In the 90s, did people in the US have to suffer through endless coverage of David and Victoria, their courtship and their eventual nuptials and the outfits and and and? Presuming that the answer to that question is ‘lol no you fcuking loser’, can someone please tell me why the fcuk it is that we are now being pelted with news about The Singer and The Meathead and The Big Match? Is it not enough that the world has to suffer the mediatic – and economic, and political, and environmental, and social – fallout from The Next Most Toxic Election Since The Last without also having to feign interest in this latest iteration of ‘entertainment industrial complex power couple’?
Yes, I am old and tired, why do you ask?
Look, I have nothing against Taylor Swift and those who love her; I have little to no opinion on her pituitary paramour. I had rather hoped, though, that the global media era of the web might free us slightly from American cultural hegemony; no such luck I suppose.
Anyway, GO 49ers.
I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and yes, I am exactly this fun in person.
By Mark Beyer
THE SECTION WHICH WHICH ALWAYS FANCIED STEPH MORE THAN FLICK ANYWAY, PT.1:
- Momentary Lapse in Memory: I appreciate that beginning a largely-frivolous weekly compendium of digital ephemera with what is in effect a war memorial is…perhaps not the happy-go-lucky opening that many of you might have hoped for. Still, this is a really rather beautiful piece of webwork and the way that it presents narrative and memory is, I think, genuinely powerful and affecting – from its description, “Momentary Lapse in Memory is an interactive digital environment concerning the memory landscape of the 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. It investigates the impact of ephemeral factors on the archival practice. By doing so, it makes space for the mechanisms of both memory and its transmission, to steer and sway. It makes way for the unreliable.” Click through from the homepage and you’re presented with a slightly-abstract roomscape comprised of individual elements, each of which is a fragmentary memory of the experience of war drawn from anecdotes and memories of those who lived through it; some of the memories lead you to other ‘rooms’ within the site, with their own objects and recollections attached to them, and as you explore you build a picture of the people whose experiences are being tapestried together to create this fragmented, partial, imperfect and intensely-subjective account of the experience through the eyes of those who lived it. This is gorgeous, honestly, and I think the slight lack of polish and obviously-homespun nature of the whole thing makes it rather special.
- Antonymph: I only realised when I came across this link earlier this week that I haven’t seen a good ‘I made a needlessly-involved and possibly-overengineered website as a sort of interactive promo for my new record!’ website in AGES – thank goodness, then, for this one, which I warn you has a *small* chance of doing very annoying things to your browser but which I encourage you to take the risk with because it is rather a lot of fun (although if you’d rather not take the risk you can also see a screenrecording of the experience on YouTube, you COWARD) and, I get the impression, is also *quite* an impressive bit of codewrangling (if you’re the type to be impressed by that sort of thing – I, obviously, remain stonily unmoved, mainly because I couldn’t code my way out of, or indeed into, the proverbial paper bag). Basically – and without ruining too much of the surprise – this does a lot of really very impressive things with popup windows to create a surprisingly-complex multipart , animation-type experience to accompany the track ‘Antonymph’, which as far as I have been able to tell is itself some sort of fan anthem for the My Little Pony (Friendship Is Magic) fandom…to be honest it was perhaps best if I didn’t tell you that, on reflection, so try and forget that specific detail and enjoy the website, and then try and think of the last time you saw anything this digitally-creative being produced for commercial reasons and cry slowly as you realise that corporatism is the enemy of beauty.
- The New Search: CHANGES ARE COMING! Much as might want to sit here, Cnut-like (no, that’s not a spoonerised swear, that’s a reference to the sea-defying medieval monarch, do keep up), denying the inevitable, it’s clear that search is due a massive upheaval – everyone seems to have finally realised that Google has fcuked its core product and that information discovery is increasingly-broken, the ubiquity of generative AI is increasingly seeing it baked into everything, regardless of whether or not it makes things better…and at the confluence of those two trends we have a wave of new players attempting to DISRUPT SEARCH! Exciting times (not really, but let’s pretend)! One such company is Arc, who I’ve featured in here before a few years back for their Chrome-competitor browser and who have now launched a new search app (iOS-only at the moment) which is a glimpse at the future of search and…I hate it! It’s possible of course that my visceral reaction was borne of my crippling Fear Of Change (why must I leave my comfort zone? There’s a reason it’s called a ‘comfort zone’! It’s nice here!), but it’s hard to see any ways in which the benefits here outweigh the not-insignificant media literacy and ecosystem disbenefits. Basically the way this works is that every time you run a search the browser effectively spins up a new webpage and populates it with crawled, summarised information that it believes best answers the query you gave it – so rather than being delivered a selection of results and using your nous and judgement and critical faculties to determine which source best serves your purposes, you’re instead spoonfed a load of information which is presented as The Answer. But how does it decide which sources to use? And which to prioritise? And how to avoid ingesting and using all of the terrible junk content that’s already proliferating across the web? And, er, what happens to all the websites whose search traffic, and as such ad revenue, is going to tank when we all decide that we’d rather have the machine summarise everything for us and that as a result we are never visiting a news homepage ever again? These are all excellent questions (well done Matt! Have a biscuit!) to which Arc offers minimal answers because, well, disruption! Casey Newton had a decent writeup of why this feels so…icky – I don’t know, maybe I feel this personally because I am still trying to cling to the vanishing concept of ‘exchanging the written word for money’ and things like this remind me how stupid that is and how I should probably just suck it up and get that HGV license now.
