist Horses: OK, so I *think* that this is a fine link and that all the horses are ok, but, equally, I get the impression that if you’re a big Horse Person then some of the photos here might upset you a bit so, er, caveat emptor and all that. Still, for the rest of you, Craigslist Horses exists to present photos of horses being sold on Craigslist – horses which, judging by these pictures, have either been poorly photoshopped or who have been, charitably, sired by donkeys. Some of the proportions on these animals! How do they stand?! Also, Americans, WHAT ARE YOU FEEDING YOUR HORSES THEY ARE NOT SUPPOSED TO BE THE SAME SIZE AND SHAPE AS A DODGE PICKUP TRUCK FFS! Looking at this I start to fear the possibility of a retaliatory equine uprising.


  • The Monterey Bay Aquarium: I appreciate that other aquariums are available, but, well, I went to Monterey Bay when I was small and my dad lived in San Francisco, and they let me pet a starfish and as such it will always have a special place in my heart. This is the Aquarium’s Insta feed, and frankly I’d be including this even were it not for the spurious personal connection due to the fact they post images like this (best comment on that, by the way, is 100% “Reminds me, I should call him”).
  • Jadikan: Whilst on the one hand there’s nothing new per se about long-exposure light photography, the work here is rather lovely and (I personally think) a little more creatively interesting than I tend to see; the graffiti-style stuff in particular is lovely imho.


  • The Internet Isn’t Meant To Be So Small: On the one hand, I’ve posted enough pieces here over the years in praise of the small/local/’cosy’ (but fcuk me do I HATE the word ‘cosy’ in its modern incarnation) web that you perhaps might not feel that you need to need another piece extolling the virtues of exploratory browsing and homegrown webwork; on the other, given the continuing Bonfire Of The Media that’s currently ongoing, and the fact that we’re surely on the cusp of another big slowdown of independent writers and creators as soon as everyone realises that keeping up a publishing schedule is HARD WORK and largely-thankless, it feels worth repeating – also, I thought the final paragraph of this was excellent and probably the closest to a sort of ‘manifesto’ for Curios anyone’s ever come: “It is worth remembering that the internet wasn’t supposed to be like this. It wasn’t supposed to be six boring men with too much money creating spaces that no one likes but everyone is forced to use because those men have driven every other form of online existence into the ground. The internet was supposed to have pockets, to have enchanting forests you could stumble into and dark ravines you knew better than to enter. The internet was supposed to be a place of opportunity, not just for profit but for surprise and connection and delight. Instead, like most everything American enterprise has promised held some new dream, it has turned out to be the same old thing—a dream for a few, and something much more confining for everyone else.”
  • The Motion of the Octopus: One of the most pleasing oddities of the past decade or so of online life has been the way in which we’ve all basically seemingly come round to the idea that octopi are, frankly, MENTAL, probably the most remarkable creature we share a planet with (at least from the point of view of…otherness) and very much not the sort of thing we ought to be chowing down on with impunity (which is a shame, as they are sadly VERY DELICIOUS – but I have promised myself that I really shouldn’t eat anything that is arguably smarter than I am, and I am going to try and stick to that dammit). Anyway, this is a SUPER-interesting piece about the octopus and how it moves, and, subsequently, the extent to which questions of physicality and motion and interrelation with space determine conceptions of time and being and self…look, it does get QUITE CHEWY in the final third, this, but if you’ve ever spend a stoned evening wondering “how exactly would the course of human history, and the way in which we interrelate to not only each other but the wider physical world in which we exist, and indeed concepts such as time and The Self, have played out were we to have had not just two arms but three?’ then you will feel RIGHT at home with this excellent article in Aeon Magazine.
  • The Afterlife of Go: I’ve featured Frank Lantz’ thinking on AI in here before, but this is another smart essay about what we should worry about and what we shouldn’t, from someone who is happy to be uncertain and whose thinking aloud about a lot of this I am very much enjoying. It’s broadly-speaking about AI and work and how those two things are going to intersect and what will happen to us as a result, but it’s also more broadly on how our lack of understanding of how these tools work and what they can do also means that we have blind spots about what they can’t in fact do – witness, as Lantz does, the example of AlphaGo, the human-crushing DeepMind-created Go machine which, it’s been discovered very recently, is completely blind to a particular style of play exploit and whose superiority and dominance over human players has as a result to some extent been negated. The point Lantz is making here is that, in his words, it took us 7 years to work out that God is in fact in some small-but-significant ways a moron – the extent to which that gives you hope or makes you feel really scared about the short term applications of all this VERY NASCENT and poorly-understood tech will, of course, vary.
