Webcurios 15/03/24

Reading Time: 31 minutes

This week in the UK, racism and monarchy – it’s just like old times!

I imagine you’re probably all DESPERATE for something to read that isn’t about That Fcuking Family, in any case, so thank GOD for Web Curios, Republican (not in the American sense, for the avoidance of doubt) and largely-disinterested to the very end.

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and aren’t you glad you know how to pronounce ‘Cholmondley’ now?

By Fran Alvez



  • All About Computer Love: Our first link this week is…what is it? An interactive essay? A sort-of prose poem? I don’t know (this is a great start, Matt – compelling prose, hook them in!), but I love it and it tickles a very specific part of my brain – this is basically a letter written by the artist Sarah Martinez to you, the reader, and to the web, delivered as a sort of visual dialogue between code and prose…I don’t know why, but the act of having to engage with the website on a functional, HTML level – the reader experiences the essay through the browser console (don’t worry, it makes sense when you click the link), which really pleases me both from a technical and a thematic ‘WE ARE GETTING INTO THE GUTS OF THE MACHINE HERE’ point of view, and I found the writing – all about Martinez’ relationship to the web, and its relationship to her physical life – genuinely beautiful, and the interplay between it and the small scene that builds in ASCII as you read is charming and poignant, and, honestly, this is just gorgeous and I adore it (oh, and turn on the sound – the garden noises really do add something to the experience, which honestly isn’t something I can ever normally imagine writing and which is making me suddenly wonder if I’ve had a stroke or something – although I can’t smell burnt toast, so evidently I’m now just the sort of person who appreciates digitally-recreated birdsong. Hm).
  • Drawing For Nothing: I genuinely didn’t realise that ‘films being completed and then canned for no real reason other than byzantine accountancy’ was a thing until the past year or so, but the whole ACME vs Coyote story seems to have uncovered a hitherto-unimagined store of work that has simply been memoryholed for no good reason – Drawing for Nothing is a project which focuses specifically on animations that have for whatever reason been mothballed – the fabulously-named Ziggy Cashmere (I will be devastated if this is a nom de plume, honestly) is compiling examples of backgrounds, entire character sheets, storyboards and sketches and all sorts of bits of illustrated ephemera from films that have for whatever reason never seen the light of day. To quote (let me type it again, it is so pleasing) Ziggy Cashmere themselves, “DRAWING FOR NOTHING is a free ebook compiling the artwork of the world’s canceled and troubled animated films. Animation reels have been scrubbed, portfolios scraped, books scanned, interviews conducted and resumes analyzed to present this. Some movies within this book you’ll know pretty well, but there will always be at least one you’ve never heard of. The purpose of this book is to not only properly appreciate the work put into things that never got the chance to be appreciated, but to give artists another source of inspiration. Yeah, there’s a ton of things to be inspired by now, but what about the stuff that never made it? The stuff that was deemed too risky or not good enough?” The project’s ongoing, but at the moment this all amounts to a 470 page book which you can browse in its entirety on the site and MY GOD the sheer, dazzling scale of the work and imagination on display here is astonishing and it’s impossible not to get a little…well, annoyed, frankly, at all of this wonderful stuff just being hidden away somewhere because some cnut with a spreadsheet decided that actually Q3’s numbers probably don’t make sense with this on the slate.
  • Stations and Transfers: How much do you like contemplating the spatial majesty of mass transit hubs? Is the answer ‘fcuking LOADS, Matt, I live for this stuff’? OH GOOD! This is a WONDERFUL compendium of information about, er, the exact layout of underground stations at a dizzying number of the world’s cities, all painstakingly mapped out and then drawn by ONE INCREDIBLY DEDICATED MAN. Albert Guillaumes Marcer, you are a prince and a hero and I salute your dedication to the very specific and, let’s be honest, pretty niche pursuit of ‘giving us all a vague idea of the layout of underground train stations’. I know that this may not SOUND thrilling, fine, but there’s something undeniably fascinating about seeing the shape of something you have only ever experienced from the inside, and the comparative designs of different countries’ stations really is interesting (no, it is, I promise!) Per Albert, “For the last 10 years I have been able to draw around 1.517 stations from different European cities, motivated by the curiosity of understanding how engineers were able to fit underground stations comprising 4 or 5 lines under Place de la République in Paris or the Puerta del Sol in Madrid. A pen, a notebook, a bit of spatial vision and the willingness to navigate all the staircases, corridors, platforms and mezzanines are enough to draw a station. Some may content errors, despite I try to complement themwith information found in the internet: historic, construction and survey maps, pics and videos, as well with data about train lengths.”  A genuinely wonderful expression of a very singular obsession.