- Whop: A neat segue (SEAMLESS) from the last link into this one – Whop (it’s a peculiarly-horrible and weirdly-00s name, imho) is attempting to set itself up as a sort of ‘Etsy for the grift economy’ (and guys, if you happen to see this and want to use that tagline yourselves then let’s talk!). Do you have a ‘get rich quick’ scheme? Do you have a SUREFIRE WAY to beat the odds on the horses? Do you know the secrets to creating a guaranteed £10k pcm in passive income in HOURS? NO OF COURSE YOU DON’T ALL THESE THINGS ARE LIES! Except you wouldn;t know that by looking at the homepage of Whop, where a bunch of people are offering a wide selection of services for a monthly subscription fee – this feels very much like a marketplace for people who looked at the Tate ‘Hustler’s University’ and thought ‘you know what, I can totally rip that sort of thing off and find my own coterie of desperate, delusional young men to fleece!’. Offerings run the gamut from ‘Crypto Guides’ to access to ‘trading communities’ where presumably the idea is that you’ll get access to all sorts of AMAZING INSIDER STOCK TIPS (I am always interested in the idea that if one had access to said AMAZING INSIDER STOCK TIPS one wouldn’t make use of that intelligence to become plutocratically rich on the markets overnight but would instead selflessly sacrifice that potential gain in exchange for a mere $39.99, payable monthly) to betting strategies newsletters…this is so OBVIOUSLY scammy, and so obviously aimed at a particular type of young man who’s been fed the ‘you need a lambo or you’re noone’ guff of the modern grift economy, and, honestly, it’s just slightly sad to see. Welcome to the future, in which the only way we can afford the nutripellets is by flogging nonexistent training courses to other desperate mooks in an endless circlejerk of grind!
- Special Fish: Oh god this is lovely – Special Fish is…what is it? A digital noticeboard? A hyperminimal social network? A forum? Online graffiti? IT IS ALL OF THOSE THINGS! The site is “a community site for publishing poems, journals, logs, and lists”, and anyone can log on and create a small page which they can use to share…whatever they like really. The site is VERY minimal, with no imagery and just simple HTML, but on the homepage you can see a tapestry list of all the different people who have created a small space here – click through on one and it will take you to their small space, which might contain a slightly-gnomic line of prose and no more, or which you might find is a reasonably-exhaustive interrogation of someone’s cultural obsessions. There is something beautiful about stepping from profile to profile, a bit like wandering through an infinite, sparsely-furnished series of interconnected rooms (yes, fine, but as previously-stated it is MY newsletterblogtypething and if I want to use pretentious and not-entirely-successful analogies then, well, I WILL) and, like all my favourite sites, feels not-unlike wandering through a bunch of strangers’ heads (but quietly, on tiptoe, so as not to disturb them).
- Retire Big Oil: I don’t mean to blow my own trumpet (insert your own hackneyed urban legend about Prince here), but those of you who pay close attention to what I write here each week (please, it’s too painful, don’t) may remember about a year or so ago I mentioned that anyone expecting the Labour party to in any way stick to the environmental policy promises it was making was almost certainly in for an unpleasant surprise – AND LO, IT CAME TO PASS! Anyway, this website has nothing to do with that – but it does feel like an appropriately-impotent response to the whole ‘it does rather feel like none of the people with the material ability to unfcuk this whole environment thing are actually willing to take meaningful action’ thing. In the US, as in the rest of the world, a significant proportion of investment into the oil and gas sector comes from pension funds, and, not unreasonably, there’s a growing movement to encourage people to get their employers to consider where exactly pension pots are being invested and, where appropriate, to get said pots moved to funds whose interests are a bit less environmentally-disastrous. What do you think the best way of raising awareness of this would be? Would it be a lobbying campaign? Physical protests? A bit of XR-style direct activism? NO YOU ARE WRONG THE ANSWER IS IN FACT POSTING AN AI-GENERATED IMAGE OF YOU ON A PROTEST MARCH! Yes, that’s right, the central ACTION this campaign is asking US citizens to take is for them to upload a photo, which via the MAGIC OF AI will become an image of them marching in a suspiciously-clean-looking protest against BIG OIL. This is so, so odd – the execution feels like something from 20 years ago when we were all naive enough to believe that the mere fact of PUTTING SOMETHING ONLINE would magically change the world (RIP Twibbons, you achieved so much), not to mention the fact that asking people to feed their faces to an AI image generator is something of a no-no from a privacy and security point of view. Still, as we all know from all the ‘post a photo to show you care’ campaigns of the past couple of decades, they ALWAYS work (you will of course remember how we used to have ‘racism’ before the storied ‘black squares on Insta’ campaign of 2020), so we can look forward to this being sorted by Q3. WELL DONE EVERYONE!
- Mixtape Garden: Ooh, this is really nice – create an account and you (or anyone else – it doesn’t HAVE to be you, but, well, why shouldn’t it be?) can create a mixtape of upto seven tracks, pulled from YouTube, with accompanying notes; if you like you can leave the mixtape unfinished and let other users tracks to it, but when it hits 7 songs in total it will be compiled into a single mix and made playable from the site’s homepage, turning it into a living, growing home for seven-song musical journeys guided by strangers. SUCH a lovely idea, this, and worth bookmarking as there’s something really nice about having human-curated playlists to listen to (Jesus, I just read that back and WOW is that a bleak little closer, sorry everyone).
- Goody2: This is a project by Brain, a ‘collective’ whose work I can best describe as ‘MSCHF, but derivative and not as good’ (sorry, but it’s true) – Goody2 is “a new AI model built with next-gen adherence to our industry-leading ethical principles. It’s so safe, it won’t answer anything that could be possibly be construed as controversial or problematic.” This is SATIRE – the gag here is that the machine won’t answer any of your questions because it’s been guardrailed into uselessness – but I am not totally sure what it’s satirising (the concept of AI safety? LOL!) and, well, it’s not a very funny gag. Still, er, here!
- Cry Me A Cockroach: As we approach this year’s celebration of cheap chocolates and petrol station carnations, are you still struggling to come to terms with a past love? Do you still bear the scars of a breakup? Do you want to RIP THAT BSTRARD’S HEART OUT, EAT IT AND THEN SH1T IT OUT AGAIN!?!?!??! I mean, perhaps you should just let it go – but, failing that, why not take advantage of this seasonal promotion from San Antonio zoo? “Symbolically name a roach, rat, or veggie after your ex or not-so-special someone and San Antonio Zoo will help squash your past, a true heartbreak healer, by feeding your selection to an animal resident.” On the one hand, you are actually condemning a living creature to death in service of this gag – on the other, they’re getting fed to other living creatures, so it’s probably morally-neutral.
