Webcurios 14/06/24

Reading Time: 36 minutes

Hello everyone, hello hello – firstly THANKYOU to everyone who shared the Tiny Awards link over the past week, it is HUGELY appreciated and I would thank each and every one of you personally if that wouldn’t involve a degree of stalking that would almost certainly make you exceptionally uncomfortable. If you would like to share the link AGAIN, then PLEASE DO – here it is! The Tiny Awards! Nominations open for another couple of weeks or so!

Anyway, this week’s Curios is, as ever, PACKED, BULBOUS AND STRAINING WORRYINGLY AT THE SEAMS with excellent writing (not mine), games, pictures, webtoys and curiosities – which is good, because I am off next week and maybe the week after too, what with having to nip to Italy for a few days (I have to sign a piece of paper – the 21st century continues not to be entirely-evenly-distributed, turns out). Still, the extra time between newsletters will give you the opportunity to finally CLICK EVERY LINK. Won’t it? WON’T IT?????

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and you might want to plan something big for next Friday to fill the massive, Curios-shaped void in your life.

By Keita Morimoto



  • Dream Machine: The list of ‘impressive-looking text-to-video models that we’re only currently able to see hand-curate demo videos from’ got longer last week with the announcement of Kling, by Chinese appmakers Kuaishou (don’t get excited, it’s waitlist-only and only available to people with a Chinese phone number) – it joins Sora from OpenAI on the list of ‘things that people with souls of questionable quality believe will KILL HOLLYWOOD’, but until there’s a version people can actually play with then I am personally withholding judgement on AI video. BUT! There is now Dream Machine, a new text-to-video toy that anyone can use in their browser! YES, EVEN YOU! Click the link, enter a prompt, and (depending on what time of day it is -at times yesterday there were queues of a few minutes to render anything) you will get your VERY OWN ‘Hollywood-killing’ (LOL) snippet of AI video with which to amuse and delight your friends. So, what are the outputs like? Hm. On the one hand, this is by far and away the most impressive bit of freely-available video generation kit I have seen (beats Runway into a cocked hat); on the other, there is no way in hell you would ever use this for anything other than ‘messing around’. Basically it can’t do anything with complex moving parts very well (so people are out), it can’t do text (hence the garbled ads on the side of buses), it has no concept of persistence of vision, which means that elements will flit in and out of existence within a single clip…but it’s still QUITE MAGICAL. Have a play, you will enjoy seeing if you can make it generate anything truly horrifying (I am yet to succeed with that challenge, but please do let me know how you get on). To be clear, though, I think we are still quite a long way away from this being anything other than a novelty – although, as this thread proves, the novelty can still be pretty fun. Oh, and it can go to some quite unpleasant places, suggesting a degree of 80s horror film in its training data.
  • AI Steve: It’s a mark of how incredibly underwhelming and largely uninspiring this election campaign has so far been (we’re halfway through, everyone, there is light at the end of the tunnel! It is, fine, unclear as to whether said light is in fact an oncoming train, but let’s just cross our fingers and hope not, eh?) that ‘AI Steve’ got pretty much universal media coverage this week – that, and the fact that the media is still in a phase where appending the letters ‘a’ and i’ to any old crap will guarantee you at least a modicum of attention. So it is with ‘AI Steve’, the gimmick elevating the no-hope candidacy of one Steve Endacott, an ‘entrepreneur’ from Brighton from ‘Just Another Middle-Aged Oddity’ to ‘An AI-Enabled Middle-Aged Oddity’ – the idea is that all of Steve’s policies will be, er, crowdsourced, through people interacting with the AI Steve chatbot? I think? And then other people vote on them? And ‘AI Steve’ needs to exist, because despite the fact that real life Steve is standing for election in Brighton, on the South Coast of the UK, his actual day-to-day residence is in Rochdale, very much in the North of the UK, where he lives with his ‘new wife’ (sorry, but the level of detail there – why ‘new’, Steve? Why the need to emphasise that? Was there a first draft in which the adjective ‘young’ was also appended to the word wife, Steve? Do you…do you refer to her in the third person as ‘the wife’ in conversation, Steve? I bet you fcuking do, you know – really sent me), and as such AI Steve will serve as a bridge between the real MP and his real constituents because, er, he doesn’t care enough to actually move to the place he says he wants to represent. This makes so sense at all – the buttons on the website where you’re supposed to be able to ‘talk to AI Steve!’ don’t work, ffs, and as far as I can tell the only bit that does is the datacapture form to harvest your details so they can tap you up for donations…except of course it DOES make sense when you realise that Steve (real world Steve, that is) is an entrepreneur (and, per his website, an ‘Angle Investor’)…who is an investor in Neural Voice, the company whose tech is powering the ‘AI Avatar’ software. Jesus Christ, PLEASE LET THIS BE OVER SOON.
  • Say What You See: A cute little Google Arts & Culture experience which is basically a ‘my first prompting class’ tutorial, but delivered with all the charm and general pleasing air of cute that you’d expect from Google. The game is simple – you’re presented with a selection of images, and your job is to write a prompt in such a way that Google’s image gen tech creates something that it recognises as being meaningfully-similar to the target image. SIMPLE! This is surprisingly fun, not least as a way of working out how Google’s own particular image gen model weights terms and where you put them in a prompt, and it’s a great way of getting an understanding of How This Sort-of Works and how to make The Machine do (sort of) what you want it to.
  • Midjourney Launches Model Personalisation: This is, fine, a bit technical and will only really make sense if you’re a Midjourney user – but by this point there’s not really a good excuse not to be, particularly considering the web interface is slowly opening up and means you will soon never have to touch Discord ever again. This is a Twitter thread explaining how The Machine will now let you effectively designate a specific style as ‘yours’ – effectively letting you anchor your generations in a particular corner of latent space, should you find an area of it that is particularly aesthetically satisfying to you. What this means in practice is another step towards being able to deliver consistent outputs, which means significant improvements in terms of the ability to create photoshoot-style content, or multiple frames in identical style for storyboarding, etc – seriously, MJ is so far ahead in terms of quality of images generated that it’s almost ridiculous, although it’s still not managed to shake the standard ‘yep, this is Midjourney all right’ sheen which distinguishes the majority of its output (you can swerve that by getting it to output cameraphone-style images, though, in my experience). BONUS AI IMAGE STUFF: The Stable Diffusion subReddit has been quite fun this week, as various WELL-ADJUSTED MEN react to the fact that the new version of the model has gotten markedly worse at generating anatomically-correct women. Dear Christ.
