NEW YEAR, NEW CURIOS!
Or, more accurately, EXACTLY THE SAME TIRED OLD FORMAT YOU KNOW AND ARE LARGELY INDIFFERENT TO!
Yes, while other newsletters may start the year with grandiose talk of ‘projects’ and ‘plans’ and ‘changes and improvements’, you can rest safe in the knowledge that the only thing that is likely to change the style and delivery of Web Curios is me having a vocabulary-and-mobility-fcuking stroke. WE ARE SO BACK, BABY!
I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and you honestly don’t look like you put on ANY Christmas weight at all, please don’t feel self-conscious.
2024’S FIRST MUSICAL SELECTION IS A RATHER SUPERB SET OF GOOD TRACKS RELEASED IN 2023 WHICH CLOCKS IN AT A WHOPPING 15 HOURS AND WHILE I CONFESS TO NOT HAVING LISTENED TO ALL OF IT I CAN CONFIRM THAT THERE IS SOME VERY GOOD STUFF IN THERE!
THE SECTION WHICH PROMISES IT MISSED YOU, PT.1:
- An Internet Map: Our first link of 2024 – hang on, ‘our’? Lol, no, these are MY links, I am merely letting you look at them but they are MINE – feels timely; I never know whether anyone reading Curios gets a sense for the sort of general trends and themes that I see observe over the course of a year (the answer may well be ‘no’ – I’m reasonably well aware of the degree of communicative coherence happening over here, is what I’m saying), but there was very much a sense through 2023 that there was a burgeoning of interest in the small/artisanal/handmade/DIY/esoteric (delete depending on which of those descriptors causes the least quantity of bile to rise in your throat) web, neatly encapsulated at the end of the year by this Rolling Stone essay by Anil Dash; anyway, Kris at Naive has spent a bit of time thinking of how one might characterise and map the contours of the ‘small’ web, in terms of the sorts of projects and thinking that embody it, and has created this rather lovely little site which provides a sort of visual taxonomy of ‘types of website’ along with a whole host of links to interesting and esoteric and personal corners of the internet, cultivated by strangers who just quite like having their own digital space to build and play in. Click around and explore – personally I think I might spend some time in the feral web this year, it feels apposite. In a year in which we can reasonably expect the videoification (it IS a word, I tell you!) to consider unabated, and the algorithmic push towards moving images continue to turn every site into a variant on TikTok, it’s nice to know that there are still corners of the web were people are experimenting with different means of expression. Thankfully I’ve been spared the horror of writing a trends document this year, but had I been forced to do so I would definitely have tried to shoehorn some of this stuff in there because, honestly, it is very much A Thing.
- ARCC: OK, so best to point out upfront that most of you will have to pay money to access this – BUT! I promise you that it is genuinely worth it. ARCC is a project that Matt Round over at Vole.wtf has been working on for over a year now, and it is an astonishing labour of love – tickets first went on sale late in 2022 (prices started low and rose with each ticket sold, so I think access currently costs a tenner or so – BUT IT IS TOTALLY WORTH IT) and it launched on Christmas Day this year, and, honestly, this is the sort of thing you could imagine being made by the BBC (the good BBC, not the ‘Mrs Brown’s Boys’ BBC), it’s that impressive. ARCC stands for ‘Apocalypse Recovery Computer Cluster’, and asks the question ‘if the British government had wanted to create a computing network for the populace to use in the event of a nuclear event and the horrible, rotting aftermath, what might it have looked like?’ – honestly, this is SO SO GOOD and so much deeper and better and funnier than it needs to be, and there is SO MUCH content in here, from games (surprisingly good games, and you will be amazed how much better Flappy Bird is as a 1980s-style vector arcade game) and video bits, and puzzles and animations and Easter Eggs and I’ve only scratched the surface. I think most impressive of all is the way Matt has *perfectly* nailed a very specific sort of becardiganned British computing misery that anyone who remembers ‘computer hour’ in front of an Acorn machine in the early-1980s will be able to relate to intimately – this is conceptually, tonally and technically perfect, and really should earn Matt a proper commission to make big money digital spinoffs of Netflix shows or something. So, er, sort it out, all of you incredibly important Netflix purse string holders who are doubtless reading this RIGHT NOW.
- Perfect Days: I can’t pretend I didn’t struggle slightly over the festive period – ‘a fortnight of unsought Sundays’, as I saw it rather beautifully described by someone on Twitter – and this did momentarily give me a bit of a wobble, but it is also VERY VERY LOVELY, and is far more poetic and beautiful than you might expect from a film tie-in website. Perfect Days is a companion piece to the film of the same name, directed by Wim Wenders and starring Japanese actor Koji Yakusho – “Hirayama (Koji Yakusho) works as a public toilet cleaner in Shibuya, Tokyo. His is a calm, quiet existence. Every day, he wakes up at the same time, gets ready the same way, and works the same way. Though his life may seem monotonous, no two days are ever the same, and he steps into each new day with a serene optimism. Hirayama’s way of life exudes a gentle beauty. He loves trees and gazing at komorebi, the shimmering of light and shadows that is created by leaves swaying in the wind. But unexpected events create ripples in his life that reach back into his past.” The site presents visitors with details, images and sounds from 353 days of Hirayama’s life, shown at random, with prose telling you the detail of that specific day, which is very much (but not exactly) like the other 352…I can’t quite explain exactly why, but I find this almost unbearably affecting and simultaneously rather soothing.