  • A Completely Non-Technical Explanation of AI: You don’t need to understand how this stuff works, to be clear, not least because NOONE REALLY DOES. That said, it is helpful to have a few useful phrases under your belt that demonstrate that, yes, you understand that The Machine is not really ‘thinking’ (and to avoid saying ‘stochastic parrot’, which has rapidly gone from ‘a smart heuristic’ to ‘something that guarantees that if you say it I will probably stop listening to you’ in record time) – this is a really simple and effective explanation of the principles that underlie AI models, and there’s a specific additional link at the bottom of the piece which deals with LLMs specifically. This really is worth reading, and sending around your office, because I guarantee that we’re about to get to the point where anyone who knows even a tiny but about this sort of thing is going to start wincing REALLY HARD at all the ways in which it’s explained and interpreted appallingly by people who don’t.
  • Why Chatbots Are Not The Future: Or, more specifically, ‘why a conversational interface is necessarily a limited and imperfect means of issuing precise instructions to a machine, and why as a result it’s unlikely that we’re going to keep interacting with this tech in this fashion forever’. There’s some really interesting thinking in here about interface design in general, and about feedback and guidelines and constraints, and some rough pointers towards a ‘better’ or at least more effective interface for these tools and toys. As the author, Amelia Wattenberger, writes, “When I go up the mountain to ask the ChatGPT oracle a question, I am met with a blank face. What does this oracle know? How should I ask my question? And when it responds, it is endlessly confident. I can’t tell whether or not it actually understand my question or where this information came from. Good tools make it clear how they should be used. And more importantly, how they should not be used.” BONUS ARTICLE: this is interesting, on all the things for which a chat interface simply won’t work and where we’re going to need to find other ways to make it work for us.
  • Prompt Engineering Techniques: Obviously, though, despite my long-standing and still pretty strong belief that ‘prompt engineering’ is not, in fact, a job of the future, it is increasingly something it’s useful to be not-terrible at here in the sh1tty present. As such, this piece on the Microsoft website about tips and techniques to get the most out of the AI increasingly-embedded in its Office suite and search product is pretty useful – this is practical and clear and directional, and whilst it’s also INCREDIBLY FCUKING BORING that’s probably about par for the course given the fact it’s work. This is particularly good at educating you on the hows and whys of creating multipart, multilevel tasks for The Machine, and on how you can prime it pre-query to direct its outputs.
  • The Carnage of Digital Media: It feels nice to be linking to a piece in an ACTUAL, NEW(ish) PRINT MAGAZINE for this – this is an article in The Fence, one of the few new media properties of the past few years to feel like it might actually make a go of it, although that might be down to a particular media bubble it occupies), all about its author’s experience working at ‘a prominent digital media company’ and what the past few years of mad, VC-backed trafficchasing and clickthirsting felt like from the inside (horrible, is the tl;dr here). It’s quite hard not to look at this from the outside and see it as a maddening concatenation of terrible business decisions – yes, ok, fine, everyone was screwed by Facebook and The Algorithm (please, no more, no more), but, equally, YOU SPUNKED SO MUCH MONEY, ALL OF YOU! If you want another (largely similar) perspective then there’s also this one – apologies for the site it’s on, but this doesn’t appear to be frothingly-fashy or transphobic, and you can always put it through a proxy if you don’t want to give Unherd the numbers – in which a former foreign correspondent for VICE News reminisces about the weird days in which you’d had dispatches from 2CB parties in Catford nestling uncomfortably next to dispatches from a Mujahideen training camp. VICE, as you will doubtless have read this week, is (after Buzzfeed News last week) the latest digital property looking shaky – and based on this news, about the proliferation of AI ‘news’ sites springing up left right and centre, the outlook for digital news media doesn’t necessarily look fantastic here in 2023. If you can stomach EVEN MORE media industry navelgazing then this is an interesting – if tediously-US-centric – overview of the digital media boom of the past decade or so, from which the overriding impression I get is…wow, none of this really mattered at all, or left anything resembling any sort of cultural footprint whatsoever, did it?
