Webcurios 08/09/23

Reading Time: 32 minutes

On the one hand, he is a terrorist and as such probably *ought* to be incarcerated; on the other, it’s hard not to cheer a little bit for a prison break so perfectly-filmic in its execution; I’m putting a quiet tenner on Ezra Miller to play Daniel Khalife in the inevitable 2024 Apple TV adaptation.

Anyway, how are you? How has your week been? Have YOU achieved anything as impressive as Daniel? No, I didn’t think so – still, there’s two days left, though, so FOCUS FFS. I have had something of a trying morning writing this as a result of being a *bit* tired and hungover; I went to see Fesshole Live last night which was a lot of fun and which I very much recommend should it ever come to your neck of the woods, but which left me with the overriding impression that there is something terribly wrong with the nation’s bowel health – YOU SHOULD NOT ALL BE SH1TTING YOURSELVES WITH SUCH REGULARITY, PEOPLE OF ENGLAND! IT IS NOT NORMAL!

(I promise that that’s the last reference to inadvertent bowel movements in this week’s newsletter. Sorry.)

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios and if any of you would like to unburden yourself of something that’s weighing heavily on your conscience then feel free to tell me EVERYTHING.

By Jeremy CSJ



  • DJ Phonetic: Older readers of an Anglo persuasion are probably familiar with puerile (but very funny) ‘comic for adults’ Viz (for those of you fortunate enough not to have spent your formative years consuming the swill that passes for English popular culture: Viz is a long-running magazine in the UK which can best be described as ‘in the style of a classic postwar comic strip for children, but featuring characters who are more likely to carry their outsize testicles around in a wheelbarrow (no, really) than they are to play conkers’; there, you’re all caught up) which for several years in the 90s and possibly beyond featured a character called ‘Ravey Davey Gravy’ who was so addled by pills and techno that they heard repetitive beats wherever they went and as such would find themselves doing the ‘big fish, little fish’ thing in all sorts of unlikely places (it’s better in print, honest). Which is by way of a SEAMLESS intro to this wonderful link, found via Andy, which proves that literally ANYTHING can be a beat – even, er, the historically significant utterances of great men and women from history! DJ Phonetic is a really neatly-made webtoy which describes itself as ‘a beatbox with historical speech’ – taking audio of significant speeches from significant individuals from US history, and using software to identify and isolate specific phonemes from said speeches and letting you use them to make beats with. So you can create a nice, skittering little number from the words of JFK, or something more sinuous out of Richard Nixon’s forked-tongued utterances; clicking different words in the speech transcript selects different elements of the speech to integrate into the loop, meaning each sample lets you make a huge range of different sounds. Honestly, this is LOTS of fun to play around with and made me really want a version of this that uses Hansard records and ParliamentTV archives to spin up something comparable from the UK Parliamentary record. Who wouldn’t want to make some drum’n’bass out of the speechifying of Michael Fabricant? NO FCUKER, etc!
  • Our TR2 Remake: Frame-by-frame community remakes of iconic (sorry) films are a long-running internet ‘thing’ (most recently seen as part of MSCHF’s crowdsourced reimagining of The Bee Movie (they’re now doing John Wick, fyi)), but now they are getting the AI treatment – this project is looking for artists to bring the MAGIC OF GENERATIVE AI to bear on the James Cameron classic, with the film being split into 50 segments and a different artist being assigned to bring each to life using what will almost inevitably end up being a variety of different custom-trained versions of Stable Diffusion and some animation software. As far as I can tell they are currently short by about 20 artists, so feel free to share this with everyone you know so that humanity can one day get the vaguely-flat-looking remake of a 30-year-old classic film that we doubtless deserve.
  • HyundAI: Where ARE all the AI-enabled advermarketingPR projects? Are you not all including at least one AI-juiced idea in every single pitch? WHY ARE YOU NOT MILKING THE ZEITGEIST DRY?!? Well, if this latest bit of digital promo from Hyundai is anything to go by, it’s because it’s still quite hard to make anything public facing and safe out of this tech without it also being fundamentally tedious and underwhelming and, well, just a bit sh1t. This website exists to promote some new SUV or another – because it’s really important that you have a vehicle the size of a small tank to do the school run and go to the garden centre! – and lets YOU, the lucky user, use THE MAGIC OF ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE to explore the CREATIVE AND ARTISTIC WORLD of,  er, ‘the all-new Hyundai Santa Fe’. The user experience involves you either being asked to select from a series of adjectives to generate your own magical image of, er, a big car, or alternatively lets you input whatever esoteric, imaginative prompt you can think of to generate your magical, fantastical vehicular ‘art’ – except, not unreasonably, there are some pretty hefty guardrails in place to stop you attempting to make anything too ‘brand unsafe’, meaning that my request for an image that invoked ‘a meaty landscape of bone and viscera’ was unceremoniously rejected. So effectively you’re forced into ‘imagining’ only the anodyne and dull, and the resulting images are about as exciting as you’d expect them to be based on this sort of policing – there’s also something odd about the outputs and the way there only seem to be about a dozen different positions that the car ends up in, which makes me wonder whether the ‘AI’ here is being applied only to the backgrounds. Basically this is…pretty sh1t tbh (I apologise to the team involved, should any of them happen to stumble across this ‘review’, but they can console themselves with the fact that they are probably all young and have exciting careers before them whereas I am not, and am reasonably convinced that I might be entirely unemployable by 2025 at the very latest), but at the very least means that the bar for ‘branded uses of generative AI’ work is still snake-belly-low.