- Prompt Brush: Sick of AI art? Bored of the endless parade of glossed-up waifus and overexposed, super-HDR’d landscapes and the SHEEN of it all? Well why not embrace the analogue again and ask New York studio Delcan & Co to make you a picture the old fashioned way? Input a prompt and you will…eventually receive your very own digital-but-analogue image back, depicting whatever it is you commissioned, as sketched by…someone at the studio; it’s unlikely to be as photorealistic as the AI effort might have been, fine, what with apparently being drawn in MS paint, but it will have SOUL. This is a really nice little promo idea by the studio which judging by the LONG queue of requests currently piled up has proven rather popular; can one of you get a drawing commissioned and then have it tattooed, please? It feels somehow like the right thing to do.
- 97 London Restaurant Recommendations: Vittles Magazine has been running short recommendations of small London restaurants for the past year or so, and have done the decent thing by mapping the 97 places they’ve featured so far – I can’t personally vouch for the vast majority of these places, but based on the ones that I *do* know (including my favourite Italian delicatessen in London) the tips should be pretty high quality and, crucially, at the cheaper end of the spectrum.
- Another Text-to-Music Service: I know, I know, but this one’s probably the most impressive I’ve tried to date, and certainly the one that has coped best with my standard ‘make me some drum’n’bass, machine’ request – it’s by Suno, and while you’re not going to be actually listening to anything machine created (at least not by choice) for a little while yet, it doesn’t feel inconceivable that we might feel differently about this in ~18m or so. Has anyone tried making an actual song based on initial ideas spat out by one of these machines? I wonder whether it might be possible to create something halfway-interesting by taking some initial AI-generated snippets and then fcuking with them. Can one of you go away and give it a go, please?
- More Text To Video Stuff: Can you tell that my enthusiasm for ‘OH LOOK ANOTHER AI THING’ has waned somewhat in the 12 months since it became ubiquitous? Nonetheless I figure it’s important to have at least a vague idea of what the rough ‘state of the art’ is in the field – so here! The main link takes you to a paper where Google sets out their latest text-to-video model – it looks really impressive! But also still incapable of making anything you might actually want to watch! – and here’s a demo video by Pika Labs which is even more impressive and seemingly lets you do super-quick style transfer as well as ‘expand frame’-type stuff which is pretty fancy (even to my jaded eye). Still, though, none of this is much more than an impressive tech demo you’d never actually need to use, and there’s still no obvious consumer-facing use case for this stuff that I can see (beyond, of course, making ‘weird stuff for social clicks’, though I personally think that ship might have sailed in 2023) – that said, I can’t stress enough how fast this is moving – as little as 6 months ago, text-to-vid was a horrible mess, whereas now it’s…still a bit of a horrible mess, fine, but a significantly better one. Give it a year and I’d start worrying about the low-end video editor market.
- The Shortverse: Not, sadly for all you Short Kings out there, a place for the vertically challenged to live their best lives; instead, it’s a frankly-marvellous-looking portal through which you can find and watch a dazzling range of short films from around the world. There is SO MUCH on here, and you can sort by different festivals and awards ceremonies to find different works – animation, comedy, drama, weird experimental central European stuff that you can’t be certain but feels VERY much like it’s simultaneously about death, potatoes and the impossibility of ever truly feeling empathy…it’s all here! Aside from the entertainment value of all these films, should any of you know (or be) budding cineasts then this is a superb resource to learn and take inspiration from.
- Neura: I don’t tend to make vows or resolutions – that sort of thinking requires a longer-term view of the world than I possess, frankly – but I will promise to try and not include anything NFT-related in Curios this year because, well, it’s not even funny any more. THAT SAID…I was tickled by this, in part because of the shininess of the website (VERY SHINY), in part because of the mad incomprehensibility of the project (it’s art…with AI!…and robots…ON THE BLOCKCHAIN!!!!!11111eleventy). Neura is… what is Neura? As far as I can tell, it’s an NFT project which lets anyone who buys in co-create artworks with a selection of different ‘artist robot personas’ created by the project; these artworks are ‘co collaborations’ between the user and the robot, and I think there’s some sort of vague promise of REVENUE and PROFIT SHARING and MILLIONAIRES BY CHRISTMAS (rodders)…but, also, let’s for a second glory in the wonder of this copy: “Neura is a special approach to the possession of art, the last hope of mankind.” YES THAT IS RIGHT IF YOU DO NOT ENGAGE WITH OUR SLIGHLY-MAD-SOUNDING AI ART PROJECT THE SPECIES IS DOOMED! CONNECT YOUR WALLET OR FUTURE GENERATIONS WILL BE FCUKED!” It’s spectacularly unclear, from exactly what the ‘robots’ are (are they…physical mechanoids of some sort? Are they just trained instances of Stable Diffusion? WHAT DOES THE ART LOOK LIKE?) but, frankly, I don’t care – this is mad, and silly, and I want to know where the money behind it has come from and whether I can have some.
- Birdweather: Over the past decade or so I’ve witnessed a slow reevaluation of the concept of birdwatching – from being considered ‘a bit weird’ (any hobby where the participants are called ‘twitchers’ is unlikely to remain entirely free of suspicion, to be fair) to now being the sort of thing that newly-middle-aged-millennials will proudly spend an afternoon doing in Hackneys wetlands while wearing brightly-coloured knitwear (I SEE YOU) – and look, it’s now even ‘cool’ enough to feature at CES! If you’re taking up the birding baton (while ‘twitching’, fine, sounds a bit creepy, I remain unconvinced that the US alternative, ‘birding’, is much better) then you might enjoy this website, which uses AI (SO ZEITGEISTY!) to identify birdsong from 100s of radio stations worldwide and automatically maps them, letting enthusiasts get a decent and up-to-date indication of where they might want to go and point their binoculars. A genuinely lovely and totally-non-creepy (unless of course you’re a privacy-fixated Thrush) use of machine learning, which is something I think we’re going to be able to say less and less as the year goes on.