  • The Deep Ark: This is, on the one hand, the website to promote a very, very niche book about, I think, 90s ambient Techno: “A psychedelic odyssey that plunges the reader into a mythic exurban world of wonder, ritual, folly & friendship, The Deep Ark blurs the lines between the imagined, the real and the invoked. Moments of tenderness, humour, grief, joy and revelatory intensity combine to form a fragmented narrative of quiet lyrical beauty, suffused with an abiding reverence for the music, memories, community and landscape that inspired it.” Does that mean anything to you? Anyway, that’s not important – what IS important is that there is ALSO an accompanying 8-HOUR(!!!!) mix that goes with the book, featuring Aphex Twin and Autechre and μ-Ziq and all your other INTENSELY TUNEFUL FAVOURITES, and I think for some of you this might possibly be somewhat transcendental.
  • Cara: Segueing on nicely (if I do say so myself) from the last link, Cara is a new online community which has done big numbers this week off the back of some rather zeitgeist-baiting positioning around AI – to whit, they aren’t having any of it on the platform, neatly positioning Cara as a nice, utopian, hand-knitted alternative to the increasingly-hollowed-out Deviantart et al. I haven’t dug into this enough to work out whether it’s 100% worth a look – and as ever with places like this that get a mad influx of users off the back of a sudden publicity burst, I am…sceptical that it will have robust enough community support in place to cope with all the headaches that a quick uptick in users brings – but if you’re after a new platform on which to host all your work as a visual artist then this might be worth a look. FWIW, though, I think this policy – “We do not agree with generative AI tools in their current unethical form, and we won’t host AI-generated portfolios unless the rampant ethical and data privacy issues around datasets are resolved via regulation” – is, frankly, dumb and shows a lack of understanding of what you can do with AI in the context of art; there is a significant qualitative difference between ‘artist making their own work with their own models, tinkering and tweaking and training’ and ‘plugging some words into Dall-E’, and not to acknowledge the genuine artistic potential of the former seems shortsighted imho.
  • Hypercinema: This is interesting – fine, a bit niche, given it’s aimed squarely at the visitor attractions space, but I continue to be curious about ways of bringing generative AI into real world spaces and how you can integrate it into consumer experiences for CREATIVE AND POTENTIALLY FUN RESULTS. Basically this company sells its services to theme parks, museums, galleries and the like, with a view to working with them to make interactive experiences for visitors which harness generative AI. Per the blurb, its tech is “a state-of-the-art AI platform powering HyperCinema, fusing advanced algorithms for unique visitor experiences. It features intelligent personalization, dynamic content generation, and interactive engagement, evolving continuously to redefine digital storytelling.” Which, fine, so far so w4nky – BUT I do think there’s something sort of self-evidently fun about this stuff, and I have been going on for at least a year about creating physical manifestations of AI magic, and these people seem like they might be worth looking at should you ever want to ‘make Matt’s idea of an AI-enabled Magic Mirror reality’ (PLEASE IT WOULD BE REALLY FUN).
  • The Climate Reality Check: A website which self-describes as ‘the Bechdel test, but for the environment’, and which is dedicated to tracking the depiction of the climate emergency in film and TV to see how culture reflects reality over time. “Climate change is our reality. It’s happening here and now, not elsewhere or in the future. It touches every aspect of life. But that reality is still largely absent from our on-screen stories. The Climate Reality Check is a simple tool to evaluate whether our climate reality is being represented in films, TV shows, and other narratives. It’s inspired by the Bechdel-Wallace Test, which measures gender representation.The Climate Reality Check asks whether, in a given story: a) Climate change exists; b) And a character knows it.” You may be unsurprised to know that, of the 250 films analysed, just under 10% passed the test – meaning that (as you probably already knew tbf) over 90% makes no reference whatsoever to the fact that We Might Have A Small Problem Coming Up Here. Another one for the ‘hm, I wonder what happens to an idea or issue when the arts entirely fail to engage with it?’ folder, alongside ‘the pandemic’. Anyway, this is an awareness-raising bit of comms by an organisation called ‘Good Energy’, and very nice it is too.
  • Beauty in the AI Age: I’ll be honest with you, I tend to be VERY SNIFFY about Dove’s comms – partly because I am of an age whereby, for about a decade, every clunkily-explained attempt to define what an ‘insight’ is (DEAR GOD NEVER AGAIN) was accompanied by the Dove ‘campaign for real beauty’ case study, to the point that I briefly started hiding their products in the supermarket; partly because I despise the parent company; and partly because there’s something so nakedly cynical about the (admittedly impressively-jujitsu) move of ‘weaponising female insecurity to sell unguents, but in a really stealthy way’ – but this is really good. Click the link and it takes you to a microsite (weird nostalgia typing that word just now) about how AI-generated imagery might impact and affect beauty standards, and a link to download a brochure outlining some principles to help brands and creators make images that are more representative – and, honestly, the brochure is GREAT. Practical, clear, with decent instructions on prompting and things to consider and ways to construct your interactions with The Machine, and acknowledgements of all the watch-outs, and I honestly can’t fault this at all from the point of view of ‘really smart extension of the brand into sort-of knew territory’. Bloody Dove.