- The Cursed Library: A nice little show-offy bit of webwork by Belgian digital studio Epic, this is a simple-but-cute bit of digital storytelling – click the link, explore the CURSED LIBRARY and find the stories that are hidden therein. This is basically just a case of clicking the various hotspots, fine, but the art direction and sound design are really rather nice, and I would be interested in seeing a whole animation or slightly-expanded game done in this visual style because it’s pleasingly-distinctive, a nice mix of kids’ storybook and digital. So, er, can one of you commission them to make that, please? Ta.
- Art Remix: A nice toy from Google Arts & Culture, this lets you take classic artworks from its scanned collection and see how you can use generative AI to change specific elements of them, letting you explore the nature of prompting and do stupid things like add a fcuktonne of frogs to Monet’s waterlilies.
- Enhanced: THE DRUGLYMPICS ARE HERE! You may have seen the reports about this this week, suggesting that Web Curios’ favourite vampire plutocrat tradcath sociopath Peter Thiel (one week, I promise, I will get through an entire edition without mentioning that fcuking cnut) was one of the backers of a new athletics event which, rather than attempting to weed out competitors juicing their bodies with hormone supplements and the like, actively encourages the ingestion of performance-enhancing substances to see exactly how far human bodies can be pushed. The website is, sadly, a bit more sober than I might have hoped – although I do feel like opening the whole thing with the legend ‘Backed by the world’s top venture capitalists…’ in 2024 isn’t perhaps the flex said VCs think it is (lads you may not have noticed but your track record is at-best patchy and EVERYONE THINKS YOUR CNUTS) – but what I find interesting about it is the way in which it intersects with certain specific strains of right-wing thinking (‘limitless potential!’, ‘don’t let the petty, small-minded administrative bureaucrats and pencil pushers stop you from becoming the ultimate version of yourself!’), as well as what sort of insurance they plan to have in place for when someone’s heart inevitably explodes as they try and deadlift a lorry while having just ingested three times their own bodymass in creatine powder.
- Drawzer: Would you like a website that does NOTHING ELSE but spit out whimsical, random drawing prompts such as “A bashful lion marching at a creepy carnival.” at the touch of a button? YES YOU WOULD! This feels like something that it would be interesting to hook up to a bunch of different image generation AIs to create an automated pipeline of images, not least as it would act as a neat way of tracking comparative model performance. Er, anyone? No, ok, fine.
- Rank A Day: OH THIS IS WONDERFUL! Is there any joy more human, more PERFECT, than being presented with a ranked list of things and going through it with increasing irritation at the IDIOCY of your fellow man and the APPALLING BANALITY of their taste? No, there is not, and thanks to this site you can enjoy that feeling EVERY DAY! Every 24h the site will offer you a selection of things – oscar winning films, say, or the best NFL team – and ask you to pick your top 3; do so, and you’ll be shown the overall results, so you can see what the rest of the world has determined is THE BEST THING in a given category and get really angry about it. I stumbled across this on a day when the question was in fact the one about ‘Best Picture’ winners and got so annoyed at the fact that Lord of the Fcuking Rings was top that I had to make a calming brew and have a small pace around the kitchen – honestly, it’s PERFECTLY irritating.
- The Big Plastic Count: This is A) not really a web thing tbh; and B) very much UK-only; apologies for the anglocentrism, but it’s a good project and might be the sort of thing that any anglos with kids might want to get involved with.”Count your plastic for one week – 11-17 March 2024. For one week in March, thousands of schools, households, community groups and businesses will be coming together to count their plastic waste. And we want you to join them. Almost a quarter of a million people took part in The Big Plastic Count in 2022. Together we revealed that almost two billion pieces of plastic packaging are being thrown away a week. This year you can help build even more evidence to convince UK ministers to lead the way at the global talks that could finally phase out plastic pollution for good.” Look, I know, but you have to hope that stuff like this might make a difference to something somewhere because otherwise we might as well all just set fire to everything.
- Redpop Apples: I am not quite sure how I came across this website, but I have some questions; the main question being WHO THE FCUK WROTE THE COPY HERE AND WHY IS IT LIKE THIS? The homepage hits you right away with ‘WELCOME TO A NEW POP SWEET APPLE!’ and doesn’t really calm down from there; the apple is a ‘she’, apparently, and “you immediately understand she’s born and raised where the best apples grow, in the hands of farmers who take care of the fruit, with great experience.” I know that apple cultivation is a genuinely-multi-billion-dollar industry and that the marketing of new varietals is a serious business, and so I don’t imagine that the…very particular style of writing here is an accident, but I am genuinely baffled as to why it mimics the cadence and rhythm and vocabulary of translated-to-English Japanese, or the cutesy-anime-uwuu vibe of the whole thing…I appreciate that this is VANISHINGLY unlikely, but should anyone reading this know anything about the ‘why’ of this then I would love to hear about it.
THE SECTION WHICH WHICH ALWAYS FANCIED STEPH MORE THAN FLICK ANYWAY, PT.2:
- Book Cover Review: Via Good Rishi, this is a lovely project dedicated to, er, reviewing book covers. Which, frankly, feels like something that should have existed already but I am glad that David Pearson and others have decided to make this. Each ‘review’ is a 500 word essay about the book, its cover, how the two relate, and whatever else the writer fancies dropping in – there are a bunch on there already, and you could spend a very pleasant 20 minutes leafing through the various covers and the thoughts they inspire. Gorgeous.
- News Poetry: You know how I was talking earlier on about THE FUTURE OF SEARCH and how that’s basically going to involve information being packaged and fed to you by The Machine? Well, now imagine that, but for news – and that the package you’re being fed is POETRY. Really, really bad poetry. Well done! You’ve just invented NewsPoetry, which manages to fail both as a poet AND as a means of effectively conveying useful information! I am being unfair here – this is obviously just a hacked-together bit of fun and isn’t meant to be anything more than that. I think, as far as I can tell, there’s a semi-automated ‘New York Times headlines’-to-GPT-to-website pipeline that throws these together each day, and, per usual with your standard LLM-text, the ‘poems’ it throws out are execrably bad – today’s opens with “Hey, Biden cleared of documents case / But concerns arise, memory’s embrace / Retaining material, after VP reign / Sharing with a ghostwriter, memory’s strain.” which once your eyes have stopped bleeding you will agree is NOT GOOD; still, it’s sort-of fun in a pointless gag way – I now want to see someone crowdfund a Matt Webb-style digital display that shows ONLY that day’s NewsPoem because, actually, that would basically be ART.