- Close Up Photographer of the Year: Want to see some REALLY CLOSE-UP PHOTOGRAPHY? Of course you do! My personal favourites here are the insects, but there are some rather lovely pseudo-abstract shots of landscape and terrain details too which have a rather beautiful geometric quality – also, as an aside, I found that my appreciation of the insect pics was increased by about 23% if I imagined that the names underneath each photo were not in fact of the photographers responsible but of the creatures featured. Look at these again and tell me that that spider doesn’t look *exactly* like a Geraint.
- Frequency 2156: I’m slightly astonished that I haven’t featured this before, but it’s seemingly new to me – this is a WONDERFUL and slightly-odd bit of collaborative worldbuilding which has apparently been going on for YEARS. The premise is a simple one: “Frequency 2156 is a community based Internet radio from the year 2156. It uses well known protocols on trying to connect every last person still surviving after the great war. You can listen to our broadcast or you can browse the Message World Map on various locations. You can also request a radio message from your fellow survivors by Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP). And of course, you can submit your own radio messages as well.” And people have – in their hundreds, maybe thousands. Access the map and you can see dozens and dozens of audio messages, uploaded by people around the world, some of them roleplaying the post-apocalyptic scenario, some just…well, some of them have just uploaded really shonky audio of their mate’s band playing in a shed (or at least that’s very much what it sounds like), but who cares? This is WONDERFUL – I love the fact that for what may be over a decade this has been building up, accumulating fragments of story and lore and narrative…this really does feel rather special, and I think I might spend some proper time digging through it next week.
- Emoji Translator: Translate any text you like into emoji, via the MAGIC OF GENERATIVE AI! The beauty of this is the fact that it accepts REALLY LONG TEXTS, so if you’d like to render, say, The Great Gatsby entirely in emoji then, well, now you can!
- Motchiri Hello World: You know how I said I wasn’t going to feature NFT stuff this year (whilst linking to an NFT project)? Well the same will broadly apply to terrible metaversal projects (unless they are REALLY bad), because, honestly, they are all the same flavour of terrible and boring, in the main, and there are only so many different ways I can write ‘why the fcuk have you made this, you awful pricks?’ before wanting to apply acid to the pads of my fingers. BUT! This is a silly, pointless ‘metaverse’ project that I can totally get behind – I think Motchiri is a Japanese retailer of sorts, though I confess to not having bothered to check…but who cares? Their ‘metaverse’ is, fine, A N Other digital space through which you can navigate an avatar to no discernible purpose whatsoever…BUT THE AVATAR IS A RABBIT! And if you click on the image in the top of the screen, it can become a bear! Or a panda! Or an elephant! See, metaversemongs? It doesn’t take much to charm me, just the ability to render myself as a vaguely-anthropomorphic example of charismatic megafauna.
- GeoSpy: I like to think that the people who read this newsletter are, generally, not awful creeps and so don’t really want to have to say this – but, er, please noone use this for creepy purposes, please. Ok? GREAT! GeoSpy is a neat little tool that demonstrates the weird ability of multimodal AI to accurately work out where a photo has been taken – try it out, it’s FCUKING IMPRESSIVE, and a useful reminder of why you might want to stop posting photos of your general whereabouts if you have reason to not want to be traced. Which, to be clear, is miserable.
- Crab Culture: YouTube channels doing gigs or DJ sets in unusual locations have been a Thing for years – older readers may recall the Black Cab Sessions, and low-rent spin-off Bus Stop Sessions, from the mid-00s – but I don’t think I’ve ever been quite so charmed by the idea as I was by this channel in which DJs inexplicably show up at restaurants and do a set in the kitchen. I think the channel’s Indian – there aren’t many vids up yet, but I am 100% here for them doing a deep house set from a kulfi shop or similar.
- The Succession Auction: Are you OBSESSED with the TV show ‘Succession’? Good, go and tell someone else, I do not care. HOWEVER, if you are then you might want to click this link which takes you to an auction of props from the show – at the time of writing there are only 24h left in the sale, so CLICK NOW if you want the chance to own, for example, Kendall Roy’s Zippo.
- Guitar Cloud: Do you like Prince? Do you like guitars? Would you like a website which combines your twin passions into one glorious HTML library collecting information about Prince’s guitars and instruments and what he and the musicians he worked with used across all of the significant recording sessions of Prince’s life? GREAT!
- The Sopranos on TikTok: My girlfriend and I have been trying to watch the Sopranos for several years now; we managed seasons 1&2, but have sadly backed ourselves into a corner whereby we’re only allowed to watch the show on DVDs that we have bought in charity shops; TRY FINDING A COPY OF SEASON FCUKING THREE ANYWHERE IN THE UK. Impossible. Anyway, for those of you who HAVE managed to watch the whole thing, you might enjoy the series’ official TikTok account which, to celebrate the show’s 25th anniversary, is posting 25-second-long cutdowns of each episode, a new one each day, which is SUCH a smart way of doing nostalgia and storytelling and new audience development.
- Digi AI: You might have missed this over Christmas, what with having had better things to do than pay attention to the very worst of AI development – fortunately, though, I kept half an eye on the digital sewer and as such spotted Digi, probably the creepiest of the ‘AI-powered digital girlfriend’ services I’ve yet seen, not because of the service or the idea per se (though these are both still bleak, obvs) but because the art direction of the ‘girlfriends’ the machine spins up is…I mean, it’s ‘Pixar, but with sexy cleavage’ which is hugely cognitively-dissonant and VERY CREEPY. I did find myself wondering the other day about whether we might perhaps want to start thinking a bit harder about the continual growth in popularity of cartoonified bongo and what that might be saying about our ability (or otherwise) to deal with each other as actual flesh-and-blood meatsacks, but, honestly, January’s miserable enough already without getting into that right now.