  • Vispunk: I am struggling slightly to see the name of this company as anything other than ‘Vi Spunk’, but that small issue aside this looks like a decently-useful tool for any of you who want a bunch of reasonably-powerful AI-enabled image manipiulation tools but who have neither the budget nor the inclination to pay Adobe whatever insane licensing fee they are currently asking for their Creative Suite and all the fun Firefly AI tools that it now comes bundled with. Vispunk (could you not change that ‘s’ to a ‘z’? Please? Just for me?) is basically a composite image generator, which combines a few different elements into one – you can sketch out rough shapes, ask the AI to ‘imagine’ them as specific elements and then drag and drop those onto a canvas. As ever, this stuff is FAR easier to understand if you just click the link and play around with it – I don’t think this is professional quality by any means, but as a way of producing quick-and-dirty mockups of stuff it strikes me as pretty useful (and also it doesn’t need you to log into anything to use it, which is no small thing for these AI toys).
  • Keplar: I’ve looked at this site several times this week, and each time I am left thinking ‘no, hang on, I must have got the wrong end of the stick here, this CAN’T be what I think it is, that’s just too mad and stupid and noone in their right mind would ever pay for this service, let alone make actual business decisions based on the ‘insights’ it delivers’ – AND YET. Keplar is very much a nascent idea – the ‘company’ is a homepage and a ‘sign me up for more info’ form and, as far as I can tell, nothing else at present – but WHAT an idea it is! AI-POWERED VIRTUAL CUSTOMERS ON WHICH TO TEST YOUR PRODUCTS AND CONTENT! Yes, that’s right – why risk going to market with a product or packaging or social assets without first using an army of apparently-AI-enabled ‘virtual customers’ to test said products and content first? As far as I can tell, the idea here is that you will use Keplar to spin up a test audience of ‘people’ (not people) with specific interests, desires and preferences (presumably to replicate your target customer segment) and then present them with content or imagery or branding and see how they ‘react’ and whether they ‘like’ it. “So, which tagline have we gone with for the new soda range? How did the focus groups react?” “Well, turns out we couldn’t actually afford in-person focus-grouping, but the coterie of 10,000 virtual consumers we tested it on went WILD for ‘Wet In Your Face’ and so that’s what we’re going with!” I am so, so fascinated by this, in a slightly-appalled way.
  • Stock Music: Well that didn’t take long – a few short months on from the Google ‘text-to-music’ generation toy we have our first ‘sorry, musicians, but your chance to make money from composing stock sounds for the corporate market is pretty much over’ website. Stock Music is made by some art studio in Amsterdam, and lets you select from about 20-odd musical ‘types’ or styles, from podcast soundtrack to d’n’b, pick a duration and then get The Machine to spin you up some ORIGINAL AURAL CONTENT which, based on my brief plays with the site, will be utterly unmemorable, utterly inoffensive and definitely no worse than something you’d have to pay a few quid to license. This is, on the one hand, very convenient indeed; on the other, of course, it does feel like another nail being loudly hammered into the coffin of ‘the ability to make anything resembling a living from ‘creative’ endeavours’. Were I more musically talented (or indeed at all musically talented) I think I would have quite a lot of fun getting this to spit out a selection of different anodyne compositions and then challenge myself to remix them into something passably-listenable; there’s a halfway-interesting project in that idea somewhere should any of you fancy doing anything with it.
  • Map Of The Best (Restaurants): The concept of ‘best’ restaurants is contentious and questionable – one person’s Michelin star is another’s overpriced affront to human decency, after all, and the whole idea is fraught with politics and DISCOURSE, as the recent Vittles debate amply demonstrated – but, in general, more resources to help you find decent scran are A Good Thing, and this is an EXCELLENT example of the genre. A labour of love by…some anonymous coder (thanks, anonymous coder!) which has taken a bunch of data from various restaurant rating organisations (Michelin, The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, etc) and mapped it, offering a global rundown of 757 (at the time of writing) different highly-rated eateries for you to peruse at your leisure. You can filter the results by source or price, so you can ensure that you’re not being tempted by the £600-a-head Mayfair w4nkpits, and this is SUCH a useful resource for anyone even halfway restaurant-curious to add to their research repertoire when travelling.
  • Colorword: Oh I LOVE this idea! The execution here doesn’t quite work – he said, churlishly, of a website that has kindly been made by a total stranger – but I really like the concept behind it. Taking the vaguely-synesthesiac premise of ‘what colour would you ascribe to words or ideas?’, this site serves up a selection of words and asks visitors to pick a colour from the RGB palette that they feel best embodies it. What colour is ‘hope’? ‘Jealousy’? The number 7? You pick the colour you feel is most emblematic of whatever concept you’re fed, and then get presented with an aggregate image representing the most popular choices, a sort of collective Rorshach-y inkblot of chromatic meaning, and I would LOVE to see an exhibition based around this idea somewhere.