  • The Vittles Map Of Slightly Obscure Places To Eat in London: If hipsters were still a thing, I would call Vittles ‘the hipster foodie bible of London’ – but they’re not, so I can’t. Still, hopefully you get the idea – for any of you not aware, Vittles is a newsletter which highlights (mostly) London food that tends not to get written about elsewhere, the diaspora cuisines of the city’s Eritrean or Somali or Chilean or Croatian or Laotian communities you might find in the outer boroughs rather than your Soho/Hackney joints. For a while now they have been running a weekly column that recommends six small, local joints – this map accumulates all those recommendations, so that wherever you are in Greater London you can find yourself a reasonably-priced and highly-recommended meal. A truly SUPERB resource – I can vouch for the quality of the recommendations, the ones near my house are all ACE – even if, as with all of Vittles stuff, the sense of reverse-snobbery is palpable (“of course, all the real cognoscenti know that the BEST food in London is served from a nondescript van under a Haggerston viaduct between 10-11am on the third Thursday of every month with an ‘R’ in it.”
  • The Forgotten Madness of 2001: A superb Reddit thread in which people look back at some of the things which happened in 2001 which, as a result of the all-consuming Western hysteria engendered by the September 11th attacks, have rather been forgotten in the subsequent decades. Very US-centric, in the main, but there are some astonishing ones here – this, in particular, made me stop and think about ‘WHAT MUST THAT EXPERIENCE HAVE BEEN LIKE??’ (horrible, inevitably): “Air Transat Flight 236. Plane from Toronto to Lisbon ran out of fuel in the middle of the Atlantic and glided 75 miles to an airport in the Azores and safely landed. Longest glide of a passenger airliner. Happened 3 weeks before 9/11.” I mean, just *imagine*.
  • Dumb Domains: Want to make your own website? YES OF COURSE YOU DO! In which case you might find this site helpful – a search engine for cheap and, admittedly, silly domain names. If you want a url and you don’t really care what it is, and you don’t mind it being…whimsical, at best, then this really is your best friend – tangypatrick.xyz could be YOURS for a mere £5, for example, which is the sort of bargain I imagine you’re all here for.
  • Build Your Own Website: Think of this as a companion to the last link – this is a charming little webpage dedicated to giving advice and encouragement on building your own small domain online. There are links to tutorials, short guides to ‘what to think about when you’re thinking about making a website’, some guides to terminology, all wrapped up in an aesthetic that can best be described as ‘Rainbow Brite’ (I don’t know why this is the reference my mind immediately jumped for; must raise that with the therapist).
  • Tokyo In Roblox: Another entry in the semi-regular ‘stuff happening in Roblox that I think is interesting’ slot – this is the Tokyo Metropolitan Government making TOKYO IN ROBLOX! Fine, ok, it’s not the WHOLE of Tokyo, but it’s a fun little representation of it, with minigames and landmarks and things to visit and stuff to collect…this strikes me as a brilliant and theoretically-inexpensive way of doing tourism to kids in a way that makes sense.
  • Recipe Search: Ooh, this is GOOD – blazingly fast search engine JUST for recipes – I think all the recipes here are taken from a training set for LLMs, so it’s all stripped back and hence really simple to use. The only caveat is that it’s all (from what I have seen, at least) US content, meaning you have to contend with the frankly-preposterous measurement conventions that for some reason Americans have decided make sense – THEY DON’T MAKE SENSE WTAF IS A ‘CUP’ WHY CAN’T YOU USE THE FCUKING METRIC SYSTEM LIKE LITERALLY EVERYONE ELSE IN THE WORLD? And yes, I know that an English person complaining about national exceptionalism is a *touch* pot/kettle, but, well, authorial privilege.
  • MS Paint Anything: Quite possibly my favourite use of AI of the week – I think this is a Stable Diffusion mod which has been trained to style transfer anything you feed it into looking like it was drawn – badly – in MS Paint. Honestly, I lost a good 10 minutes this week feeding it photos of people – it does TERRIFYING THINGS to faces and smiles, and, honestly, if I still had access to a corporate ‘Meet The Team’ page on a website I know exactly what I would be doing with my afternoon (PLEASE DO IT PLEASE PLEASE – I can guarantee that it will take FAR longer than you think for anyone to notice; as a leaving gift to one former employer, I spent my final afternoon in the office modifying every single employee bio by the addition of a single line; examples included ‘Distinguishes himself by being the only MD in the UK powered by clockwork’, and ‘no outstanding convictions’. Took them WEEKS to notice).

By Aleksandra Waliszewska



  • Shop Like Batman: Presuming that none of you are billionaire playboys with access to an improbable degree of military-grade hardware, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to replicate the Batman/Bruce Wayne lifestyle in any meaningful sense (other than the whole ‘crying alone at night’ thing – that’s within reach of all of us!) – but if you’re rich enough, you can now SHOP LIKE THE BATMAN! This is an online shop which…is this some sort of retail-focused extension of the bat-brand? Is that a thing now? Apparently so, per this piece in Fast Company, which treats the idea of ‘what if Bruce Wayne were a real person? What sort of obscenely-expensive tat would he buy to signal his status and taste to the world?’ with frankly insane levels of reverence. This was briefly hosted in a real-world New York townhouse last week, at an invite-only series of in-person immersive shopping trips for, presumably, millionaires who still have superhero-themed bedsheets – but you, mere peon, can still browse the wares via the online shop. Want to buy a ‘one of only ten made, ever’ working replica of the Batmobile (recent, rugged, military-styled version), finished in Anish Kapoor-authorised Vantablack and complete with, er, ‘imitation gun turrets’? You pathetic little man – but HERE YOU GO! Fancy some violently-overpriced glassware to adorn your version of Wayne Mansion? GREAT! I am slightly agog at this.
  • The Cuneiform Corpus: Describing itself as “The World’s Largest Online Corpus of Translated Cuneiform Texts”, this is slightly incredible – input any keyword you like and it will pull the relevant texts from the extant archive of translated cuneiform text from about 3,000 BC onwards. You can drill down into specific periods and eras and geographies should you so choose, which is obviously of use to anyone using this for serious scholastic purposes, but for everyone else there’s something truly amazing about just chucking random, banal words into the search box and seeing what comes back to you from several millennia past. Shopping lists and lamentations and curses and and and – I really, really like this a lot.