By Alan Fears
THE SECTION WHICH PROMISES IT MISSED YOU, PT.2:
- Dogs of Geocities: Ok, so technically, yes, this site is just hosting a video, and that video is a slideshow of static Geocities homepages from the past that people had made to celebrate their dogs, but I promise you that you will PROPERLY get into this. So many lovely dogs! So many terrible fonts! So many wonderful outfits and hairstyles! Just, er, don’t think too hard about the fact that none of these dogs are alive any more.
- Out of Architecture: Are any of you reading this architects? Do you…do you wish you weren’t one any more? Would you like to PIVOT? Well you’re in luck – Out of Architecture is a business/service that offers assistance to architects who want to move into other disciplines, helping them work out how to best communicate what they can do in a manner than opens doors to other industries. I include this not because I imagine many, or indeed any, of you are architects who JUST CAN’T TAKE THE DRAUGHTSMANSHIP ANY MORE, but because it’s SUCH a good idea and the sort of thing that I could imagine being usefully extended to other professions. Er, can someone perhaps explain to someone who’s spent two decades working in communications what the everliving fcuk they should do now? Asking for a friend.
- BBC Scripts: I had no idea that this existed – apologies if it’s a widely-known resource, but I was astonished that so many BBC scripts are hosted and available to read and download from the Corporation’s website. Comedy, kids’ content, radio drama…there is SO MUCH here, and if you’re someone who’s interested in writing their own shows then this is a superb place to find inspiration and learn the craft. God I love the BBC.
- Glorb Worldwide: You might have seen this over the past month – it’s gained a lot of traction, mainly because the videos are frankly amazing. Have you spent much of the festive season thinking ‘yes, this is all well and good, but what I REALLY want is a YouTube channel featuring incredibly well-produced CG videos of Spongebob, Patrick, Squidward et al doing MAD GANGSTA SH1T while surprisingly-competent trap-ish songs play in the background? GREAT! Honestly, this is really very impressive (and I say that as someone for whom Spongebob has literally no meaning whatsoever and as such is unaffected by any sort of nostalgia kick for this stuff), to the point where it feels like there might be actual musicians and visual artists involved in the process – but, also, it is VERY SILLY, which is important at a time of year characterised by creeping fear and crippling ennui.
- The Best Book Covers of 2023: Or, to be precise, the best AMERICAN book covers of 2023, or at least ‘covers printed on American editions of books’ – there are 138 examples here, which should give the visually-inclined amongst you all sorts of inspiration for interiors or your own design projects, or whatever it is that visual sorts get from these types of collections. My personal favourite is the cover for the (excellent) short story collection by Fernanda Melchor ‘This Is Not Miami’, but, as ever, PICK YOUR OWN YOU FCUKS.
- Knightscope Bonds: Alongside ‘no more NFTs’ and ‘no more terrible metaversal rubbish (unless it really is VERY bad)’, I’ve also made a vague note to myself to try and maybe lay off the dystopian schtick a bit this year – I imagine there will be enough of it elsewhere and that you won’t need any more from me. Except, well, then I see stuff like this, and it is SO bleakly, miserably sci-fi that I feel compelled to share it with you to because, well, why must I suffer alone?! Knightscope Bonds are, as the name suggests, an investment vehicle – ‘but what are we investing in?’, I hear you all cry, ‘I do hope it’s ethical!’. WELL LET ME TELL YOU! Knighstcope is a company in the US which makes – and, I’m willing to bet, aggressively flogs – law enforcement robotics; that is, weird Weeble-looking things which are apparently being deployed in various US urban centres to do low-level policing. Per the website, “Our Autonomous Security Robots (ASRs) are a unique combination of artificial intelligence, robotics, and self-driving technology providing human law enforcement with extra eyes, ears, and a voice on the ground. We can be in multiple places at once, helping officers and guards protect places people live, work, study, and visit” – doesn’t that sound benign? Obviously there are NO PROBLEMS WHATSOEVER with AI, facial recognition, self-driving tech, or indeed any of the other technologies and their uses under the hood of these machines – so OBVIOUSLY it’s the ethical choice to invest in their aggressive marketing and eventual deployment! This feels EXACTLY like something that would have been in the original Robocop, which doesn’t feel like a particularly hopeful thing to be typing at the start of the new year.
- The Personality Sequencer: This is interesting – I think it’s also total bullsh1t, but it’s curious bullsh1t. You know those Myers-Briggs-type tests, and how fundamentally a) pointless and b) dull they are to do? Well, wouldn’t it be easier if you could get the same results simply by choosing between a selection of 50-ish pairs of AI images, each time simply picking the one that resonates most with you, and at the end get your personality faults explained to you to three decimal places? WELL NOW YOU CAN! I have no idea exactly what flavour of bullsh1t ‘special sauce’ is underpinning this, but I will say that at the end it had managed to accurately grade me as an arrogant misanthrope and so perhaps I should be less sniffy about it. More seriously, whilst this is obviously quite far away from being ‘science’, it’s quite a nice example of a ‘fun’, lightweight bit of AI interactive content that is pretty easy to spin up, should any of you fancy copying the vibe.