  • The AI Elections: As the UK basks in the momentary joy of our traditional mid-electoral cycle pastime of ‘giving the Tories a kicking in the local elections before preparing to vote the cnuts in again when it really matters like the idiot fcuking sheep we all continually prove ourselves to be’, we can all begin excitedly looking forward to 2024, a year that’s set to make even previous, mad electoral cycles look…hinged. A combination of big elections on both sides of the Atlantic, and generative AI tech that will have been in the wild for 18m by that point and which will, if current progress is anything to go by, be capable of stuff we can’t quite imagine yet, means that all the various mad and bad actors attempting to engage our eyeballs and subvert our attention for gains pecuniary or political will have an absolute field day. This piece is a bit scaremongery, and a bit WHAT IF????-ish, fine, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing to do a bit of catastrophic scenarioplanning every now and again. Just to give you an idea, Sir Martin ‘Stumpy’ Sorrel was on Radio4 this week offering his considered opinion about AI, and his main thing was ‘infinite, hypertargeted hyperpersonalisation’ – can we please make sure that Carole Cadwalladr doesn’t get wind of this, please, otherwise we’ll never hear the fcuking end of it.
  • The Road to Failure: Resources that collect pitches and presentations from brands that have gone on to become unicorns are ten-a-penny – I think this is the first time I’ve seen a collection of presentations and documentation from businesses that turned out to be massive, spectacular failures. Depending on your perspective, this is either an incredible learning resource or simply a chance to laugh at how many very rich people had the wool pulled over their eyes by Theranos and SVB (although tbh the majority of the documents in here are written in a language that is so far removed from that which I speak that I barely recognise it as English, so given I can’t really understand 99% of what’s in these presentations I can’t really claim any sort of superiority here).
  • Building AI into Games: The main link here is to a story about hacking GPT into Skyrim so that the game’s NPCs can interact with the player using a natural language conversational interface – it’s obviously janky and a bit broken, but it hints at SO MUCH potential for game design and ‘fuzziness’ – the idea that a designer can set some hard and fast ‘truths’ within a world (actors, some set traits, a goal, an obstacle) and then have everything around that as emergent narrative through conversation feels…amazing, frankly. If this sort of thing interests you and you have the time, inclination and spare £20 then you may also enjoy this game, called The Kraken Wakes, which, according it its blurb, is an ‘exclusive adaptation of John Wyndham’s epic 1950s sci-fi/horror novel. It uses ground-breaking conversational gameplay: you type or talk to the game’s characters in natural language, influencing their actions and emotions, and shaping the story as it unfolds. Devise eye-catching headlines, deliver knock-out press conference performances, and negotiate with governments in your mission to uncover the truth about the fireballs before it’s too late.’ I’ve not tried it, and the few reviews are curious rather than raving about it, but this feels very much like the cusp of something quite amazing.
  • Streaming, TV and the Writer’s Strike: On the one hand, what do we care if US screenwriters are on strike? On the other, have you tried watching UK terrestrial television recently (to be honest, it’s only while waiting for Married At First Sight: Australia to start but even that’s enough)? This Vanity Fair overview of the current situation gives a slightly-damning picture of (and it’s…frankly worrying how often I find myself typing this, really) an industry that really had no fcuking idea what it was doing when the times were good, and a bunch of people at the top of the pyramid who didn’t really understand the economics of the businesses they were purported to be running AT ALL. I am very much looking forward to seeing the fruits of all the inevitable experiments in AI-generated scripts that are currently being undertaken in Hollywood studio basements.
  • The Continuing War On Bongo: In a week in which the bongo drought in Utah began, it’s worth also being aware of this smaller story – Reddit is being pressured to get rid of its (many, many) NSFW communities by conservative campaigners in the US, which is unlikely to happen anytime soon but which is another interesting canary in the coalmine of ‘wow, this reactionary conservatism movement really is picking up steam, eh? Where will it all end?’ Regular readers will perhaps recall my regular protestations that I don’t really ‘do’ bongo (fwiw it’s not that I think there’s anything wrong with it, it’s more that, fundamentally, sex is like Tetris; there are only a set number of pieces and ways in which they can fit together, and watching someone else play it quickly becomes a lot more boring than playing it yourself), but despite that I would prefer to live in a world in which those that do want to watch various forms of sticky fcukplay on a screen of their choosing can do so in a way that ensures that it’s safe and fun and legal and non-exploitative for all involved. Whilst this is obviously a US issue and a particular North American strain of puritanical madness, I continue to repeat that this stuff happens over here too eventually and if you think that this current crop of weirdo culture war fetishists wouldn’t jump on this bandwagon too if they thought it was a vote winner then, well, you’re a moron.