  • FuryPage: Ooh, this is quite cool – FuryPage is a simple, off-the-shelf way of making nice-looking scrolly animation sites. There are various different templates that you can use, and I think these are primarily intended for designers to show off their portfolios, but I reckon this is probably flexible enough that it can be turned to whatever end you fancy – the outputs look rather slick, and this might be worth a look if you’re in the market for a more interesting landing page than you might get with Wix or the like.
  • Bloggers Blogging About Blogging: A blog, collecting blogposts by people who blog about the fact of blogging. Which I appreciate is recursive to a degree that might not necessarily be immediately appealing to all of you, but which, honestly, is actually really soothing in what I can only describe as ‘a very old internet sort of way’. Basically this website practically has elbow patches it’s that middle-aged in vibe, but it’s also a nice (nascent, and growing) collection of thoughts and reflections by a selection of people (mainly in the UK, and currently mainly focused in tech/IT from what I can tell) about why they blog and how and what about, and it’s a non-terrible place to start exploring a specific corner of what, quaintly, used to be called ‘the blogosphere’ (dear God WHAT a hideous term that was) about 20 years ago.
  • Deer In Places They Shouldn’t Be: Would you like a Twitter account dedicated solely to sharing images of deer interloping in places where, objectively, they have no place? To be honest this account doesn’t *quite* live up to the name – I was hoping for more ‘deer looking guiltily into the camera as it’s snapped attempting to sneak out of the domestic bedroom via the window’-type content – but it’s a nice enough source of gentle, deer-themed humour, and who doesn’t want some of that in these trying times? NO FCUKER, etc!
  • SmallStack: This is a nice initiative – SmallStack is a new initiative designed to highlight small (<1000 subs) newsletters on SubStack; from what I can tell, anyone whose newsletter falls under the qualifying threshold can submit theirs, and the best ones will be mailed to subscribers as a ‘here’s a small newsletter you might be interested in checking out’ teaser. Cute, and a potentially good way of uncovering some new writers you might not otherwise discover – although, caveat, it being Substack there is likely to be a lot of twee sh1t too (sorry, but) and a reasonable number of people who expect paying for what is, objectively, dogsh1t writing (again, sorry, but).
  • Math Encrypt: I LOVE THIS. Input any number you want and this website will magically (not magic) come up with a VERY COMPLEX-LOOKING EQUATION which, if solved correctly, will give the number you originally entered as its answer. Want a challenging way of ensuring that only a very specific type of maths nerd ever gets your number at a bar (lol at the idea that anyone gets chatted up in the real world any more, but still)? HERE YOU ARE THEN! Ok, fine, this is very much ONLY useful as a filter for people with a certain minimum degree of mathematical ability, but I really like the potential applications for this for ARG-type games (or just fcuking with people).
  • Decker: Have you ever thought to yourself ‘God, I really love making slide-based presentations – DECKS, IF YOU WILL (I won’t, by the way, I fcuking despise that term) – but I wish there was a way for me to make them in a manner that replicated, almost exactly, the specific aesthetic of 1980s MacOS’? WELL LUCKY YOU! Decker is exactly that – this looks…surprisingly powerful, with a degree of Visual Basic-lite programming you can do of slides and buttons and things, but the main draw is obviously the look-and-feel.
  • The Mewsletter: EXACTLY the sort of pun-based and narrow-focused sort of project I think we should all get behind, The Mewsletter is a new, er, newsletter whose author has decided to attempt to visit every single one of London’s 2,381 mews streets (DO YOU SEE?) and write about the experience. I don’t know who’s writing this, but I enjoyed their justification as to why: “So: would take too long to walk every street in Greater London, don’t want to walk every street in some particular bit of Greater London, certainly don’t want to just lie about walking every street in some particular bit of Greater London. But what if there was a more feasibly visitable subset of streets, found throughout the capital? For example, every street called ‘[something] Mews’: is visiting all of those achievable? Well, if it is, I will declare myself the Softest Geezer and demand that I am allowed to yell “MENTAL HEALTH” at Sir Keir Starmer3 until he starts crying and declares that what I have done is better than any of his stupid policies.”
  • Frogland: Do YOU like and appreciate frogs? Do you wish there was an online portal devoted to the best of the amphibians?  Do you want to go back in time nearly 30 years? OH GOOD! Welcome to Frogland, the internet’s premier frog-themed website since 1995! 1995! Honestly, this is like unearthing something from ancient Mesopotamia, Hammurabi’s teenage diaries – it was obviously maintained by a kid who not only loved frogs but who had parents who were techy and geeky enough to be online in the very nascent era of the public web, and it is SO PURE AND LOVELY (and also, froggy!), and in particular I thought there was something genuinely sweet about the ‘awards’ section where you can see all the different accolades the site got in the mid-to-late 90s when there were obviously a bunch of initiatives to celebrate and reward digital creativity/curiosity among kids of the era. I know this is SUCH an old person’s thing to say – I know it, and yet I’m going to fcuking say it, which, again, is VERY OLD PERSON – but I do think it’s a shame that we don’t seek to promote and reward digital creativity in this way any more (by which I don’t just mean ‘making websites’, by the way – spinning stuff up in Roblox or Fortnite or Blender or Unreal might be a better modern equivalent then ‘cobbling together a webpage in Dreamweaver’).
  • Bookfinder: This is a really useful resource – if you’re looking for books that are old, or out of print, or you’d simply like to buy physical copies of something that’s a bit hard to find from somewhere that isn’t Amazon, then just type in the title to this search engine and watch as it pulls out listings from websites you’ve never even heard of. Importantly you can also set your shipping destination to wherever you fancy, to ensure you’re only searching retailers who will actually work where you are – this is GREAT, particularly for anything slightly niche or obscure.