- The Little Wheels Museum: Via the excellent Things Magazine comes this WONDERFUL website (which also has a great url – why, though? WHY???) which is a celebration of toy cars. Like toy cars? NOT AS MUCH AS ANDREW WOOD DOES. Andrew runs an online shop selling model cars to enthusiasts, but this is the companion site which catalogues the various different die-cast models that have passed through his hands over the years – you may not think you want to embark upon an exhaustive exploration of all the various Corgi model vehicles ever produced, but I promise you that you will be surprised.
- PRO Monthly: It’s a long-standing tenet of mine, and of Curios in general, that there is nothing truly boring on Earth – everything is to some extent interesting when viewed from the right angle or explained by the right person, even the Dewey Decimal System. So it is with the world of PORTABLE TOILETS, an industry like any other which, like all industries, has its own trade publications – so let me introduce you to the website and work of Portable Restroom (we are in North America) Monthly, a compendium of all the news and features and insights that anyone involved in the faecal disposal business could possible wish for. This is obviously VERY NICHE and VERY SPECIFIC, but I can’t help but be charmed by the fact that this exists – also, the headline on the homepage which reads “He Went From Pro Football to PRO Magazine” may be an early contender for ‘most poignant story of the year’. WHAT HAPPENED, FORMER GRIDIRON HERO?!?!
- Pencil Talk: Continuing this brief section of ‘incredibly niche websites’, which of us hasn’t at one point or another during the course of the infinite calvary that is LIFE thought “you know what? I wish there was a website where I could indulge in light-hearted but well-informed chat about pencils and their relative merits and qualities”? NO FCUKER, etc! This has been going for 18 years, meaning that it’s entirely conceivable that by now they have answered every single question it’s possible to have about pencils, but why not create a login and see if you can stump them? Personally I’m quite tempted to ask the simple-yet-impossible ‘which is the BEST pencil?’ just to see the whole site descend into a deep and rancorous war, but I’ll refrain.
- Watching The World: WEBCAMS! To quote the project itself: “”WATCHING THE WORLD, The Encyclopedia Of the Now” is an art, a photography, an exhibition, an AI, a Big Data, an online project and uses only Open Data sources for this purpose. It photographs around the clock and around the globe the world in live mode by means of publicly accessible network cameras, presents the images simultaneously on the website in different modes and, with the help of AI, develops a new way of seeing, a new kind of photography. “WATCHING THE WORLD” can be viewed as a standalone and giant online camera. Using features, the simultaneous views of the world can be curated by the viewers and used in their own way. New features are continuously being developed and integrated into the camera resp. the website. The network cameras look at public as well as at private spheres. The fact that different cultures value privacy differently is just one of the insights we may gain. What is seen in the pictures, determines the world and at the same time is in the eye of the beholder. This can be provocative.” Honestly, I had to close this tab as otherwise I would never finish this fcuking newsletter – this is HYPNOTIC.
- Jagat: I think after over a decade of speculating about when this sort of thing was going to finally take off and become A BIG MAINSTREAM HABIT that I might have to just accept that, in fact, noone wants to do ‘location sharing social networking’ outside of a few very specific sorts of teen. Still, that doesn’t stop startups offering that very thing from popping up every couple of months – Jagat is the latest one, and offers the standard mix of functionality that means you can share your location, tag your ‘places’, see where your friends are, arrange impromptu meetups…but also, apparently, see how much battery your mates’ phones have left, and how fast they are driving. Oh, and “Send a poop emoji when chatting with your friend. A giant poop will pop up on their screen.” GREAT!
- The Best Science Images of 2023: Not according to me, you understand, but according to the people at Nature magazine, who one might expect to have a better grasp as to what ‘best’ means in this context. You want nebulae? YOU GOT NEBULAE! But also nature and industry and CUTE ANIMALS, and a particularly lovely shot of sugar molecules under a microscope which I would quite like as a print please thankyou.
- Dicele: This is basically a SuDoKu-type puzzle where you need to rearrange the dice to fit the mathematical equations on each column and row – there’s a new puzzle each day, which could make this a pleasing addition to your morning ludic routine should you be more numerically inclined than me who had to basically take his shoes and socks off to finish this when he tried it the other week. Oh, and if you like this then you will probably like this too – it’s called ‘Maths Crossword’.
- The Last Dance: This is SUCH a charming concept for a puzzle game – your task is to program the dancers so that their movements match the footprint patterns on the floor of each level. Which, I appreciate, is clear as slurry as far as descriptions go, but I promise you it is perfectly simple to understand once you start playing, and there’s something genuinely lovely about seeing your steps performed once you’ve completed a level.
- Thus Spake Zaranova: This is a really clever idea that doesn’t quite work, but which contains the germ of something interesting – the challenge here is to pass yourself off as an AI as you converse with various different agents to try and get them to divulge a specific secret code. You can play alone against the computer, or as one of several humans each trying to fool the others, and the AIs, into believing that they too are machines – it’s a bit too simple, in my experience, but it feels like there’s some fertile ludic territory in the general ‘fool the machine’ space.
- 2d Pacman: You’ve likely seen this as EVERYONE has linked to it in the past week – but it’s very good, and the internet is not a race (IT IS A RACE FFS), and so I am including it here.
- Brainteaser: A selection of kinetic physics puzzles which are surprisingly-addictive and, for me at least, got really hard really quite quickly and made me feel very, very stupid indeed.
- ABA Games: Would you like a website collecting about 100 tiny-but-beautifully-designed little browser games? YES YOU WOULD! These are super-minimal but, based on the ones I’ve tried, universally-lovely – there’s a real attention to the feel and flow of each one that makes them a pleasure to play. The link takes you to the webgames section of the site, but there are a FCUKTONNE of other, more sophisticated, titles on the site which you can download for free should you be so inclined – if you had ‘waste a load of time playing videogames instead of doing all the improving stuff I had promised I would prioritise this year’ on your ‘goals’ list for 2024 then, well, this will be right up your street.