  • Meet Devin: I’ve started seeing a swathe of ‘THE HYPE BUBBLE IS BURSTING’ pieces about generative AI in the past few weeks, based on quotes from people who are starting to realise that, hang on, The Machine can’t quite do ALL of the white collar jobs yet, and we’re not quite at the point whereby you can press a single button and fcuk off to the pub while CoPilot does the pointless busywork of your mediocre white collar job for you – on the one hand, it’s undeniably true that the past year’s hype has been insane and the actual, real-world usecases for the tech aren’t even close to being scoped out yet; on the other, each week brings new things like Devin, announced this week by a company called Cognition Labs and purporting to basically be an AI coder that you can deploy to build whatever you tell it while you, I don’t know, tend to your succulents. “Devin is the new state-of-the-art on the SWE-Bench coding benchmark, has successfully passed practical engineering interviews from leading AI companies, and has even completed real jobs on Upwork. Devin is an autonomous agent that solves engineering tasks through the use of its own shell, code editor, and web browser.” Now, let’s be clear – this is PR, and I don’t for a second think that ‘Devin’ is going to be replacing all the world’s coders just yet…but, at the same time, if you think that companies with profit margins to protect and shareholders and investors to satisfy aren’t going to look at a software product that lets them potentially replace a dozen staff members costing an annual six figures with a software product costing an annual five figures with HUNGRY EYES then, well, I have a bridge to sell you. You can read more about the company and the product here if you want – but, honestly, the takeaway here is mainly ‘this stuff is not going to stop, or go away, and it is important to be realistic about the extent to which your employer is going to be perfectly happy to replace you with a solution that is admittedly not as good but which, on balance, is probably ‘good enough’, if it saves them money.’
  • Whatsard: A genuinely horrible name, this (honestly try saying it out loud – I’ll wait. See? It’s like trying to speak with a mouthful of flour), but I really like the project, which has been hacked together by some people involved in the Campaign Lab (“a community of politically-minded progressive data scientists, researchers and campaigners who are working together to develop innovative election tools and improve the way we analyse and understand campaigning”). Whatsard (SO HORRIBLE) is a really neat use of LLMs to take the language of the UK Parliament and turn it from the staid bloviating of the professional political classes into VIBRANT SPEECH LIKE WOT YOU AND I MIGHT USE! Basically this is a de-jargonifier (what do you mean “you can’t make up words like that and still try and complain about ‘whatsard’, you hypocrite”?) which translates parliamentary debates into more natural terms using THE POWER OF AI, so you can get the meat of recent debates on, for example, Gaza or local policing or road safety in North Yorkshire but without having to wade through the admittedly-slightly-arcane prose that you get when you combine self-important people who love the sound of their own voice (literally every single MP I have ever met, ever, even the ‘good’ ones) and the slightly-pompous conventions of parliamentary procedure. Honestly, this is a smart idea and the sort of thing that could become a genuinely useful resource for educators (and loads of other people, frankly) with a bit of budget and polish. This feels like something that a PA agency could usefully sponsor, although lol at the idea of any agencies wanting to spend money on something so frivolous in THIS climate.
  • The Monster Engine Will Never Die: In about 200…4, I think, when my personal internet sickness was really starting to get its claws into me and I began to realise that I was possibly a bit more ‘into’ the web than other people, I found a project called ‘The Monster Engine’ by a man called David DeVries, who was the first person I had ever seen to take kids’ drawings and render them sincerely as ‘proper’ paintings – the site was ‘viral’ back in the day when that actually meant something, and I think there was a period of a couple of years when Devries did pretty well out of the whole thing, publishing an actual honest-to-goodness book (back in the day when the website-to-publication pipeline was less of a well-worn trope) and doing TV and generally living the dream of the early days of the web, whereby a creator doing something they love gets the attention and adulation their talent and dedication deserves. Over the intervening two decades, I have seen the basic concept of The Monster Engine resurrected DOZENS of times, in different ways – now it is BACK, this time with an added layer of generative AI because it is 2024 and that is now the law. This is a campaign by whichever massive multinational makes ‘Lunchables’, the plastic-ham-and-cheese snacking boxes, which is a PERFECT ripoff of the initial premise – except here they are asking parents to upload their kids ‘creative imaginings’ of what the snacks could be and then getting them ‘brought to life’ by AI, to prove (OBVIOUSLY) that “nothing beats a kid’s imagination!”. Which obviously is horrible and twee and sickly, and the campaign itself is lazy and not particularly well done – but I am including this in part because it’s always nice to remember David Devries, and in part because it is concrete proof that you can literally recycle the sh1t I put in Curios for YEARS.
  • AI For Wedding Pics: I like to think that I have a reasonable idea of the rough shape of who you are, dear reader – there may only be about seven of you, but through occasional correspondence I have built up an image of you in my mind as GENTLE and KIND and NICE and ONLY MODERATELY-DAMAGED, and definitely not the sort of person who would do anything creepy or weird or stalkerish with any of the links I present you with each week. Which is good, because otherwise I probably wouldn’t include this link as it has SIGNIFICANT CREEPY MISUSE POTENTIAL. Would you like to be able to harness THE MAGICAL POWER OF AI to create a variety of photorealistic wedding photos of anyone you want, based on a couple of photos? No, of course you wouldn’t, that would be WEIRD – and yet, once again, here we are. For the low, low price of $5, you can get 6 wedding snapshots featuring (presumably) you and whatever poor fcuker you’re having matrimonial fantasies about – it’s quite hard to see this as anything other than a harasser’s dream or alternatively a massively-psychologically-unhealthy prop for the unwell and obsessed, but, well, it exists and so I am telling you about it.