  • The Carabiner Collection: I’ve never been particularly into climbing – possibly a shame, given I am all limbs and weigh about nine stone soaking wet, making me a prime physical candidate (apart from the whole ‘muscle tone of an elastic band’ thing) – and as such I have never personally developed any particular feelings about carabiners. Still, I imagine if you’re more of an experienced climber and have dangled from your fair share of rock faces you’ve probably developed a degree of affection for the little bits of metal who have kept you from plummeting to a pointy, crunch death – and so, presumably, have the people who maintain this site, er, ‘celebrating’ (can one really celebrate a carabiner? LET’S TRY!) the carabiner in all its glory. Sam Johnson, whose website this is, I fcuking SALUTE you and your dedication to/love for the carabiner, you are the sort of person on whom the web is basically built and we all thank you for your service.
  • Pn0gstr0m: A HORRIBLE name for what is a fun little game (from last week’s B3ta) – imagine Pong, but every time you or your opponent hit the ball, it splits into MORE BALLS, until you’re basically whacking a whole salvo of shots across the net and attempting to keep as many of them live as possible, racking up massive scores and collecting powerups that do interesting things to the balls – sending 10x the number back to your opponent, say, or equipping you with a laser that destroys a load in one fell swoop. This is less challenging than it at first looks, but it’s definitely a fun 15 minutes on a Friday (or Monday) afternoon.
  • WordSnake: Another B3ta link, this one – this is Snake, but with a gimmick when it comes to the controls and the mechanic. See how long it takes you to work out what it is (no, I’m not telling you, you’re a CLEVER PERSON, you can do it!).
  • Fcuksweeper: This needs a download, and, well, it’s a game called ‘Fcuksweeper’ so I’m not sure how many of you will make it past this bit – still, for anyone still reading, this is actually VERY FUN and very funny, and a lot sillier/weirder and significantly less ‘sexy’ than the name might suggest; there’s bodyhorror GALORE here, in an ‘odd rather than scary’ sense, and if you approach it as an interactive artwork rather than a ‘game’ per se then you will, I think, really enjoy it (or at least be pleasantly weirded out by the experience). Oh, and be aware that if you just want to play Minesweeper then, er, I’d probably stick with the original.
  • Chao Bing: This is BEAUTIFUL – a gorgeous experiment in lightly-interactive storytelling, with seven very small mini-’games’ (they’re games only in the loosest sense, think of them more as brief moments of interaction/contemplation) which come together to tell a small, personal story. From the creator’s description: “Chao Bing: A Read-Only Memory Experience is an interactive memoir in the style of a CD-ROM storybook game. Explore my childhood memories woven into a story about the ennui of adult life–all rendered in a 640 x 480 pixel resolution. Chao Bing is a game forever in its own making, writing, and rewriting. It’s a game, and also a game about the performative act of making a game.” I really, really like this – strongly recommend you giving it ten minutes of your time.
  • Probabilistic Noughts and Crosses: Yes, technically the url says ‘tic tac toe’ but THAT IS NOT WHAT THE GAME IS CALLED FFS. Ahem. This is a really smart little twist on the traditional gameplay – you play against the computer (or another human, should you have…friends?), with the twist being that each move you can make has a different success probability attached to it; if it ‘succeeds’, you place your ‘X’ as normal, if you ‘fail’ the space gets marked for your opponent, and if the outcome is neutral then the space remains unallocated – which obviously completely changes the way you play, where you look to move, and the flow of the game, as you can strategise in ways not possible in the original ruleset. There’s also quite a lot of interesting stuff in the background about ‘optimal’ game design, should you be the sort of maths mind who can get their head around all that stuff (I very much cannot). Per its creator, “in any given game of Probabilistic Tic-Tac-Toe you can do everything right and still lose (or do everything wrong and win.) However, the better player always rises to the top over time. These are characteristics that I find interesting about a lot of other games, and I thought they’d be fun to apply to an otherwise boring, solved game like tic-tac-toe. They’re also highly relevant to my life philosophy – that every outcome is effectively random, but our actions can often skew the odds in our favor. Bad breaks are inevitable, but good judgment is always rewarded (eventually, and given enough chances.)”
  • KittyToy: Would you like some cute pixelart cats to feed and generally horse around with in your browser? OF COURSE YOU WOULD! “Take care of and adopt stray kitties. Buy toys and decorations for your house and yard!” says the description, and, honestly, how could you resist? The autoplaying music is…somewhat grating to my ears, but mute the tab and keep this open FOREVER and you will always have a roomful of digital cats to pet and kiss and cuddle whenever things get hard. This is surprisingly deep (in a very shallow way) – there are various different toys and things that you can ‘buy’, and you can seemingly accumulate a near-infinite quantity of digital felines, which will be pleasing to those of you who have secretly harboured ambitions to own ALL OF THE CATS.
  • MoonDrop Isle: I only got a chance to spend  30m or so with this yesterday, so can’t tell you TOO much about it – but it’s interactive fiction, in the classic Zork style (“You are in a room. You see a laptop, and an empty mug of tea. You are tired and in your pants. Continue writing? There are no exits”, etc etc), and it’s a collection of multiple individual adventure games written by different IF specialists, all joined together into a shared experience set on an island which you, presumably, somehow have to escape or understand in some way. The puzzles I experienced in the first section were interesting but not maddening (and I say this as someone who really is a fcuking DREADFUL lateral thinker/problem solver), and I think you’ll enjoy this a lot (as long as you don’t mind reading, and no graphics, and having a typing-only interface).
  • Level Devil: Finally this week, one of the most evil browser games I have ever seen – honestly, this is diabolical and cruel and you will die over and over and over again. It won’t matter, though, because you only stay dead for half a second or so, and it’s all SO brutally cruel that you will have to laugh at the arbitrary unfairness of it all. Seriously, this is very fun indeed – if you happen to recall IWBTG, then this will ring a lot of pleasing bells.

By Irina Selaru



  • Chris Steele-Perkins: Just great photography. No gimmicks, simply excellent shots of people. Some of England, some from elsewhere, but all these shots are wonderful in their own way.


  • Nice To E-Meet You: A reader who shall remain nameless got in touch last week to tell me that the Tiny Awards had reminded them of an old Tumblr they made about a decade ago. They shared it with me, and so I am sharing it with you. WHY? WHY NOT!