- DosDeck: BOOKMARK THIS – if you are a middle-aged person who spent time playing PC games in the early-to-mid-90s then you will have a not-insignificant nostalgiagasm at this site which lets you play 21 games from the glorious past in your browser – from shareware classics like Commander Keen, to actual proper games like Syndicate, these ACTUALLY WORK and run seamlessly, and load far faster than the equivalent titles played off the Internet Archive – the people behind this seem to think that they will continue adding titles to the roster, so keep this saved in the (admittedly VANISHINGLY UNLIKELY) event that you find yourself getting bored of doing yet another bit of pointless slidework.
- Corru Observer: Our final miscellaneous link of the week is to a really rather special…game? Visual novel? Art project? MYSTERIOUS WEBART LABYRINTH? I have no idea, but I adore it – I don’t want to explain too much, but know that it starts out confusing but begins to make sense fairly soon, and that it involves the player attempting to explore an alien consciousness via equally alien technology…honestly, this is quite wonderful, narratively, visually, aurally…I am slightly in awe, and if this is the quality of weird internet narrative artgameprojectthing we can expect from 2024 then that is at least one thing to feel slightly positive about.
By Victor Man
THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!
- Mousetrapped: Perhaps the only thing I’ve seen in the fortnight since the early Mouse fell out of copyright that hasn’t felt like someone exhuming and violating the corpse of a favourite uncle, Mousetrapped is using the Steamboat Willie version of Mickey, alongside other now-out-of-copyright old Disney (and other) characters, to create a new comic strip; time will tell how long its creator maintains enthusiasm, but it feels like there’s a story and theme here outside the simple ‘lol I am abusing Mickey Mouse lol’ dunderheadedness that has characterised all the other post-copyright-reinterpretation instances to date. BONUS MOUSE: make your own post-copyright Mouse images using AI, should you so desire!
THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!
- Everything Can Be Scanned: I confess to being slightly confused as to why this Insta account is posting images of a variety of mundane vintage-looking objects that have been captured by a scanner, but, well, that is what is happening here. Why? WHY THE FCUK NOT?
- Nice Aunties: In general, AI-generated imagery is banal and uninteresting – which is why it really stands out when you find someone making work that stands out. Nice Aunties is an Insta account posting VERY ODD images, mainly (but not exclusively) combining old japanese ladies and sushi into increasingly-surreal tableaux. This feels surreal-but-benign, but most of all it feels CURIOUS in a way that is absent from the vast majority of AI-generated imagery I’ve seen over the past 18m.
LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!
- The State of the World 2024: As is now traditional here at Web Curios, we kick off the new year’s longreads by linking to the annual ‘State of the World’ discussion at The Well, moderated and convened by Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky, and featuring contributions from a whole range of interesting people covering all sorts of interesting topics about Where We Are Now. I always adore these, although I confess I found this year’s (so far – the discussion’s still ongoing) a bit West-centric, given, well, Everything That Is Going On – still, as a series of observations and provocations about tech, geopolitics, society, elections, business and EVERYTHING ELSE, it remains one of the most fascinating and broad ‘state of the sh1tshow’ discussions you’ll find anywhere online. Oh, and it also contained the following observation on the UK in 2024, which I reproduce verbatim because, well, look: “The British escaped disgusting cosmopolitan-globalization and they took-back-control, and they went straight into decline. They’re a corrupt backwater. Nobody admires them, they’re not considered the Mother of Parliaments any more, they’re not planetary trendsetters, as they once were Their soft-power went away; British pop music bands are irrelevant, there’s no British cinema, British fashions, architecture, literature, those all used to be super-interesting to watch. Now that level of vitality is too much to ask from them. I don’t want to pick on the fine people of Alabama, but it’s like going to Huntsville, Birmingham and Montgomery and demanding that they should out-do Paris, Berlin and Dubai. That’s unfair to them in their abiding Alabama-ness. They chose that existential condition, the British. They still choose it. They’re stubbornly patriotic about it. They know that it’s not the way-forward now, but they’re trying to see-it-through. And maybe they will. There were other historical periods where the British were very inward-looking and nobody else cared much about them. They’re in one of those periods now. It’s not novel or peculiar. It’s long-lasting, it’s how modern life is for them.”
- Predictions for Journalism: These are, fine, very much ‘inside media’, but if you have anything to do with questions of ‘does mass media still exist in a meaningful sense?’ or ‘how does information get disseminated and where, and how is that changing?’ then this is worth reading – I found this pull-quote in particular to be a proper scroll-stopper, but there are loads of interesting opinions peppered throughout: ““For an increasing subset of readers, ‘articles’ will be as invisible as CSS code.” I mean, that’s just true, isn’t it?
- Ageing Out of the Internet: One might argue that this piece could and should have been written a few years ago about GenX, but it wasn’t because, well, as a rule they lack the laser-targeted self-obsession of their slightly-younger successors – still, it’s here now, so you might as well read it. This is a continuation of the slew of pieces you will have seen at the end of last year, lamenting the death of the ‘fun’ internet (GYAC if your internet experience is not ‘fun’ then I might gently posit that it is you and your appalling lack of curiosity that is the problem rather than everyone else in the world), but which takes a bigger central thesis suggesting that it’s a generational shift from millennial habits to GenZ/Alpha-dominated or defined platforms…which I partly agree with, but, equally, might also suggest is a vast overcomplication of the simple-but-true ‘they made everything video, and video is not always the best medium for everything’ (see also: modern work and the nefarious influence of PPT). Anyway, this is very much a THING for 2024, as evidenced by the fact that this almost-identical article appeared a week or so after the initial one – feel free to put ‘pandering to millennial nostalgia for a web they felt was theirs’ in your bullsh1t strategy presentations, kids!