  • The Glitch Gallery: This, though, really SHOULD be a gallery show – there is some gorgeous imagery in here, the result of software fcuking up and going wrong in interesting and aesthetically-appealing ways. From the blurb: “Imagine yourself implementing a raytracer, generating a scatter plot, or developing a geometric algorithm, and BAM!!! It all blows up in your face! All you get is a colorful flurry, or a mess of abstract shapes. You could react to this by throwing your hands in the air, cursing the gods of linear algebra, and frustratedly starting to look for the bug. Alternatively, take a screenshot, and celebrate that unexpected beauty! These moments are often a really interesting case of “unintentional art” – a collaboration between a human, a computational system, and raw entropy!” This is made and maintained by one blinry, whose website features LOADS of cool little projects which I highly recommend you checking out.
  • Regrub: Italy has a slightly-odd relationship with American-style fast food; on the one hand, when you have pizza you don’t really need other forms of ‘food to eat one-handed on the go’; on the other, the fetishisation of US culture, or at least certain aspects of it, specifically the brash and shiny and LOUD ones (thanks Silvio! WHAT A LEGACY YOU LEFT!!), and McDonald’s weird inability to penetrate the market – certainly in the 80s at least – meant that there was a weird degree of reverence attached to the idea of the burger-in-wax-paper, and some genuinely odd and shonky local chains that tried and largely failed to capture that ‘diners and letterman jackets’ vibe but with an oddly southern European twist (I still remember the aberration that was the ‘Burghy’ experience). Anyway, that’s by way of needless, nostalgic preamble to the introduction of this link, which is to the homepage of a NEW Italian burger chain which I am featuring solely because I love its website and branding SO MUCH – this is the second fast food restaurant website I’ve featured this year, oddly enough, and the second with this sort of aesthetic. Is this a TREND? I don’t care – it’s so nice to see a site that doesn’t feel…flat, and which is generally just sort of silly and fun. MORE OF THIS SORT OF THING PLEASE.
  • Postcard Past: A site collecting present-day photographic recreations of scenes from old postcards, which neatly contrast the stylised presentation of the often-future-seeming architecture depicted in postcards of the 50s and 60s with the reality of today. To quote the project’s curator, “I’m interested in economic, social, and urban history, and what we learn about them when we compare these highly edited, aspirational bits of old ephemera and the built environment of today. Stories about the rise-and-fall of entire industries, institutional discrimination, and the destruction of public transit systems. Racism, as well as resiliency and creativity in the face of that racism. Immigration, real estate booms, and disinvestment. Too many parking lots, so many collapsed banks, tons of financial crime. Civil rights progress. Advances in engineering. Pandemics. Leaps forward in medical care. Privatization of public goods. Secularization. Adaptive reuse.” This is a genuinely interesting bit of social history and a fascinating archive to get lost in.
  • How Cold Is That Library?: A Google sheet collecting impressions and notes on the relative temperatures of various libraries around the world, presumably compiled by a collection of scholars with an incredibly sensitive internal thermostat. This is VERY comprehensive – there are a dozen listings for London alone, from the British Library to the Lambeth Palace Library, but if you choose to travel further afield then there’s data here for centres of learning and knowledge as far afield as Montevideo. You need never be too cold or too hot while studying EVER AGAIN – it’s possible that this is the most useful link that has EVER been in Web Curios, for which you are of course all welcome.
  • Figures In The Sky: This is interesting; this site looks at the different ways in which different civilisations across human history have mapped the stars, and the various constellations and groupings that have been identified by peoples from the Mayans to the Maori, and through a series of star maps demonstrates the differing emphasis placed on the various celestial bodies by people past and contemporary; this is a really lovely bit of webwork by Nadieh Bremer.
  • Dial A Pilot: Are you a nervous flyer? You shouldn’t be – after all, it’s not the flying that kills you, it’s the ground. Still, it’s not unreasonable to feel *slightly* trepidatious at the idea of spending several hours in a gigantic, many-ton metal tube which is held aloft by what may as well be magic (yes, I know that technically it’s ‘physics’ but, honestly, noone has ever managed to explain it in ways that sound anything other than utterly fantastical), and if you or anyone you know is getting the fantods at the idea of air travel then perhaps they might benefit from this rather wonderful little service which offers a dedicated service which puts nervous flyers in touch with actual, real-life pilots who can chat to them and offer reassuring words of counsel to take the edge off the terror slightly (“No, no, there’s literally no chance of surviving, whatever the reassuring little infographic leaflet tells you; yes, you can actually have your innards sucked out of you by the vacuum flush” – that sort of thing, presumably). This is such a good idea, and, seemingly, not a PR stunt for anything, which frankly feels like a bit of a missed opportunity.
  • Level To Explain: Horrible title (and slightly-clunky interface) aside, this is a really nice idea – ok, yes, fine, it’s just a bunch of pre-prompts and GPT API access, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a fun little toy. Level To Explain (SUCH A BAD NAME, JESUS) basically ‘explains’ anything you ask it to, to the degree of complexity you specify, in as many words as you need – so, for example, you could ask it to explain nuclear fission in words comprehensible to, say, a GCSE level student, in 500 words or less. It will also do stylistic tweaks, spitting out copy in the style of a magazine article, say, or blogpost – while this is obviously built on generative AI and therefore NOTHING it says can be trusted, it’s also a not-terrible example of exactly the sort of text-wranging work that these machines are best at.