  • Good Riddance To The Tories: This is, admittedly, LONG – it’s also very much ‘the story of the past 14 years in the UK’, which means that I’m sure many of you are inclined to skip it due to either the tedious parochialism or the fact that, well, it’s long and you lived through it. PLEASE DO NOT SKIP THIS PIECE! It is SUPERB – Tom Crewe writes in the London Review of Books about the past 14 years of Conservative government in the UK, outlining in increasingly-numbing detail all the different ways in which, for reasons of selfishness and short-sightedness and greed and cruelty and incompetence and idiot ideology and cronyism and and and and…all the different ways in which the people in charge have managed to variously fcuk the country over nearly a decade and a half. Seriously, even if you’re not English and you think ‘why should I care about your stupid island’s stupid inclination to politically self-harm?’, I can’t stress enough how STAGGERING it is to see everything laid out like this – it’s worth reading purely as an objective account of all the different, spectacular ways people can make bad, stupid, wrong decisions, and how exactly those decisions play out. If you are English, and you think that you can’t be bothered to rake over this all again, I strongly urge you to reconsider because a) this is very, very well written, and there’s a tone of barely-concealed fury and disgust throughout that I very much enjoyed, despite the civility and control of the prose; and b) you will honestly have forgotten about so much of this, and seeing it all laid out over a Curios-length essay is quite dizzying. Honestly, if you can read this an offer anything resembling a defence of the Conservative party after having done so then I want to hear it (also, YOU ARE BRAIN DAMAGED). In the giant Word Doc of links I maintain each week with which to feed the Curios beast, this was annotated with the simple, explanatory word ‘CNUTS’, which I think tells you all you need to know.
  • Silicon Valley and Universe 25: I am including this link not because I necessarily agree with it, but because I can see it getting a reasonable degree of traction online over the coming weeks and months and I think as such it’s worth being aware of its existence. Ted Gioia, who I have featured here quite a few times over the past few years, is a music writer who is polymathic enough to reasonably branch out to all sorts of other topics, and who has a personal interest in culture (and by extension the way it is impacted by tech, and how in turn that impacts society) – earlier this year he went megaviral with his essay about ‘art vs entertainment’, and I can imagine this one breaking containment too. This one is about Gioia’s loose theory that we’re effectively being tech-dulled into societal collapse (I am paraphrasing, but): “What would you do if AI took care of all your needs? Would you be happier? Would you be kinder and gentler? Would you love your neighbor more? Would you spend more time with family? Would you have a richer, more fulfilled life? Calhoun tried to answer that question by creating a utopia for mice, and watching how their society evolved when all their needs and desires were met. It didn’t turn out like he planned.” Basically this is all about how, fundamentally, a society in which the need to work or create or strive in any meaningful way will lead to depression and collapse (he even references anomie, a pet theory of mine, bless him) – and how BIG TECH is helping us along this path. This reads very much like ‘old man gets scared of the future’ with a significant dash of chemtrail-adjacent conspiracies (there’s a slide in here that feels like it is going to do NUMBERS in a certain corner of grandparent Facebook, for example), and I think there’s some slightly-dangerous scaremongering about ‘TECHNOLOGY AND SCREENS BAD!’ which really should have been edited out by someone (not to mention the tedious ‘higher pleasures vs lower pleasures’ sub-JSM schtick that this sort of argument always devolves into) – but, regardless of what I think of it, I can see this thinking gaining not-insignificant traction in normie (sorry) circles, so keep an eye out.
  • Human Capital vs Physical Capital: Thanks to Alex for sending this my way – I thought this article by Tom Forth, on why a relentless focus on ‘human capital’ (skills, basically) at the expense of physical capital (infrastructure, basically) might in fact have been a bad idea over the past couple of decades, and why, and what a change of emphasis towards the latter over the former might mean for the future development of the country. Taking as his starting point the comparative socioeconomic starting points of the UK and East Germany in 1990, Ford looks into why East Germany’s situation improved so much more drastically than the UK’s did – to quote, “North England certainly has a much higher intensity of graduates than East Germany. And again, if we trust international rankings, vastly better universities. And yet it is Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany and the rest of Northern Europe who are economically well ahead of North England and Britain as a whole. And it is East Germany that from a starting position well behind us has caught, overtaken, and is now pulling away economically from North England. They haven’t done this by reindustrialising either, but rather by beating us in a high value services world with a high value service economy. Why? I’ve long argued it’s because while North England was trying and failing to level up with a human capital approach, those places did things that worked better. Better transport, spending on research and development, and replacing central planning with local power.” Interesting, although depressing that it’s so much more thoughtful and evolved than literally anything I have read over the past month on ‘how to unfcuk the country at least a little bit’.
  • On Apple & AI: As a non-Apple person I couldn’t really give less of a fcuk about whether or not AI is coming to your overpriced fetish object; still, lots of peope DO care about Apple, and as such this week’s BIG AI NEWS is interesting from a cultural point of view as much as a commercial one – will THIS get everyone using LLMs every day? Well, no, not for a while, seeing as most of this will only be on the super-new models that only morons or obsessives or the VERY RICH will be getting anytime soon – but, equally, it’s quite possible that it’s this which will in three years see everyone comfortable with LLMs as the default interface for everything. Anyway, Ethan Mollick is on typically good form here, explaining some of the technical stuff about how the GPT/on-device stuff will work, and also the narrower, more directional approach that Apple seems to be taking about how to get people to use this (basically the difference between ‘this can do anything! What would you like it to do?’ and ‘this can do very specific things, like sending your mum a photo of Angie and Dave where they’re both smiling’).