  • Cringe Is Everywhere:Or, ‘why irony is dead’, or ‘why everything is just blandly positive and nothing has any edges anymore’ or ‘why I have really come to loathe the use of the exclamation mark at the end of a lower-case sentence on social media as a mark of ‘i am just a smol bean speaking my feelings!’ sincerity’ – this is by Katie Notopoulos and is all about how SINCERITY IS IN, and frankly I’m including this more because it’s feels TRUE than because I think it’s a particularly good piece (she totally ignores the fact that irony and detachment were in many respects killed by DFW, beloved of GenZ hipsters and ironists and yet who repudiated that irony in favour of REALLY CARING about stuff, in many respects the most lasting legacy of his work imho). Aside from anything else, whilst sincerity is lovely for the person who is doing the ‘being sincere’,  it tends to be VERY BORING for everyone else, leaving as it does few angles or edges to bounce off. Or maybe I’m just a hateful, miserable old cnut.
  • Spending A Week With TikTok News: I thought this was more interesting than expected – for Politico, Derek Robertson writes about a week spent consuming news through TikTok and what it ‘taught him’ (*sighs*) about The Present And The Future. There’s a pleasingly-cliche’-free core to this – Robertson acknowledges that, yes, you can actually get decent reporting on TikTok and it can be a genuinely creative communications medium for publishers and news organisations that embrace it rather than just being The Big Stupid App – but what I found most interesting was the observations about the atemporality of the platform. The algo-driven nature of content discovery and the lack of datestamps mean that ‘news’ is impossible to contextualise in time. Is this a new protest, or an old one? Is this a new outrage, or the same old same old? Do I need to be angry about what’s happening now, or regretful about what happened in the past? As with all this stuff, though, it’s hard not to share the closing conclusion that we’re shortly about to split into an even more fragmented multi-tiered and insanely-personalised set of ‘realities’ than we’ve ever had before; as Robertson writes, “One can quite easily imagine a world where the societal lotus-eating that TikTok inspires has chipped away at not just our already-flagging idea of a “shared reality,” but any shared sense of the “present” itself — leaving that “present,” as it stubbornly persists, firmly under the control of those more engaged IRL.”
  • Free IPPZ: Francisco Garcia writes in the LRB about IPPs, or Imprisonment for Public Protection notices, which, as he explains, “were introduced in the mid-2000s by David Blunkett, at the peak of New Labour’s ‘tough on crime’ posturing. Indefinite sentences would supposedly protect the public from the most dangerous and violent offenders by setting a minimum tariff but no maximum. Ninety-six offences qualified for the sentence, from GBH and robbery to various sexual crimes. Once the minimum term had expired, the Parole Board would decide if the offender was ready to be released (with 99 years of strict probation to follow). They were, in theory, only to be used in exceptional cases.” It’s unlikely to come as any surprise at all to anyone familiar with the recent tenor of UK Home Office policy that they have not, in fact, only been used in ‘exceptional’ cases, and that instead there are hundreds of people being kept in indefinite custody in the UK as a result of a nebulous policy deployed with what looks from the outside like a callous lack of care and regard. One of those stories that you read and feel genuine anger at the fact that you only learned about it in a small article in a low-circulation literary magazine – honestly, sometimes, this fcuking country.
  • The Loneliest Road in America: On ketamine and love and roads and family and power and control and and and. This is very good indeed, and not as heavy as my short description might have made it sound.
  • Whiting: A short story about six breakfasts. It’s very short, but I will give you the whole second para here because it’s superb and I want you to click through and read the whole thing: “My father said, “Every Sunday morning while your mother lies across town dying, I will make you fried whiting, grits, and cat’s head biscuits to make up for telling a judge that you weren’t mine. Something to fill your thirty-three-year-old belly for that time I tried to pass you off as my little sister to my new girlfriend, when you were three. A hearty breakfast for those times when you were in grade school and I took you to bars and fed you french fries with ketchup, as you fed quarter after quarter into the pinball machine while I drank bottle after bottle of pink Champale. Some Southern hospitality for asking you to call other women Mama. A home-cooked meal for that time I got you a car but didn’t make the payments so the repo man tracked you down at college and took it back. Something to stick to your ribs for those times when I said I would come pick you up, take you to the fair, give you lunch money, but didn’t.”” So good.
  • Cooking The Pandemic: Last of the longreads this week is this beautiful piece, in which Maya Bernstein-Schalet writes about the meals that tell the story of her pandemic experience, the meals cooked and eaten together and those cooked and eaten alone – this is food writing and memory writing and family writing and while I hate saying stuff like this because, honestly, it makes me fcuking cringe, it’s nourishing as a meal.

By Dana Stirling