By Guy Vording



  • Vita Kara: I remain resolutely immune to the charms of TikTok as a platform – I think, fundamentally, my problem with it is that at heart it’s just TV with very low production values and, well, I don’t like telly – but I found myself properly charmed by this account in which LA artist Vita Kara does a repeated ‘bit’ in which she creates increasingly-elaborate setups to fool the viewer. Every video begins with the line ‘the craziest thing about being creative…’ and each video features some sort of trompe l’oeil-type reveal in which one or more parts of the scene in shot reveals itself to not in fact be what you think it is. Which, fine, is an admittedly ham-fisted attempt to explain what the fcuk is going on here, but I promise you the channel is both funny and charming when you get into it (no, really, it is).
  • Wavacity: Do YOU want an in-browser bit of audio-editing software that lets you clip and fiddle and tweak and layer to your heart’s content, all for free? OF COURSE YOU DO! I was playing with this a bit this week and it reminded me how much *fun* audio editing can be, and how easy it is to make stupid-but-amusing things just by cutting and pasting and clipping – the interface here isn’t *hugely* user friendly, fine, but if you’ve ever used any audio editing software before then it should all be reasonably familiar, and there’s a not-terrible help function on the site should you get stuck. I think I might spend this afternoon using this to take audio from those people who insist on leaving me fcuking Whatsapp voicenotes (SERIOUSLY WHAT THE FCUK IS WRONG WITH YOU WHAT MAKES YOU THINK I WANT TO LISTEN TO YOU SPEAK AT ME FOR TWO MINUTES UNINTERRUPTED AND WHAT EXACTLY IS IT ABOUT MY REFUSAL TO SPEAK ON THE PHONE THAT LEADS YOU TO BELIEVE THAT I CONSIDER THIS AN ACCEPTABLE ALTERNATIVE MEANS OF COMMUNICATION?! Ahem) and chop it up into spoofed murder confessions, and I advise you to do the same (they deserve it).
  • Spoon Planet: Do YOU like spoons? HOW MUCH DO YOU LIKE THEM, EH? Not, I would guess, as much as the person or people (but I rather hope it’s ‘person’ singular, because, well, I’m all about monomaniacal obsession – oh, hang on, I just checked and it is in fact the responsibility of ‘The Spoon Collectors of Southern California, which is just BEAUTIFUL) behind this website, which claims to be the single largest collection of sterling silver spoons on the internet (and, honestly, I am not about to undertake the exhaustive research required to verify or debunk this claim). SO MANY SPOONS! I love this immoderately, in part because of the subject matter (SPOONS!) but also because of the very strong ‘person in their dotage who disapproves of your lifestyle’ tone of much of the copy (I particularly enjoyed the “There is NO charge and there is NO registration required. Furthermore there are no big display ads to distract you” declaration on the homepage; are…are there other, less scrupulous spoon-based sites elsewhere on the internet that DO charge, and which demand a quid to access their ladle-related content goldmine?). Please do take the time to click into the ‘exhibits’ list – there really are an absolute fcuktonne of different types of spoon here, to be fair, and you may well discover a hitherto-unimagined passion to fill in all those empty, vacant hours between birth and death.
  • Ephemeral P2P Hosting: I can’t quite think of a practical use for this right now (look, I went to bet at 1 and I wasn’t wholly sober and I have been up since 6am and typing for two hours straight and I AM NOT AT MY BEST ON FRIDAY MORNINGS OK? I AM SORRY) but there *has* to be something fun you can do with this – this site lets you create your very own ‘webpage that only exists if someone is looking at it RIGHT NOW’ page, which, frankly, feels a bit like magic. For example, I made this Page – I will keep it open in a tab for the rest of the day, so anyone clicking the link should find it visible, but as of tomorrow (or whenever I remember to close my tabs) it will VANISH FOREVER (probably, unless one of you decides to keep the tab open and preserve the mystery). I don’t for a second pretend to understand how this works, beyond vague hand-waving about ‘peer to peer stuff’, but there’s got to be a fun art toy project thing that you can cobble together from the broad principle behind this. COME ON GET TO IT.
  • Bird Photographer of the Year 2023: SO MUCH AVIAN SPLENDOUR! So many special, feathery friends! The winning picture this year is ASTONISHING (although I do wonder about the immediate aftermath and whether or not the falcon was swiftly ingested by a royally-p1ssed-off pelican mere seconds after the shutter snapped), but my personal favourite is ‘Urban Paradise’ by Xiaoke Wang which feels like a particularly-perfect combination of hard lines and natural chaos.
  • Cocoon Toy: ‘Etsy vendors selling weird sh1t’ is hardly a new or unheralded phenomenon, but it’s been a while since I’ve seen something that makes me do quite this much of a double take and a ‘hang on, sorry, *what*?’ as the work of Cocoon Toy, a Ukrainian (I think) creator who makes…what are these? Like something that the Jim Henson Creature Workshop might churn out if the brief was ‘The Clangers (but body horror)’, perhaps – these initially look cute-weird, but a closer look at the selection reveals some…troubling details, like the exposed brains and the, er, weirdly-clitoral nature of some of the creature details. I have no idea which of you is going to click this link and start a whole new collection, but I bet at least one of you does (do send me a photo of your cute little vagina dentata monster in situ!).