- Road Curvature Atlas: Given the proportion of you I believe to be middle-aged men, stereotype dictates that I must ALSO believe that a significant number of you are the sort of middle-aged men who get REALLY enthused about driving and cars, and for whom the prospect of a pair of mesh-backed gloves, a droptop, a curving mountaintop road and an end to the curse that is your male-pattern baldness is basically nirvana – DRIVING MEN, THIS WEBSITE IS FOR YOU! Brought to me by Giuseppe, this site serves a single purpose – it “helps those who enjoy twisty roads (such as motorcycle or driving enthusiasts) find promising roads that may not be well known. It works by looking at the geometry of every road segment and adding up how much length of the road is sharp corners, broad sweeping curves, and straight areas. The most twisty segments can then be viewed on the web or downloaded as KML map files that can be viewed in Google Earth.” This is very clever, and there’s something pleasingly-geeky about the maths behind this, and I love the fact that this project has apparently existed in some form since 2009(!) – Adam Franco (for it is his website), whoever you are I am genuinely impressed by your 15 year dedication to the beauty of curvy roads.
- The Atlas of Intangibles: This is one especially for the Londoners, although as a project it stands alone – a lovely project by Priti Pandurangan, in which they attempt to apply layers of connection to walks they take through the city. Sounds, bits of urban infrastructure, signs of the city’s decay, marks and scars and signs and graffiti, spotted as Pandurangan walked through Canary Wharf or Ravensourt Park or along the South Bank, all arranged along mapped routes or visualised as a series of connections…there is something genuinely gorgeous about the way in which these disparate little datapoints and observations are weaved together into a strange sort of narrative of the physical, and while I appreciate I am making something of a pig’s ear out of describing this I really do hope you’ll forgive me and take the time to click, because this is charming and such a novel way of considering the urban space we find ourselves surrounded by.
- The Carnivore Bar: Do you find that your HARDCORE LIFESTYLE and the IMMENSE PHYSICAL DEMANDS you place on yourself require you to ingest VIOLENT AMOUNTS OF PROTEIN? Are you saddened by the fact that the current range of protein products currently taking up approximately 70% of all cornershop shelving (seriously, WHO IS BUYING ALL THESE PROTEIN BARS AND WHAT IS IT DOING TO THE NATION’S BOWELS?!?!) don’t, as a rule, contain MEAT? Well the carnivore bar is for you! Beautifully, the website’s homepage screams ‘’nutrition without compromise’, presumably for all those people who think ‘ingesting something that wasn’t once able to draw breath’ is some sort of pathetic cuck move.
- Postcard Models: Would you like a small online shop where you can buy a variety of small, perfectly-formed models of quaint English houses? GREAT! These are cute, everyone loves miniature stuff (EVERYONE, it is the law), and these are almost insanely-cheap, with kits to build your own version of a rickety wooden lighthouse starting from a mere £15. COME ON YOU SAID YOU WERE GOING TO GET A HOBBY.
- The Library of Congress National Jukebox: Oh my word what a resource this is. From the blurb: “The Library of Congress presents the National Jukebox, which makes historical sound recordings available to the public free of charge. The Jukebox includes recordings from the extraordinary collections of the Library of Congress National Audio-Visual Conservation Center and other contributing libraries and archives. Recordings in the Jukebox were issued on record labels now owned by Sony Music Entertainment, which has granted the Library of Congress a gratis license to stream acoustical recordings. At launch, the Jukebox includes more than 10,000 recordings made by the Victor Talking Machine Company between 1901 and 1925. Jukebox content will be increased regularly, with additional Victor recordings and acoustically recorded titles made by other Sony-owned U.S. labels, including Columbia, OKeh, and others.” Everything I have clicked on this site has been great, and I just soundtracked the writing of this and the previous link with this EXCELLENT song from 1908.
- Style Hunter: Potentially very useful for those of you who have to wrangle images for a living, Style Hunter is a Chrome extension which lets you click on any image on the web and generate another image, based on your probe, which mimics that style – so, for example, you might see a painting by Egon Schiele and think ‘ooh, I wonder what it would look like if Egon had drawn a portrait of Barry Chuckle?’ and in a few short steps you will be able to find out. Truly, the future is amazing.
- The Brutal Web: A directory of websites developed in the ‘brutalist’ style of webdev, which I remember being particularly fashionable circa 2014-16 – per the blurb, “Web Brutalism is one the most ‘true’ design style that prioritizes functionality over form and effectivity over aesthetics. It comes from the French phrase ‘béton brut’, which translates to ‘raw concrete’. Some people call brutalism ‘ugly’ and ‘gloomy’, but it’s just a matter of taste. Beauty hides behind roughness. In some ways, Web Brutalism is an ancestor of web design — insofar as the sites of the web 1.0 era took the form of their function. After the surge of interest in 10th decades the style’s been forgotten a little bit. This gallery serves as a reminder as to how of Web Brutalism’s raw unpolished beauty and new forms.” Useful should you be considering a minimal design template for anything you’re working on, or just if you want to spend some time browsing some really stark pages (also, quite a few of the linked examples are genuinely fun, like this one).
- Comics Devices: Do you or anyone you know like drawing comics, or want to get into drawing comics? GREAT THIS ONE IS FOR YOU THEN. This is “a library of visual-narrative devices that are specific to the medium of comics, furnished with definitions and examples by contributors. It is a practical, accessible resource for creators, teachers, editors, scholars, critics, readers, the curious, the open-minded, and anyone with an interest in comics…The primary purpose of the library is for creators to use as a learning resource and reference tool, regardless of professional level. It is curated by an active creator with more than 10 years of experience and 1000s of comics pages under their belt, and contains contributions by fellow creators from various and diverse places in the industry. It aims to provide clear and practical language without being bogged down by jargon.” This is such a wonderful, and generous, resource.