  • Eclipse Tracks: Would you like a website which tracks the path of celestial objects relative to the earth in order to determine when and where eclipses will occur, and which you can use to find out the times and dates and locations of every single forthcoming occlusion of the sun by the moon? YES OF COURSE YOU WOULD! The next one visible in Europe’s not til 2026, mind (North Americans, on the other hand, have one coming up next month so GET READY).
  • Underwater Photographer of the Year 2024: I think I say this every year – and, honestly, it feels a bit churlish, but I’ve started now and it feels weird to stop halfway – but the website for Underwater Photographer of the Year really is singularly bad at presenting photographs – GUYS, I FEEL YOU ARE POSSIBLY UNDERSELLING YOURSELVES HERE! Anyway, that entitled gripe aside, this year’s selection of subaquatic imagery is as varied and magical and slightly-terrifying as ever – LOOK AT THE DEEP SEA CRITTERS AND THEIR NEEDLE-SHARP TEETH! These are so wonderfully diverse, from tropical waters to British rivers, featuring sea mammals and crustacea and industry and one genuinely BEAUTIFUL picture of a swimming monkey which I defy you not to melt at slightly.
  • Wav World: I’m not quite sure where I found this or who it’s by, but as far as I can tell Wav World is a new music site which does deep dives into a different artist and their work every ‘issue’ – there are two up there at the moment, both with artists I wasn;t familiar with, but you get a long mix and some genuinely interesting chat to read, and the site’s design is genuinely pleasing in a slightly-00s style. Worth keeping an eye on if you’re not yet so old and tired and broken that you just want to put white noise in your ears and go to the Place of Happy Release.
  • Reports From Unknown Places: One of an embarrassing number of links I’ve lifted from Kris this week, Reports From Unknown Places is a BEAUTIFUL project which I am utterly in love with – artist Nina Salaun paints pictures of the sky, a different one each day, and accompanies each with a small piece of writing imagining a place where one might see such a sky if one looked up. That’s it – a painting of the sky, and some words about an imaginary location where that sky might be visible – and it is perfect. “We report: in the dip of the curve on the bump in the cycle of daylight, we managed to pinpoint the precise moment when yellow light started to walk into the sky. At the very least, one moment it was not there, and the next, it was. Things of the sky work between intervals.” Gorgeous gorgeous gorgeous.
  • Creative Coding Community: I love the design of this – it’s not, fine, HUGELY INTUITIVE, but I very much enjoy the way it uses symbols as a means of categorisation. This site collects a VAST range of pieces of work which could reasonably be described as ‘creative uses of code’ – you can filter them by various criteria, the country of origin of the devs behind them, etc, and it’s SUCH a nice way of exploring and discovering all sorts of interesting webwork. Honestly, you could probably stop clicking here (DO NOT STOP CLICKING HERE) as there’s enough interesting stuff inside this one link to keep you occupied for days – a few of the projects linked to have been featured in Curios over the years, but the vast majority of them (or at least the ones I’ve explored) have been new to me and may well be new to you too.
  • Tattoos by AI: What’s the most embarrassing sort of tattoo? A 90s/00s CELTIC BAND? The tramp stamp? A faux-prison number that serves as a constant reminder of your failed ‘indie sleaze’ era? The one sported by someone I know which is simply a thick black arrow pointing down their ar$ecrack towards their rectum (no, really)? NO IT IS NONE OF THESE IT IS A TATTOO ‘DESIGNED’ BY GENERATIVE AI. Honestly, I can’t for the life of me work out what the market for this is – a service that wants to charge you a minimum of £10 to spit out some Stable Diffusion work – other perhaps than tattoo artists who, er, can’t draw but who can definitely trace, maybe. Please, please, please, if any of you happen to spot anyone in the wild with a genAI tattoo, TELL ME I MUST KNOW.
  • BaddieFinder: This, though, is, much as it pains me to admit it and much as the concept of it makes me sad inside, a genuinely smart business idea which I will imagine will probably make a reasonable amount of cash for the person behind it. Do you find the whole ‘looking at pictures of people, working out if you want them inside you and swiping left or right’ thing a bit much, a bit onerous, a bit too much like hard work? WELL WORRY NO MORE! Baddiefinder is a service that will literally swipe for you – forever and ever and ever, for a low monthly subscription fee! Unsurprisingly this only works on images of women (was the market for this ever going to be anything other than idiot men? NO IT WAS NOT!), but its creator says it’s been ‘trained’ to only pick out attractive people, and the idea is that the base-level training can be tweaked based on what it can tell about your preferences from your previous swiping history, meaning that you can leave the swiping to The Machine and get on with, I don’t know, growing your crypto portfolio (I don’t know why but I am convinced that the Venn diagram of ‘people who might pay for this’ and ‘people who are interested in and evangelical about crypto’ is in fact a circle). Beautifully the app promises that it will soon be able to to chat with matches on your behalf, creating the enticing possibility of an entirely-frictionless romantic experience where you only meet up to fcuk and all other interactions are entirely outsourced to AI – I jest, but am equally convinced that there is a non-trivial audience of people for whom that’s an enticing prospect, which is…insanely bleak, if I’m honest. HAPPY FRIDAY!