  • The Acid Generator: Via the reliably-excellent curation of Things Magazine comes this in-browser synthtoy – yes, fine, there are a LOT of these online, but it’s rare to come across one that makes the lovely, squelchy 303-ish sounds of the classic acid era; if you, like me, ever spent more time than was strictly necessary gurning in dark, low-ceilinged rooms while the Liberator DJs played songs that sounded quite a lot like filing cabinets falling over in an air raid shelter while the sirens blared (it was great, honest) then this will probably bring back some (fractured, strobe-addled) memories.
  • Global Forest Watch: With each Summer bringing news of more forest fires across Europe (and, er, everywhere else tbh), you might not necessarily want to spend time exploring a map showing how the world’s forest cover has changed over the past few decades – still, on the offchance that you DO fancy looking at data that shows quite how comprehensively we’re managing to denude the planet then this is probably the perfect website for you; the standard view shows you where forest cover has increased and decreased worldwide, but there are a bunch of other data layers and filters that you can apply so you can track the impact of industry on tree coverage and see how, for example, the presence of the palm oil industry correlates to the removal of forests. It’s…not a *hugely* cheering picture, if I’m honest.
  • Unsung Heroes of Illustration: This is a LOVELY YouTube channel, which has been going for seven years – it’s run by one Pete Beard, who uses it to showcase the work of illustrators and cartoonists from the mid-19th to early-20th Century. “I had always thought that many illustrators from the past got nothing like the attention they deserved so I decided to make some videos about a few of these almost forgotten talents. The unsung heroes series was originally intended to be about illustrators from what’s known as the golden age of illustration. But I soon realised that meant ignoring many early 20th century illustrators who strictly speaking didn’t fit that description. So I compromised and ended up with parameters of those born between 1850 and 1910. There are also videos about individual illustrators who are personal favourites of mine, mostly but not exclusively from the early 20th century. And there are a range of others on various aspects of illustration, such as children’s books, advertising, art deco or a certain historical period. If it’s illustration then it has my interest. And I very much hope it has yours, too.” This is SO interesting – if you’re a visual artist or historian then you’ll inevitably get more out of it, but even if not there’s so much fascinating material in these videos about culture and history and STUFF.
  • Loch Ness Sightings: I don’t know about you, but I was shocked – SHOCKED, I tell you! – that the recent weekend spent ‘hunting for the loch ness monster’ did not in fact yield the incontrovertible proof of the sea beast’s existence that many had hoped for; still, just because nothing was found doesn’t mean that nothing is there, and it certainly won’t stop tourists from flocking to the area to buy violently overpriced shortbread and some poorly-made, sweatshop-crafted stuffed ‘Nessie’ toys, and to lie about having seen a monster in the water. This website is, apparently THE MOST OFFICIAL tracker of all the various sightings of the mythical beast, and it’s kept very up-to-date – there’s a sighting as recently as 23 August, although to be fair ‘sighting’ is perhaps a generous description for ‘man on loch ness monster hunt claims to have seen some shapes’. There are, though, a bunch of other sightings which have been augmented with PHOTOGRAPHIC EVIDENCE, and frankly after looking through some of these I am pretty much convinced of the existence of some sort of Plesiosaur-esque creature in the highland depths.
  • The Whoa API: An API that lets you pull in audio of every single time Keanu Reeves has said ‘Woah!’ in one of his films, meaning that it is now entirely feasible to build a website which has a different ‘Woah!’ sound effect for each button you click – please God can one of you working on something horrible and soul-destroying and corporate please sneak this functionality in under the radar? Because, honestly, who wouldn’t want a bit of Reeves blaring out of their speakers while they attempt to, I don’t know, commission a bit of monumental masonry? NO FCUKER, etc!
  • TokTik: !!WARNING CLICKING THIS LINK WILL TAKE YOU TO ACTUAL BONGO!! With that caveat out of the way, here’s something I am slightly-astonished has taken this long to stumble across my field of vision – it’s TikTok, but for bongo! I think I’ve mentioned this before here, but I’ve never personally been into pr0n (and yes, I am well aware of the ‘no, officer, you must believe me!’, ‘methinks he doth protest too much’ nature of that particular statement) and as such I have given this only the most cursory of glances, but my observations (should you desire them) are as follows: a) this is VERY heteromalegaze centric; b) I don’t think there’s currently any sort of recommendation algorithm or similar built in, so the ‘TikTok for bongo’ idea is superficial at best; and c) I am…confused by the existence of a separate tab on the site for ‘funny’ content (but, per my earlier statement, I am far from a connoisseur of this sort of material, so perhaps this is just What The Kids Are Into these days). Still, I quite like the idea that this will eventually develop into some sort of all-knowing sexual analysis tool that will be able to divine your deepest kinks before even you become aware of them; if it starts feeding you pegging videos within the first 5 minutes then, well, maybe you should just go with it!
  • Ridella: Reader Dylan Kapoor sent me this, a fun little daily game which offers you a series of clues which all point to a single word – try and guess the word with as few clue prompts as possible. Who knew that people were still making Wordle-esque knockoffs in 2023? THANKYOU DYLAN KAPOOR – I have enjoyed adding this to my daily ‘links Matt has to deal with before the day can actually start’ runthrough (current time to complete each day: 83 minutes and rising).