- Zuckerbackerei: A baking blog! Just like it’s the past or something! This is in German – I KNOW! HOW RUDE! – but it translates beautifully via Google, and whilst you might come for the cakes (the cakes look great, I keep meaning to make the maple syrup and tahini ones) there is also a weekly rambling ‘a bunch of stuff I found interesting this week’ roundup which is honestly GREAT and has given me a whole load of brand new interesting links (most of which seem to be in English) each time since I started reading it a few weeks back. This is by one Jana Wiese, and it’s really really…nice (which I know sounds like faint praise, but it’s not meant as such in this case).
- All of Jay Rayner’s Restaurant Reviews, Mapped: I don’t know if you’re the sort of person who reads and enjoys restaurant reviews, but I very much am, and Jay Rayner, who writes for the Guardian, is one of the UK’s best; some kind soul has undertaken a massive labour of love and mapped every single one of the hundreds of reviews that Rayner’s done over the years, meaning you can bookmark this and have a reasonable selection of potential places to eat wherever you may end up visiting. Except Grimsby – there is nowhere nice to eat in Grimsby (NB – look, I’m sorry if you read this and you’re from Grimsby but I have been there and this is a fact).
- All The Design Images: Or, to give it its official name, VADS (my name is better) – VADS is ‘a national collection of over 140,000 images from over 300 art and design collections across the UK, which are freely available for non-commercial use in education. The images cover the broad range of the visual arts including applied arts, architecture, design, fashion, fine art, and media’, and if you’re in need of visual resources or inspiration or just want to look at a bunch of really cool stuff, this is ACE.
- The Free Internet Library: I love this – not so much because of the texts that are here collected and made available for free download (a weird and eclectic collection running the gamut from the Whole Earth Catalogue to some literature on the history of the Palestinian state, to a book about critical meme reading), but because of the general ethos underpinning it: “After starting several brands and doing massive amounts of research, we ended up collecting so much information that became incredibly useful to us, and we wanted to create a system to help better distribute what we’ve got and spread it as far as we could. What started in a small apartment bedroom is now a full-functional studio, and we owe a lot of that to our community and the research we’ve done.” MORE PROJECTS LIKE THIS PLEASE – it’s nice that we all ‘make content’ all the time, obvs, but occasionally it’s also nice when people do/make things that are just, well, kind and helpful.
- Lists: ‘A collection of shopping lists to choose from’, reads the short site blurb – I don’t know about you, but I find there’s a certain beauty in this sort of hypermundane snooping, and something oddly-personal that you can scry inbetween the notes reminding you to buy eggs, bread and toilet paper.
- Spock Logic: Would you like a YouTube channel whose sole purpose is to provide a series of short lessons on the principles of logic, delivered to you by the animated Mr Spock from the 70s Star Trek cartoon? OF COURSE YOU WOULD YOU ARE NOT A FOOL! There are about 70 of these, part of a project that’s seemingly been running for 10 years (!), and basically if it’s on this list of logical fallacies then you can expect to find it here – this is, honestly, a really good way of getting your head round certain principles and I personally wouldn’t mind it if the creator of these couldn’t also see fit to get Spock to explain, I don’t know, why everything is so hard and why we can’t just stop.
- All Of The Space Pictures: Not ALL of them, obviously, but NASA does a daily ‘here’s a picture of space’ on one of its websites, and this is the archive of all of them, going back to 1995(!) when they first started posting them, and this gives you HUNDREDS of nebulae and galaxies and star systems and the like to click through and gawp at (or, if you were so minded, to train an SD instance on so you can spin up your own infinite machine-imagined space infinities, should you wish to do so).
- Rising Up: This week’s EXCELLENT BROWSER GAME comes in the shape of this really nicely-made and reasonably-shiny Streets of Rage clone, complete with a decent chiptuney soundtrack (though still not a patch on the original’s, obvs) – play a mild-mannered office drone driven to breaking point by a printer malfunction, smashing and kicking your way through swathes of other office drones in what ends up being a surprisingly-cathartic and fun beat-em-up which took me right back to spending a worrying amount of time in what were, in retrospect, some pretty seedy Italian arcades playing Final Fight.
THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!
- Erik Wakkel: Erik is a medieval book historian at The University of British Columbia, Vancouver. He posts images of medieval books. You don’t really need to know much more than that, to be honest, but it’s worth digging in and having a bit of a scroll as the images of individual tomes and pages are accompanied by notes that are genuinely-interesting (trust me, I am not normally enthused by the mere fact of ‘old’).
THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!
- Jean Jacques Balzac: The first of several Instas this week which came to me via the wonderful Things Magazine, Jean Jacques Balzac’s feed is described as ‘wrong architecture illustrations’, and I can’t really do better than that, sorry. These are ODD, in a good, non-obvious and slightly-unsettling way.
- The Tube Map: I am slightly astonished that I have somehow avoided featuring this over the years, but, well, I CANNOT POSSIBLY SEE ALL OF THE INTERNET (however much of my life I waste by attempting to do so) – still, here it is now, an Insta feed dedicated to all things tube map-ish, including old maps, modern riffs on the classic design (including the annoyingly-good Samsung activation currently live in some London stations), and assorted tube-related ephemera.
- I Don’t Give A Seat: Photographs of the upholstery used in the world’s public transit systems. You may not think this is going to be your latest source of sartorial inspiration, but, honestly, some of these absolutely slap and I would totally wear some of these fabric designs as flourishes on tshirts or somesuch (on the other hand, I dress like an increasingly-skeletal tramp, so perhaps don’t take my opinion too seriously).
- Avenrood: Just photos, often featuring street furniture and the shadows it casts. I really like the style here, simple though it is.