  • Spreadsheet Assassins: Or, ‘Why SaaS is a cancer’ – I very much enjoyed this, about how the drive to turn literally everything into a ‘software as a service’ business has made everything worse (THANKS, MONEYCNUTS!). Matthew King writes in The Baffler about how the SaaS model is particularly attractive to investors (recurring revenue, low costs, potentially enormous margins!) and why it almost always ends up being worse for consumers than other models: “As one CEO of a content management platform recently put it: “The biggest incumbent in [business-to-business] SaaS is some spreadsheets and one additional headcount…Every SaaS application pitch ever (including ours): 1. Your data is in lots of places 2. So you use spreadsheets 3. We bring it all together 4. Profit.” Or, another CEO-turned-MAGA ghoul, who invests in dozens of whatever-management platforms: “Find a commonly used spreadsheet (eg cap tables) and turn it into a dashboard (eg Carta). Replace email attachments with workflows. Spreadsheets are the long tail of datasets that don’t have their own SaaS tool yet.” Why let a business-critical workflow exist in some generic document, easily shared across systems and possibly fulfilling every task requirement, when you could corral those actions into a gated domain, gussy up the UI to imply value or progress, and charge a monthly subscription for it?”
  • How Is TikTok Changing Voters?: Short answer – IT ISN’T! THIS IS A STUPID HEADLINE! Still, I thought it worth linking to this Vox piece about ‘politicsTok’, not because it was hugely-insightful but because it highlights what I personally think is wrong about the writing/thinking about politics and TikTok (certainly around the UK election). As I am sure I have bored on about before, the most interesting thing, to  my mind, about TikTok in the context of politics is its opacity – this piece makes blithe assumptions about ‘what political content is like on TikTok’, but doesn’t acknowledge that TALKING ABOUT IT AS A MONOLITH IS DUMB, and that noone’s experience is like anyone else’s, and that as such talking about ‘how it’s changing politics’ are talking guff because NOONE KNOWS WHAT ANYONE ELSE IS SEEING. What is TikTok changing? It’s ushering in an era in which it’s impossible to have any idea what anyone’s informational diet is, what they can reasonably be expected to think/know/believe, is my take. Is this good? No idea!
  • The Death of Koo: I featured Koo in Curios in 2022 – now here’s a piece in Rest of World about how ‘the Twitter of India’ has managed to fcuk up its meteoric rise by – SURPRISE! – a focus on insane growth above all else! This is an interesting read, not least because of the way in which it demonstrates that, regardless of market, the pursuit of investor-pleasing metrics do have a tendency to rather fcuk a company up. Your regular reminder that VC investment is, quite often, a fcuking dreadful idea and that, in many cases, VCs are rich morons in expensive downy gilets.
  • Shanghai Disneyland: I am personally always fascinated by the ways in which global cultural phenomena are interpreted at a local level – Disney’s pretty much a perfect case study for this sort of thing, being both globally ubiquitous and locally-granular (in Italy, for example, the Disney canon absolutely revolves around Donald Duck and his family, with Mickey very much a second-string character who noone really gives a fcuk about; Donald, by contrast, is a fully-fleshed-out, er, duck, with an extended family and a clearly-defined persona and world view (perennially furious, unlucky, lazy, broke) which is seen by lots of Italians as one of the better representations of the national character ever devised). This piece looks at Disney in China – it’s not fantastically-written, but I really enjoyed learning about the completely new character the corporation invented for the Chinese market and how its lack of meaningful backstory or character building actually worked in its favour because it wasn’t seen as a ‘foreign’ character and instead could just act as any empty vessel for whatever Chinese kids wanted to project on it. Culturally fascinating.
  • The Internet and the Amazon, Redux: YOu remember that piece last week about that tribe in the Amazon that got Starlink, right? OF COURSE YOU DO! Anyway, this is a followup/reply to that, by 404 Media, responding to the piece going viral-ish last week with a bunch of outlets effectively summarising it as ‘AMAZING TRIBESPEOPLE DEVELOP CRIPPLING INTERNET BONGO ADDICTION’ despite the original piece never actually saying that at all – it’s a really good piece of journalism which neatly skewers the assumptions that underpin those sorts of silly reaction pieces, but also the original NYT piece which, it turns out, was written in such a way to obfuscate the reality of the tribe’s life and the fact that they were well aware of the web, and how it worked, and what it was, and have in fact been using it occasionally for years. A really useful reminder that even ‘quality’ journalism is edited and editorialised and skewed and limited and NOT REALLY REAL.
  • Building Brat: CharlieXCX is very much HAVING A MOMENT – an artist who I can look at and go ‘yes, you are objectively interesting and probably doing Good Work’ while at the same time having little to no personal interest in. Her new album, Brat, came out this week (or last, or whenever) – this is a really interesting LONG investigation into the marketing around it, the CharlieXCX brand, and how the album has been promoted across the world and the web, and as a look at How To Do A Launch and How To Do CrossMedia Cultural Domination it is very useful indeed. Seriously, worth reading if you have anything to do with ‘promoting culture or even just vaguely attempting to glom onto it’.
  • Elon Musk Tweeted A Thing: Second 404 Media piece of the week, this is a very good essay lamenting the terrible state of journalism where Musk is concerned, specifically the dreadful habit significant swathes of the world’s media have fallen into whereby they feel compelled to write up every single fcuking brainfart that cnut has as though it were carved into a tablet and delivered to us from Mount Sinai. More of a lament than an article, possibly, but it’s a good lament and as someone who has to write about That Fcuking Man on occasion it’s one that I personally feel very strongly about.
  • The AFL Mullet Data Analysis: A NEAR-PERFECT PIECE OF DATA JOURNALISM! I can’t remember the context, but I found myself thinking last week that the mullet – the hairstyle, not the tasty piscine morsel – might be the greatest comeback of the past 100 years. Seriously, as a child who grew up in the 80s and 90s the idea that people might in the far-flung future of the 2020s decide ‘yes, that is the haircut that I want, and that which I think says positive and dare-I-say-it-sexual things about me!’ was impossible to countenance, and, honestly, I’m still part-convinced that it’s all an elaborate joke. Still, this is a SERIOUS INVESTIGATION by ABC in Australia, examining the hairstyles of the Australian Rules Football League to answer the following questions: “Are we seeing a throwback to the footy stars of the past or is today’s generation making the mullet their own? Does it secretly make for a better player? The ABC analysed the headshots and hairstyles of all AFL players in the 2024 season in search of some answers.” So, so good, not least because it’s such an obvious ‘we saw everything The Pudding has been doing and thought yes please’ piece of work.