  • Additional: Apparently this was until recently part of the New York Times’ selection of small games, but was discontinued in the past week or so – anyway, someone’s created their own knockoff version (nice to see someone ripping off the NYT rather than the other way round for a change!) meaning that you can continue playing what is basically the ‘Numbers’ round from Countdown as a daily game in your browser. There are five puzzles of increasing complexity each day and I have just had to close the tab housing the game as I have been stuck on the hardest one all morning and if I don’t just accept defeat then I will never finish this fcuking newsletter.
  • Mr Platformer: Finally this week, a VERY old-school platformer in the Atari2600 visual style by Terry Cavanagh, the man behind the iconically IMPOSSIBLE retro-platformer VVVVVV – this starts simple but then gets HARD and OH MY GOD when I say HARD do I mean incredibly, frustratingly, brilliantly, compellingly difficult. You will HATE this but you will also play it far, far more than you will probably expect to – you’re welcome.

By Tadaocern



  • Code RGB: Another link from Things Magazine, this is the Insta account ot digital artist Chris Barber, who makes rather beautiful images from code; there’s something really unique about Barber’s style (and I say this as someone who has seen a LOT of generative art over the years – this doesn’t quite look like anyone else’s work, which is rarer than you might think in this field).


  • Mouth Full of Sardines: Yes, fine, not actually a Tumblr – still, this site deserves SPECIAL PRAISE for being ahead of the game when it comes to the trendiness of tinned fish; it’s been going since 2010, as far as I can tell, and is the personal project of a person who REALLY likes sardines and who seems to have made it their life’s work to review as many different varieties of the fcuking things as possible. I very much enjoyed this – in particular, the section in the FAQ where the author sternly denies have any links to ‘big sardine’ (and in fact the whole tone of the FAQ, which is…VERY SERIOUS; this person doesn’t take their oily fish lightly, as evidenced by sentences such as “I only rate sardines straight from the tin. I eat half at tin by itself, and I eat the other half with saltines. Some tins are better alone and others would be better cooked in a dish. I point this out in my reviews. Rating sardines with other foods would not give the sardines a fair rating.” THIS IS NOT A FRIVOLOUS ENDEAVOUR!).


  •  The End of Social Media: Yes, I know, you’ve read this headline before, too many times; a fair observation, fine, but this is a decent overview by Sean Bonner, someone who’s been around the web a while and who has been a part of enough digital (and non-digital) ‘scenes’ that have been and gone to know when something is dying. The post-Elonification of Twitter has seen too many of these pieces, but I thought this was short and pithy and did a decent job of capturing some of the reasons why this does very much feel like the end of an era – this paragraph in particular felt…true, although I appreciate it is nothing more than anecdote: “ I talked to my son about this and he bluntly said there’s nothing appealing about any of these sites, it’s just people trying to push sh1t on him and he doesn’t see any reason to ever spend time there. No one sees his posts anyway. He’d much rather hang out in a voice chat with a few of his friends. Thinking back to my own childhood and how much time I spent on the phone and how exciting 3-way calling was and even the introduction of Party Lines (though I was never allowed to try them) I can’t really argue with his logic.” ‘Disintermediated communications’ does rather feel like a coming thing for 2024, imho – although for all I know you’re all on Threads resurrecting the utopian social media dreams of Arab Spring-era Twitter (I wouldn’t know; unless it becomes absolutely essential for ‘keeping track of the web’ there is no way in fcuking hell I am signing up for that piece of sh1t).
  • What OpenAI Really Wants: Or, alternatively, the latest slightly-breathless bit of AltmanHagiography! OK, maybe I’m being a *bit* unfair – this WIRED piece isn’t totally uncritical, after all – but I am starting to get slightly irritated at the amount of air that’s being given to all this AGI chat. GYAC guys (shout out to the Popbitch heads!) THIS IS ALL A DISTRACTION FROM THE ACTUAL, REAL WORLD STUFF THAT IS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW! Still, this is an entertaining read which does a decent job of telling the history if OpenAI, its early years and its ‘breakthrough’ moment and the invention of Transformer technology, and how, basically, the people working there still don’t really understand how the systems they make do the stuff that they do.
  • Preparing for a GenAI Future: I’m currently doing a bit of work for some agency group looking at ‘how they should integrate generative AI into their businesses’, and inbetween sawing at my wrists at the pointless, miserable horror of it all (YOU TOO CAN HIRE ME TO CONSULT FOR YOU!) I’ve been trying to articulate exactly what is possible and how it makes sense for knowledge economy businesses to think about this tech and what it might do for them – this piece in the Harvard Business Review is a pretty good overview of some useful principles to bear in mind around generative AI (or at least its current incarnation), specifically the fact that, actually, the main benefits are less in terms of ‘creativity’ and far more in terms of ‘the incredibly boring stuff that actually makes up a violent amount of the working day’. This is practical, pragmatic and a tiny bit boring – but it’s also broadly accurate, which isn’t necessarily something you can say about a lot of the rest of ‘101 ways in which AI will transform your business NOW!’ bullsh1t floating around the web right now (I can only IMAGINE the sort of stuff people are saying on LinkedIn – there’s a reason I only log on there once a week in order to once again set the torched remnants of my professional credibility alight via the medium of ‘posting a link to Curios’).