- Tiny House Perfect: An Insta account which shares the sort of propertybongo typical of the platform – all tiny, perfectly-formed dwellings with impossibly-well-arranged interiors and a perfectly-cosy aesthetic – except all the houses here are by AI, which means they all look superficially like places you could live until you look a bit closer and notice that the ceiling clearance on the first floor is apparently slightly less than three feet, or that there appears to be a portal to the infinite in the garden. I found this via this piece in the NYT, which I thought interesting about the ways in which the subtle – and unheralded, given a casual observer could easily think these were real – introduction of these aesthetics to the platform which serves as probably the biggest mass-market determinant of aesthetic culture on the planet might affect what we start to see around us in coming years.
LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!
- That Essay About Self-Promotion: This has been EVERYWHERE this week – Rebecca Jennings writing in Vox about the slightly-relentless misery of ‘always having to promote yourself and your brand in the 24/7 horror of the hustle economy’. I feel slightly odd about this – personally-speaking, as I think I might have mentioned before, I find ‘effort’ to be vulgar in the extreme and as such find the idea of promoting myself or anything I do immensely gauche (THIS is the reason why Curios isn’t immensely popular; nothing to do with the dogsh1t writing, length and increasingly-oppressive air of existential despair!); on the other, I am very aware that I have certain privileges that enable me to take this grossly-high-handed attitude and as such I probably don’t have the right to comment. The degree to which this has been shared suggests it resonated widely, and it feels emblematic of the very particular sort of horror I feel when I log onto LinkedIn each week to post a link to Curios (to an almost-entirely uninterested audience, let me be clear) and I happen to see the main feed and it’s just full of people I mostly only vaguely-know all desperately performing SUCCESS, all jazzhandsing and prancing and capering and BUILDING THE BRAND and it sort of makes me want to cry, particularly when you know a bit more about the individual in question and you know that the performance is strained to breaking point. How have we ended up here? I mean, loads of reasons, but once again I place a significant degree of blame at the door of the CREATOR ECONOMY (or at least the specific idea of it that was (mis)sold to the world over the past 10 years) which told everyone that all you needed was a brand and a perspective and the ability to SH!T OUT CONTENT and you too could be a one-person media empire – as a companion piece to this one, can I recommend you also read this post by Joan Westenberg who calmly and clearly lays out in stark economic terms exactly why the idea of a content-based ‘creator economy’ is, and always has been, total fcuking bullshit from a pure economics point of view.
- The New Google AI: It’s not called Bard now (good, that was a genuinely sh1t name), it’s called GEMINI, and as of yesterday it’s live everywhere – the standard free version is GPT-3.5 level, but Google now gives you the option of paying them a monthly stipend for access to the BIG MODEL, and this is perennial Curios favourite and AI Virgil Ethan Mollick with his initial impressions of how the model works and what it’s good for and how it compares to GPT4; it’s worth reading to get the full rundown, but the short version is ‘it’s probably comparable to GPT4, mostly, but you probably don’t need a subscription to both of them’. SEMI-RELATED LINK: someone on Reddit posted what they claim is the underlying set of training instructions baked into ChatGPT; it’s interesting not least because it’s literally just a set of pre-prompts, and does rather give the impression (accurately) that noone really knows what the fcuk is going on with this stuff or how it works.
- Trend Trends: I featured Matt Klein’s ‘digest of all the trend reports’ last year – this is a piece in which Klein reflects on what he learned doing the same exercise again this year, namely that (and this may not shock you) nothing really seems to have changed over the last 6 years. There are a variety of explanations for this which Klein neatly runs through, but I liked his conclusion – that this sort of indicates that perhaps we should STOP LOOKING AT FCUKING TREND REPORTS AND DATA and instead perhaps just try doing weird, interesting stuff because a) why the fcuk not, it’s not like it matters so you might as well have fun; b) everyone is VERY FCUKING BORED of culture basically having stagnated for 6 years, so anyone doing anything different will inevitably stick out; and c) also everything is so utterly grim right now, at least in the UK, that anything advermarketingprish that is genuinely fun or surprising will get cut-through because (I can’t believe I am saying this) people really could do with a bit of ‘surprise and delight’ (LOL!) right now.
- Herman Miller’s Identity Guidelines: I don’t as a general rule tend to include links to things like corporate brand guidelines, let alone corporate brand guidelines for a firm that makes office furnishings – AND YET! I expect that more than one of you reading this has at one point or another had to write brand guidelines or, heaven forfend, a BRAND BIBLE – this is a genuinely good example of the genre, clear and clean and pleasingly un-w4nky, and I love the fact that it’s a simple-but-effective website rather than a massive, unwieldy PDF that no fcuker is every going to open. WELL DONE, FURNITURE MONGS!
- They Solved The Scrolls: I know that it’s not really cool to talk about AI in a positive sense, but I am a 44 year old man and ‘cool’ is a concept with which I have no truck whatsoever – this is AMAZING. I featured this project in Curios last year – a challenge asking researchers to try and decipher the text written on ancient scrolls using AI technology – and it’s been won! Honestly, it’s hard to overstate how remarkable this is – they have managed to read text from sealed scrolls buried under lava 2000 years ago! This is astonishing! – but it’s worth clicking the link and having a read about how it was done and what they found.
- AI Comes To Maps: Sorry, it feels like I’m including an awful lot of Google product news at the moment – apologies, not trying to PR them, it’s just that they’re releasing a lot at the moment and, being Google, it’s likely that this stuff will have IMPACT. The AI integration to maps will basically allow users to ask natural language queries and get answers crafted by AI based on Google Maps data. So, for example, you might want to find the best place to practice figging in Berlin – ask the map and it will analyse reviews, opening times, likely footfall and all sorts of other gubbins and provide you with the perfect recommendation for ginger-related fun. Which is both really useful and a good reason to make sure that, if you’re involved with businesses that depend on footfall, your Google Maps listing is up to date and well-reviewed because this is the sort of thing that could really fcuk people. As ever with this stuff, there is literally NO INFORMATION WHATSOEVER about how the data sources are weighted, and nothing whatsoever about how businesses can ensure that The Machine is taking them into account when serving up reccs…this feels like a win for convenience, true, but like it might have…one or two unintended consequences for the retail and restoration industries.