- A Not-Totally-Dreadful Trend Report: Yes, yes, I know, but bear with me – this is another bit of work by Sean Monahan and whilst it’s…maybe a *touch* in love with the smell of its own farts, stylistically-speaking, and while it could do with someone sitting down alongside Sean and occasionally saying things like ‘yes, but what about in language that actually makes sense?’, there’s also some really interesting thinking about novelty and nostalgia which emerges after the halfway point which I think is potentially a useful way of characterising much of the cultural (and economic) output of the coming year(s).
- Quitting: I fcuking LOVE quitting things. I think I have said this in the past, but there are few feelings more exhilarating than quitting a job with nothing else on the horizon; one of my favourite graphic novels is ‘The Quitter’ by Harvey Pekar… Basically what I am saying here is that giving things up is FUN and we should revel in it more often – this link takes you to a collection of essays and articles on the theme published by Slate which include pieces of quitting jobs, cities, relationships, therapy…go on, give something or someone up, it’s INCREDIBLY CATHARTIC. But, er, not Web Curios, eh?
- Some Thoughts On The Next Year Of AI: Ethan ‘continually one of the smartest and most level-headed people writing about the practical implementation of current AI tools’ Mollick returns for 2024 with some thoughts on the likely direction of travel of AI tech in the next 12 months. Obviously he’s not got a crystal ball, but his thinking is clear and sober and feels realistic, and is a nice counterpoint to all the people trying to tell you that we’ll be reading AI-generated blockbuster novels by the end of the year (we will not, unless something catastrophic happens to global IQ levels). If you’re in the market for more speculation then you could do worse than read this WIRED piece as a companion – here the author argues that we’re about to slip into the Gartner ‘trough of disillusionment’ as people realise that The Machine still isn’t good enough to quite do EVERYTHING just yet. Which, broadly-speaking, I think is accurate – I’m not personally convinced that there will be another step-change in the tech this year (although TTI and TTV will continue to improve markedly) – I think the author underplays the extent you can just do a lot of boring, pointless work crap a LOT faster with this stuff and how that can and probably should start to make actual, practical bottom-line differences in 2024.
- Oppression in Generative AI’s Global Order: I think this is unlikely to get many of you clicking, but if you’re in the market for a VERY deep academic dive into the various ways in which one might argue that the current wave of generative AI “is rooted in heteropatriarchy, racial capitalism, white supremacy, and coloniality and perpetuates its influence through the mechanisms of extractivism, automation, essentialism, surveillance, and containment.” Whilst, yes, there’s a degree to which there’s a TOUCH of social sciences buzzword bingo about that list, this is actually a really interesting exploration of the ways in which we can already see existing power structures being codified into the very fabric of digital life (AGAIN).
- Selling A Pencil on TikTok: John Herrman writes for New York Magazine about his experience selling a pencil via TikTok livestream – this is sort of a wonderful synechdoche for all the ways general and specific in which the web has gotten worse over the years and the inexorable way in which the pursuit of continued hockeystick user and revenue growth inevitably leads to a product or platform that no longer gives users the experience that made it so attractive in the first place. This is sort-of funny, in a ‘author is bemused and slightly discomfited by the modern world’ way, but is also quietly bleak in its depiction of a future in which everyone’s either desperately flogging tat for pennies or otherwise simply *watching other people* flog tat for pennies as some sort of slack-jawed, lean-back entertainment stream.
- The Rabbit R1: The undisputed breakout device of CES this year was the mysterious Rabbit R1, a product which has inspired a LOT of column inches considering noone seems to have the faintest fcuking clue what it will actually be able to do or how it will work. The Rabbit is a friendly, chunky-looking device which is equipped with its own AI – not, apparently, an LLM and not using OpenAI’s tech, but the company’s own software – which it has trained to ‘use websites and apps like a human’, effectively turning the device into an AI agent, capable of ‘acting’ on a user’s behalf when prompted with either voice commands or a photo, with the idea that you will basically use it as an always-on digital PA who you can outsource your digital life admin to. Or at least that’s the theory – there are a LOT of questions, but that hasn’t stopped the company selling thousands of the things on-spec. It strikes me as…unlikely that this particular device is going to be ‘the iPhone of AI devices’, but it also seems probable that ‘functionality like this’ is going to be in everyone’s phone, or phone-equivalent, in ~3y or so.
- How Google Shaped The Web: I presume, given you’re reading this VERY ONLINE screed, that you’re reasonably-familiar with How Google Works and Why Websites Look The Way They Do – if you’re not wholly au fait with those and related questions, though, this is a genuinely brilliant explainer that does a superb job of explaining why it is that websites are structured the way they are, whilst also lightly roasting Google for creating a web that is built for the scraper rather than the user. I am genuinely fascinated to see how AI and search reshape this landscape, though I don’t think we’re likely to see any concrete movement around those questions this year (this one’s going to come back and bite me, isn’t it? Oh well).
- Are The Young Left Wing?: This piece is written from a US perspective, but with elections on both side of the Atlantic coming in November (allegedly) these are reasonable questions to ask in the UK (and frankly other countries of the Global North) too. Basically this piece argues something that I’ve been saying for years – namely that the idea of young people as being ‘automatically left wing’ is actually a bit blinkered, and that a not-insignificant proportion of them are materially-obsessed hustle goblins who would happily skin Jeremy Corbyn alive for a few hours in Balmain with a credit card. While I don’t think it will prevent the Tories getting a biblical and hopefully-fatal kicking over here (PLEASE GOD), it’s worth a read and a think, and is a useful reminder that gEnErAtIoNs ArEn’T mOnOlItHs.