  • AI and the Dr Doolittle Challenge: This is a genuinely fun bit of academic wonkery which pleased me no end – will AI help us finally TALK TO THE ANIMALS in the style of Eddie Murphy (or, fine, in the style of Hugh Lofting’s 1920 creation)? The question, it turns out, is complicated, not least in terms of the questions around context, intent and interpretation – I mean, read this and then understand that you have NEVER adequately considered the complexities of interspecies communication: “While worms definitely secret chemicals to communicate, we do not know if they ‘talk back’ by secreting chemicals, and if not, what would be considered a response? Can a body turn of 30 degrees be considered a response? There are also many technical challenges. For instance, we will have to determine what are the relevant temporal timescales; would we need to measure secretions every 5 seconds or every hour? These are difficult questions that will remain difficult even if AI Doctor Dolittle’s computational power would improve substantially.” Honestly, this is SO interesting (in particular if you’ve any background in, or knowledge of, philosophy of language) and I would 100% go to a lecture on this exact topic.
  • What Makes A Website Cool: One of several links filched from Kris this week, this is a lovely little piece asking what might be considered to make a website ‘cool’, and how we might think about designing and building more digital things that embody that most ineffable of qualities. I am 100% behind this – I think that’s what appealed to me most about that Italian burger company site I linked to earlier, the fact that it’s…just *cool*, for reasons I can’t adequately describe. Can we all make a secret pact, please? That for the next year or so we will do everything in our power to smuggle small packets of ‘cool’ into whatever godawful work we’re forced to do by capitalism/the bank/societal expectations (delete as applicable)? Not everything has to be joyless and boring and functional, after all.
  • GenZ’s Domestic Sex Block: I’ve had a longstanding theory – with no scientific basis whatsoever, to be clear – that the fact that Italians tend to go to University in the same cities they grew up in (and the fact that, up until the tertiary education system was reformed a few years back, that it was entirely possible to spend literally DECADES doing a single undergraduate degree – this is, I promise, a genuine fact)  is one of the reasons for the country’s famously-low birth rate: you stay living at home, meaning you’re stuck under the watchful eye of your (probably Catholic and reasonably strict) parents, meaning you can’t bone with the reckless abandon you might wish, meaning when you DO finally move out and get your own place at the age of 30something you are too busy making up for lost time to want to get burdened with progeny. Which is by way of long-winded and only-tangentially-relevant introduction to this link, which suggests that GenZ is struggling to get laid because they all still live at home and their parents rather cramp their sexual style; I am including this partly because, well, it made me laugh in a slightly cruel and unfair way, but also because it struck me as a) plausibly true; and b) the sort of bullsh1t ‘insight’ that you could reasonably build a whole campaign around for the right brand (yes, ok, I can’t immediately think of what that brand might be, but I trust you’ll be able to fill in the blanks).
  • CringeTok: Specifically, a ‘creator’ (still hate that word, why isn’t there a decent alternative?) whose whole thing is going back through embarrassing stuff they posted on social media a decade ago when they were a kid and using that as MATERIAL for some ‘relatable TikTok content’- this is interesting to me less because of the person in question (although some of the stuff is genuinely amusing, and once again made me forever grateful that I had my most embarrassing years (aside from the current ones, obvs) away from the web and that literally NO traces exist of my life between about 8 and 26) and more because of the broader idea that we’re now in an era in which people can literally look back at different stages of their online lives, like tree rings or layers of compacted rubbish, and track their evolution and development – it feels like there is something in this, although once again I’m in no way able to adequately articulate how (yes, I know, but in my defence did I mention I only got 5 hours of slightly-iffy sleep?).
  • Where Do Fonts Come From?:Another of those ‘crikey, this industry which from the outside looks incredibly tedious is in fact significantly more interesting and indeed cutthroat than I might have imagined!’ pieces, this time looking at the MAD world of fonts (oh, ok, fine, ‘MAD’ is perhaps hyperbolic, but it’s still pretty interesting); there’s basically a monopoly in fontland, and one company owns most of the fonts and as such makes most of the money, and as you read this you’ll find yourself getting slowly annoyed at the realisation that this is yet another industry which has been effectively dominated by a single player to the detriment of designers – this feels like something that should be ‘disruptable’, no?
  • Overnourished: This is…not a hugely comfortable read if you’re a meat eater, but it’s a timely one given the stories all over the news as I type about chicken farming standards and the general inhumanity of the poultry industry; this piece, by Arianne Shahvisi for the LRB, takes us from battery chicken production to water pollution via Ayn Rand (it makes sense, promise); I honestly had no idea that mass-rearing of chickens could be directly linked to the election of Margaret Thatcher in 1979, but, seemingly, it sort-of can.
  • Rotten Tomatoes: This is a really interesting article – partly as a story of how Rotten Tomatoes, the film ratings site, evolved and grew and eventually became *the* metric by which Hollywood judged its critical successes and failures, and subsequently projected its box office, but also as a story of the unintended and unexpected ways in which systems can unwittingly impact and shape the world around them, and how something as simple as ‘hey, let’s just aggregate review scores so people can easily get an appreciation of the general critical reception of a particular film!’ turns into ‘ok, so the entire US filmmaking industrial complex is now irrationally fixated on the scores listed on this website that it now dictates release schedules and promotional work, and as a result it’s become such a commercially-significant part of the film marketing process that it’s effectively ceased to adequately fulfil the function for which it was originally intended’.