- The Bill Gates of India: I’m running the original headline here – I personally have no opinion on whether or not Nandan Nilekani is in fact ‘the Bill Gates of India’ – but to be honest the most interesting thing about this piece are the plans Nilekani outlines to digitise small vendors across the country in order to broaden their markets (and, as a side effect, so that Nandan Nilekani can become even more violently wealthy). “What it intends to do is forever alter the life of people like the pineapple vendor I noticed outside Nilekani’s offices, his produce stacked by the dozens in neat rows atop a creaky pushcart. For now, his business relies entirely on face-to-face transactions—a form of commerce unchanged in centuries—and he likely earns no more than $25 a day. “If someone in the neighborhood wants a pineapple, why can’t he order it?” Nilekani asks, envisioning a future in which customers can summon the pineapple man with a few taps on their phone, substantially increasing his business. Then, as Nilekani understatedly put it: “He can sell more pineapples.”” I don’t know about you, but when I read this particular paragraph I had a very strong ‘hang on, aren’t there lessons we perhaps should have learned about unintended consequences that we might want to draw on before attempting to ‘disrupt’ an economy of over a billion people?’ – still, Nandan knows best.
- AIdvertising: Sorry. Thing is, though, this really is about using AI for ad placement, so TECHNICALLY the appalling pun was justified. This is a piece about new ad placement services which let ‘creators’ sell real estate within their videos, which is then dynamically filled with an advertising image inserted dynamically by AI – which is all sorts of smart, and works as follows: “Advertisers use Rembrand’s marketplace to connect with more than 1,000 creators from agencies it works with. Creators upload their videos to its platform and receive them within 24 hours with the product placements. Rembrand has someone check for quality and someone else for how the brand appears. Then creators upload the clips and eventually get paid from the brands based on video views.” I can’t help but tie this back to the first article about HUSTLE AND GRIND and imagine a world a year or so hence when literally EVERYONE is adding this sh1t to their social output because why not earn a few pennies off an affiliate link – just like is already happening to a lesser extent? We…we do realise that all this isn’t going to do much to achieve the whole ‘smaller carbon footprint, less consumption of pointless crap, less waste and landfill and seas full of plastic’ thing we’re all supposed to currently care about, right?
- The Apple Vision Pro W4nkers: This isn’t my observation, but it made me laugh – have you noticed how all the videos of people using the Apple Vision Pro in the wild are of men. Men, alone? MAKES YOU THINK, DOESN’T IT??? Anyway, this is an excellent piece which collects a bunch of videos of people looking like d1cks while pinching thin air – you might also enjoy this one, about the collective sadness of the men who bought a £3500 home bongo setup only to find that Apple won’t let them play VR bongo on it.
- TikTok Slang: About 7 years ago, my girlfriend decided that she was going to ‘bring back’ the word ‘groovy’, and started dropping it into conversation here and there at work and in social situations. Whilst I don’t want to ascribe too much influence to her lest her head swell, there was a moment of genuine amazement when I witnessed someone spontaneously say it to her a couple of years ago – so basically if you hear anyone say ‘groovy’ in modern times it’s because of her. FACT. Anyway, that has very little to do with this article, which is about the current vogue for attempting to invent viral neologisms on TikTok in the hope that you can, I presume, spark a week’s worth of thinkpieces and desperately-tryhard reactive brand content. IT’S GOOD TO HAVE AMBITION KIDS.
- Poogle Maps: On the one hand, that’s the second near-unforgivable pun in this week’s longreads and I am once again SORRY; on the other, read this article and tell me that they missed a trick (also, this is a story on Australian website crikey, and if you can’t rely on the Aussies to make a good toilet gag then I fear for the fate of the world. frankly). My not-particularly-funny wittering aside, this is actually an interesting bit of journalism that reveals quite an interesting and potentially-dangerous security exploit achievable via Google Maps – if you’re considering a pivot into ‘burglary’ as a career, this could be the most useful thing you read all week.
- Muslims in Italy: An excellent piece in the FT about the current realities of Muslim life in Italy, a country whose birthrate has been declining for decades but which is still too racist to come to terms with the fact that it needs immigration to survive (sorry, any Italians who are reading this, but you know it’s true) – the statistic that the country has only five visible mosques despite a muslim population of nearly 3m is STAGGERING, and made me realise that I am only aware of a single one in Rome which is insane for a capital city.
- Finding The Air Cannon: This is, fine, not a sparkling piece of prose or a super piece of journalism, BUT it is possibly the most satisfying example of creative problem solving I have seen in ages and it pleased me immoderately. Imagine this scenario: “The use of agricultural air cannons south of Corvallis has been extreme this month. Farmers with field crops are often beset with Canadian Geese overwintering in the Willamette Valley. To scare the geese away, they frequently use propane air cannons on timers. Starting on January 5th, an air cannon began firing every two minutes all day and throughout the night. My sleep and that of many neighbors was disrupted for nearly a month.” Now, how would you go about locating exactly where the offending air cannon is? READ ON! Also, as a bonus, the person who wrote this and runs the blog on which it’s hosted also has a hobby/sideline in drawing some of the most incredibly complex mazes I have ever seen, check them out.
- The Internet Amnesty: I rather enjoyed this essay, arguing that, except for in exceptionally-egregious circumstances, perhaps we ought to just stop excoriating people for stuff they did or said online in the past – instead, the author argues, “My counter-proposal, option two, is that we declare a blanket amnesty for everything unless it’s abominable. Somewhat creepy behavior plausibly the result of misjudgment? Amnesty. Rape someone? No amnesty. Do a dodgy paraphrase for convenience. Amnesty. Steal a manuscript from another scholar and publish it under your name? No amnesty. Improperly make expense claims? Amnesty. Embezzle millions from your not-for-profit? No amnesty. My general position is that in the internet age, you should set a very high bar of wrongdoing, and not pursue anything that falls under that.” That seems…fair?