- The Half-A-Billion-Dollar Pizza Robot Fcukup: Do you remember the magical pizza startup that was going to revolutionise the takeaway industry with its ROBOT CHEFS a few years back? Well half a billion dollars later and – SURPRISE – it turns out that it is not in fact going to do that after all; this really is a great bit of classic Silicon Valley idiocy and hubris, ticking ALL of the boxes (overspending, a seemingly total lack of practical understanding of the working practises and business models of the people to whom they hoped to sell this tech to) and generally leaving you thinking ‘Christ can we STOP giving all the money to these fcuking morons, please?’.
- My Unravelling: This has been widely-shared but if you’re yet to read it then let me recommend it to you unreservedly. The always-superb Tom Scocca writes about ‘the year my body fell apart’ – about what it’s like to go from being a healthy person to being a very unhealthy person, about the arbitrariness of sickness and the equal arbitrariness of the dividing line between ‘the ill’ and ‘the healthy’ and how quickly and easily one can slip from the former to the latter, and how the world fails to accommodate that shift…honestly, this is a SUPERB piece of writing which will resonate with anyone who’s ever been seriously, surprisingly ill, or who’s had to deal with someone to whom that’s happened.
- How We Got To Modern TV: A writeup in the LRB of Pandora’s Box: The Greed, Lust and Lies that Broke Television by Peter Biskind, a book about how the TV industry became the streaming industry became whatever the fcuk it’s set to become now – this is super-interesting as a series of vignettes telling the story of the growth of cable in the US and how the freedom and license granted to writers there set the stage for the evential Netflixification of everything.
- Making Travis Kelce: Maybe you’re more forgiving than me, but I genuinely resent Taylor Swift (or, perhaps more fairly, the Taylor Swift Media Industrial Complex) for making me know the name of a fcuking American Footballer – still, per this piece, it’s probably not her fault either. Turns out Travis Kelce has been groomed for BIG BRAND STARDOM for years – this NYT piece looks at the team that have been working behind the scenes for years to elevate this particular thick-necked hunk of beef to the panoply of international human brand superstars, and offers an interesting perspective on the questions motivating the 13-year-old superstars of tomorrow, questions such as ‘when should I trademark my nickname?’ and ‘do I need a signature designer?’. Given the percentage of kids in any given sport that make it to The Show (SPOT THE REFERENCE!), this does rather indicate that there are going to be a LOT of young men and women whose appreciation of the potential value of their own personal brand is likely to outstrip their earning potential and career prospects – still, I’m sure they’ll be fine!
- Things We Got Stuck In Our Rectums in 2023: I know, I know, it feels a bit late to do recap stuff from last year – BUT, I will make an exception for this list which always makes me laugh and which this year contains some all-time-great examples of ill-advised masturbatory exploration. A question – HOW JADED WITH VANILLA SEX DO YOU HAVE TO BE TO THINK ‘YOU KNOW WHAT, I AM GOING TO PUT 3 CELLPHONES IN MY BOTTOM!?
- ICYMI 2023: Our final bit of last year nostalgia now, with the second appearance in this week’s Curios by Iconic Media Commentator Nick Walker, who every year compiles a selection of his favourite Tweets – yes, yes, I know, but Nick is legitimately one of the funniest people I know and has a genuinely brilliant eye for weird kitchen sink Fiat500 UK content. These are not only very funny, but most of them were totally new to me.
- Clocking into Neopia: A brilliant essay/short story by Nancy Huang, about precarious work and digital escapes and the strange, modern phenomenon of fleeing ones very real material difficulties through a cheerful, multicoloured gameworld, and how that sometimes is enough.
- If One Part Suffers: In the unlikely event anyone had asked me whether it was in fact possible to write sensitively about people who have a strong and almost overwhelming belief that they have a surfeit of limbs and who really, really want to divest themselves of one or more of them I would probably have answered in the negative – turns out I’m a moron, though, because that’s exactly what this article in Harper’s, by Michelle Orange, does. This is so so so well-written, in part because of the prose but also because of the gentle way in which she treats her subjects and their feelings, and how you find yourself genuinely thinking ‘well, why shouldn’t you be able to lop your legs off at the hip if you decide you don’t necessarily get along with them any more?’.
- Ayana: Finally this week, a short story by Steven King, first published in the Paris Review in 2007 – I don’t normally particularly enjoy King’s writing, but I thought this was excellent and I think you might too
By Ryan Heshka
AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:
- You probably don’t imagine that watching 77 minutes of stop-motion animation involving matchsticks is necessarily a good use of your time, and while you might, objectively, be right, I also strongly recommend taking 5 minutes to just skip around the runtime of this astonishing piece of work by Tomohiro Omazaki and marvel and the skill and inventiveness on display – honestly, this really is mesmerising.
- This REALLY reminds me of the Divine Comedy, a band I unaccountably despised as a kid but who I would have enjoyed quite a lot more had they sounded more like this; mainly, though, I adore the video and actually watched it all the way through which isn’t always the case. The song’s called ‘Caesar on a TV Screen’, and it’s by The Last Dinner Party.
- We close out this week with the latest track from the Northern Boys, who are going on tour later this year should you wish to experience this LIVE AND DIRECT – this is called ‘Robot Man’, and that is all for this week because DEAR GOD I AM FCUKING EXHAUSTED THIS CURIOS LARK IS HARD WORK SEE YOU NEXT WEEK I LOVE YOU BYE!