  • The Modern Concert Experience: This is SO interesting to me – I have never been a ‘big gig’ person, and the idea of going to see someone at a 70k capacity venue really doesn’t appeal at all, but it’s fascinating to read about the changing habits and mores of those who do attend the MegaTour concerts by your Taylors or Beyonces and how the ritual around the gig-going experience is developing in the era of streaming video and ‘everything as content for your personal brand’, and the rise in importance of the shared/communal experience (as delivered via your device) – after all, if you didn’t have the iconic Taylor/Beyonce experience, as mandated by the FYP, did you really go to the gig at all?
  • Carlos Alcaraz: This is a GREAT bit of interactive scrollytelling (do we still say that? I fcuking hope not, it really is a godawful aberration of a word) by ESPN, breaking down the particular brilliance of Wimbledon champion Carlos Alcaraz – I am far from being a tennis fan, and so I can’t really vouch for the quality of the analysis of the man’s game here presented, but I am very much a fan of pointlessly-whizzy websites that do fun things with parallax and this is definitely an excellent example of the genre – there’s some really nice use of on-court data throughout which really brings the piece to life and helps illustrate some of the more technical details about Alcaraz’s technique for people like me who can barely lift a racquet.
  • American Oligarchy: This is a very odd story. I had no idea that famed US stock picker Warren Buffett had progeny, nor indeed that his male heir, Howard Buffett, is, seemingly, the very definition of a ‘failson’ – this piece looks at Buffett Junior’s life and, specifically, the ways in which he, his money and his frankly creepy obsession with law enforcement has shaped the town of Decatur in Illinois. Honestly, this will start off feeling a little bit dry but I promise that you will get sucked in by the end – what would YOU do were you born into unimaginable wealth and never had to work a day in your life? I pretty much guarantee that it’s unlikely that you’d spend quite as much time fcuking around with a small town’s police department as this plutocratic weirdo seems to have done.
  • Assault Rifles: I appreciate that you may not think you’re interested in the mechanical and technical differences between the AK47 and the M16 rifles, but I promise you that this is LOADS more interesting than you would expect an article containing the words ‘firing mechanism’ and ‘large-gauge rounds’ to be – this covers design, manufacture, the Vietnam war, pragmatism, cartoons, communications and the importance of focusing on the practical rather than the perfect, and I would imagine that there will be at least seven of you who can use this to draw all sorts of preposterous ‘strategic conclusions’ on LinkedIn (you’re welcome! You dreadful, dreadful people!).
  • The TikTok Exodus: When Silvio took over commercial TV in 1980s Italy, the airwaves were filled with gameshows and football and a by-modern-standards-unconscionable-number-of-BREASTS, the Italianate translation of the Reaganite dream – and because of its geographical proximity and the strength of Italian TV signals, Albanians got to see it all, as they were able to pick up most Italian channels on their own TV sets. As a result, Italy was seen as the promised land of milk and honey (and BREASTS) and the country saw a wave of Albanian immigration as people flocked to try and get a piece of the lovely capitalist pie. Times change, but the principles are constant; now instead of ‘Italian TV’ it’s ‘TikToks by Albanians in the UK flexing about their lifestyles’, but the result – a tide of people wanting to leave a poor country in search of a better life in what is portrayed to them as a far richer one – is largely the same.
  • A Writer Attends The Frankfurt Book Fair: My friend Jay published a book recently – CONGRATULATIONS JAY! – and whilst I’m obviously hugely impressed and in awe of the achievement, I also can’t help but think that it all looks like SO much hard work and effort for frankly uncertain reward, and that the publishing industry looks absolutely HORRIBLE from the outside. That impression was rather reinforced by this (very funny, if also quite miserable) article by Lydia Stryck, who against all better advice goes to the Frankfurt Book Fair to attempt to flog her novel directly to publishers there – it does not, you may be unsurprised to know, go entirely to plan. This is savage – POOR THE AUTHORS.
  • Werner Herzog: Brent Katz writes about getting Werner Herzog to record the audio book version of his forthcoming volume of AI-penned poetry; I make no apologies for the fact that I adore hearing about Werner Herzog and all of his idiosyncrasies and eccentricities, and I would have paid actual cashmoney to have been in the room while he recorded a poem written entirely in binary.
  • Forming An Edge: I think I have mentioned the ‘Scope of Work’ newsletter here before – it’s about making and manufacturing, and is honestly one of the most consistently and unexpectedly fascinating things I read. This piece is a perfect example of why I love it – it’s about knives and knife sharpening, and how knife sharpening works, and different techniques and ways of honing a blade to an edge, and it’s interesting and informative and packed with knowledge, and it’s just a genuine pleasure to read (and will make you want to get your knives sharpened).
  • Death Row D&D: Finally this week, a beautiful piece of writing from The Marshall Project (I’ve featured essays from it at various points over the years; it’s a project that works to promote journalism about the US criminal justice system) about playing dungeons and dragons in prison – specifically on death row – and the way in which roleplaying can act as a small consolation to people waiting to die. This really is gorgeous, and very sad, and it has stayed with me all week.

By Ben Frost Is Dead