  • What Is The Best Way To Cut An Onion?: NO, YOU ARE WRONG. It is in fact the way described in this article, in which famously-obsessive food-science guy Kenji Lopez-Alt, he of the ‘I’m going to make 316 hamburgers to work out the optimum degree of smash and salting’-type enquiry, sets to work to find out what the ACTUAL best way of chopping up an onion into very, very small pieces is. I was entertained by this, not least because of the insane overengineering of what is not, to be clear, a remotely-significant problem.
  • Iain (M) Banks: A retrospective on the novels of Iain Banks and Iain M Banks, two sides of the same authorial coin, which fairly concludes that the scifi effectively cannibalised the imagination of the non-scifi after a while, and that his non-scifi work sort-of peaked just before he got properly super-famous. One for the Banks fans, this – it was a lovely reminder of his writing and the canon of his work, and if you’re not familiar then OH MY GOD can I unreservedly recommend his first four or five non-scifi books and basically every single one of the Culture novels.
  • The Dinner Party Boom: GenZ loves dinner parties – who knew? Actually this doesn’t feel surprising – performative interest in food and cooking is very much a Thing at the moment, and noone’s got any money, and there’s a certain ‘IRL>Online’ fetishism still hanging over from post-Covid, and dating is a nightmare hellscape…yeah, the ingredients are there, this feels legit. Is anyone doing ‘limited number curated group dining experiences’ as a nightlife thing at the moment? Feels like they should be.
  • Girl Mossing: Look, I am including this not because I think it is a good article (I do not think it is) or because I think that the ‘trend’ it is describing is significant or even real (I do not). This is a piece about ‘Girl Mossing’ (no, really), described here as “lying on a forest floor, staring up at a leafy canopy or caressing moss…While it is challenging to pinpoint the origins and scope of this aesthetic movement, “girl mossing”, “girl rotting”, and related terms have seen significant growth on social media since around the middle of last year. The trend can be traced back to mid-2022, when journalist and influencer Daisy Alioto tweeted: “The girl boss is dead, long live the girl moss (lying on the floor of the forest and being absorbed back into nature).” ACTUALOL! HOW DID THIS GET COMMISSIONED?! No, the reason I am including it is that it made me think that, based on this, it must be possible to spin up a few fake UrbanDictionary entries and some Insta posts and through those get similar articles written on ‘GirlTossing – girls going out into nature and hurling large logs in the style of the Highland Games as a reaction to the tyranny of capitalism’, or ‘GirlFlossing – girls spending an inordinate amount of time on infradental hygiene as a reaction to the anthropocene’, or ‘Girlhossing – girls generally just horsing around in wholesome fashion in an impassioned critique of neoliberalism’. PLEASE MAKE IT HAPPEN.
  • AI Generated Nudes In Bio: A look at the coming future, in which there are Patreon accounts into which real people (men) deposit real money in order to, er, access bongo of AI-generated women – except it’s happening right now! Not much, true, but as the article points out there are actual people paying actual cash to have access to, and interactions with, an entirely machine-generated OnlyFans-type content creator. WHY?!?!?!?! From what I can tell from this article it’s not even as though this AI-generated material is particularly niche or fetishy – it just seems like fairly standard nudes, which begs the question..,why not just pay an actual person, if that’s what you’re into? WHY ARE YOU INTO THE FACT IT’S AI?!?!? This is dizzyingly psychologically odd.
  • Haidt, Redux: A second LRB link of the week, this time to the latest dissection of the Jonathan Haidt ‘Have Snartphones RUINED A GENERATION?’ polemic – this is another ‘no, Jonathan, it’s probably not that simple actually’ rebuttal, albeit a reasonanbly-sympathetic one, which does a good job of explaining why it is that saying ‘PHONES BAD’ possibly fails to take into account a lot of the other, very good, reasons why young people’s sense of general wellbeing appears to have taken something of a nosedive post-2010 (some of those other reasons: THE ECONOMY. THE ENVIRONMENT. THE LABOUR MARKET. GEOPOLITICS. THE GENERAL SENSE OF TOTAL UNCERTAINTY ABOUT THE NEXT 50 YEARS).
  • Professor Chips Visits England: This is…I want to use the word ‘perfectly quaint’, but that feels unfair. Cosy? Yes, but I sort of hate that term. It’s…comforting, I suppose, like a warm room and a cup of tea after a damp walk. It smells a bit of warm, wet wool, yes, but in a good way. This is a piece of writing by one Graeme Williams, a man who apparently runs an Instagram account dedicated to crisps called ‘Professor Chips’ (he is North American and so shall be forgiven) and who recently visited England to see an obscure band he’s a massive fan of, who were playing in a tiny venue in Hastings. This is just his account of his trip – it’s not hugely exciting, unless you count his occasional thoughts in English crisp varieties – but it’s…I don’t know, it’s inexplicably warm and comforting and just NICE, in a good-not-patronising way, just a really pleasing account of someone finding pleasure in LIFE and SIMPLE THINGS and, I don’t know, this spoke to me slightly in its (admittedly largely mundane) beauty.
  • Embarrassments in a Small Town: DW Mckinney writes about their experience of being a Black woman in a small town in the US, at an artist’s residence, and what it is like being Black in a very enclosed, very white space which doesn’t necessarily realise it is either of those things. Superb, controlled writing.
  • What I Learned From Getting Fired Six Times: This is great – on life and work and quitting and being forced to quit and fitting in and not fitting in and making a scene and leaving quietly and it not mattering either way except in the way it matters more than anything. Really, really good, this.
  • Infinite: Finally this week, an essay about being online and scrolling and how that feels and how it eventually stops feeling anything at all. Form AND function (you’ll see what I mean)!

By Jenny Holzer