- Argyle, Explained: Argylle is a film whose existence I am only aware of in the context of its marketing stunts – in fact, in an even odder and sense, I am only aware of it because of REPORTING ABOUT its marketing stunts rather than seeing any of said marketing for myself. Anyway, I am obviously never going to watch it but I genuinely enjoyed this long, convoluted (by necessity) attempt to explain and unpack WHAT THE FCUK IS GOING ON throughout the movie, though all its apparently neverending metafictional twists and turns…this is very entertaining, not least because of the very clear sense the author gives that despite how much is evidently GOING ON in the film they are also tremendously bored throughout the whole experience. I wonder whether this is going to have a small Morbius moment, or whether there’s something too fundamentally distasteful about the combination of Matthew Vaughan, the Kingsmen franchise and an aggressive pseudo-ARG around it to make it even an object of memetic ridicule.
- Is Pregnancy A Disease?: DON’T SHOOT THE MESSENGER I AM ONLY QUOTING THE PAPER’S TITLE! This is, fine, a bit of a gag (LOL ACADEMIA SO FUNNY!) but equally is a really interesting exploration of the taxonomy of health and philosophy of language, and it’s worth reading the abstract in full because this really is deeper than your initial ‘no, lol, fcuk off’ response might have led you to believe: “In this paper, we identify some key features of what makes something a disease, and consider whether these apply to pregnancy. We argue that there are some compelling grounds for regarding pregnancy as a disease. Like a disease, pregnancy affects the health of the pregnant person, causing a range of symptoms from discomfort to death. Like a disease, pregnancy can be treated medically. Like a disease, pregnancy is caused by a pathogen, an external organism invading the host’s body. Like a disease, the risk of getting pregnant can be reduced by using prophylactic measures. We address the question of whether the ’normality’ of pregnancy, its current necessity for human survival, or the value often attached to it are reasons to reject the view that pregnancy is a disease. We point out that applying theories of disease to the case of pregnancy, can in many cases illuminate inconsistencies and problems within these theories. Finally, we show that it is difficult to find one theory of disease that captures all paradigm cases of diseases, while convincingly excluding pregnancy. We conclude that there are both normative and pragmatic reasons to consider pregnancy a disease.”
- Devoted to Blue Roll: I loved this essay, in Vittles (which means I’ve just realised it might be paywalled, apologies if so), all about the ubiquitous Blue Roll that is present in every single restaurant you’ve ever visited and which, if you’ve ever worked in hospitality, will have an almost Pavlovian ability to bring back memories when you spot it in the wild. This is a great example of how wide-ranging and rich writing about even ostensibly-mundane subjects can be – this takes in restaurant culture, health and safety legislation and paper manufacture, and it’s STILL fascinating.
- A Teen’s Fatal Plunge Into The London Underworld: This has been widely praised on JournoTwitter this week, and rightly so – it’s a quite remarkable story about a public schoolboy whose mysterious death and subsequently-revealed connection to London gangland has never been reported in the UK despite the fact that, as this article proves, it’s a cracking tale. There are so many wonderful details in here – some wonderfully-telling undercutting of a certain type of middle-class existence, the allusions to Big London Crime, the increasingly-fetid air of a collusive coverup…honestly, this is exemplary and I now REALLY want to know who or what has prevented anyone from writing this up in the UK media.
- Writers and the Martini: The list of cliches and anecdotes and quotes about writers and the Martini is already overlong, but despite that I really enjoyed this article by Dwight Garner about the literary world’s love affair with the world’s deadliest cocktail – there’s something deliciously gossipy about the tone, like the whole things being relayed to you over your second of the evening as you share the smoked almonds, and it’s impossible to read without it putting a smile on your face (but it will REALLY make you want a drink, so just fyi – it’s currently 1127am and I could fcuking MURDER a drink and a fag).
- Why Don’t We Just Kill The Kid In The Omelas Hole?: I wasn’t aware of the Ursula Le Guin short that this story is riffing on, about ‘a summer festival in the utopian city of Omelas, whose prosperity depends on the perpetual misery of a single child’ – this, by Isabel J Kim, is an excellent take on that premise which I think you should just go in and read cold (yes, that’s right. I DO know what’s best for you).
- With Teeth: I have an unpleasant relationship with teeth – mine are hideous, for a start, thanks to three decades of tabs and tea, but there’s also the fact that they are, undeniably, LUMPS OF BONE GROWING OUT OF MY FACE FLESH and, honestly, even just typing that is enough to break me out in an unpleasant persistent sweat – but I nonetheless adored this essay by Sam Paul, about their relationship with their teeth and their appearance and their self, and ideas of beauty, and how your body informs your mind and vice versa. This didn’t make me feel any less awful about corporeality, but the prose is LOVELY.
- We Would Have Told Each Other Everything: Our last longread of the week is about bumping into your shrink. Except it’s not, not really – I LOVED this, everything about it, not least the fact that I at no point thought particularly liked the narrator and I knew that the narrator wouldn’t have cared in the slightest. This is beautiful and I think you will adore it I think.
By Oli Frape
AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:
- This is by N8NOFACE, it’s called ‘View From Here’ and I like the song in its sort of driving, semi-spoken word style, but it’s the video that really charmed me with this one – it’s just ‘slice of bandlife’ footage, fine, but it’s charming in ways I can’t quite define. Also (and this is a niche reference but I like to think at least one of you will get it) the singer looks so much like a bald Faris Yakob it’s genuinely disconcerting.
- Even if you’re not familiar with her name, Beth Gibbons’ voice will be instantly-recognisable from her time with Portishead (or, er, it will if you’re my age and have my exact musical history) – I’ve loved her solo work for years (I once saw her at Bush Hall in London, a gig where she was so nervous she sang with her back to the audience throughout apart from to say hi and bye, and it was STILL brilliant), and this new song is typically gorgeous. HER VOICE. Anyway, it’s called ‘Floating On A Moment’ (and, perhaps interestingly, it’s the second video of the week by a Reasonably Famous Artist which uses AI in the video – this one is only elements, but still).
- A great song by someone I’d not heard of til this week – the pleasingly-named John Glacier with ‘Money Shows’, a properly hypnotic track, this one.
- This one is a glorious mess, combining emo and drum and bass and with a video that looks straight out of the 00s, all kids running around and chasing each other and HAVING FUN. I like it a lot – it’s called ‘Gaga Life’ and it’s by Mad Capsule Markets (no, me neither).