By  Jess Allen



  • Browser Buddy: This is BRILLIANT, and really unexpectedly so – serendipitous discovery engines for the web are an idea I’ve spent a non-trivial amount of time thinking about, and talking about, but without ever really being able to work out what a ‘good’ modern version of Stumbleupon or similar might look like. For a while there were a few useful, fun tools that scraped Twitter’s API to find links being shared in interesting communities (RIP Belong, I miss you and you are wiv da angles now), but in their absence I’ve been jonesing for something that would send me to interesting, unexpected and new (to me at least) online spaces…and now, thanks to Browser Buddy, I sort of have one again, and it is GREAT. This is basically just a Chrome extension – install it, and a small window will sit in the bottom right of your browser window. Each time you visit a website, a selection of other sites that Browser Buddy thinks are ‘similar’ will be displayed in the window which you can click on to visit in a new tab – that’s it. BUT HONESTLY IT IS SO GOOD! I narcissistically tried it on the Curios domain, and it recommended 9 sites to me, three of which were sources I already use (good, shows relevance) and six which were personal blogs by total strangers that were all COMPLETELY new to me and which led me down a bunch of odd rabbitholes and the whole experience was joyfully random and un-funneled, and, honestly, I think this might be brilliant. CAVEAT: I obviously have no idea if this is hiding some sort of unpleasant malware – so far I don’t SEEM to have been defrauded, but should that change I’ll be sure to let you know.
  • The TFL Archives: A lovely archival project by the people at Google Arts and Culture, in conjunction with TFL, which presents literally ALL the information you could ever possibly want about the tube (ok, fine, it’s possible that there are some of you for whom even this trove won’t suffice, but some of you have PROBLEMS is all I’m saying) – from the history of each line to pre-underground public transport to the evolution of the legendary map to the design of the roundel…this is lovely, and exactly the sort of thing that, let’s be honest, TFL totally wouldn’t have made without the corporate ‘philanthropy’.
  • Adam Fuhrer: The Twitter account of Adam Fuhrer, an artist and illustrator from Toronto whose work I was going to feature in here this week anyway but who in an AMAZING ACT OF ONLINE SERENDIPITY got in touch with me yesterday to introduce himself and his work, which was genuinely lovely and a nice reminder of the fact that when you make things and put them out online they will always have a life of their own, however small and however transient. Anyway, Adam’s twitter feed features a selection of his ink work, which is beautiful and mathematical and code-inspired and which honestly I would pay money for if he wanted to flog me one (oh, hang on, there’s a shop here), but you can see more on his website alongside a few creative coding projects (one of which I feel certain I’ve featured in here before) – this is lovely work, and almost perfectly up my street.
  • The Greatest Name In Sports: I am a HUGE fan of ridiculous names – for years I’ve featured the annual ‘name of the year bracket’ in Curios (I totally forgot last year’s, but 2024’s has just been announced and you can enjoy the selection here – Zarique Nutter is a particular favourite) – but this is possibly the apogee of the quest to find the most ridiculously-monikered person ever to have played professional sports anywhere in the world. This has been going on on Reddit for AGES and now they’re down to the last 8 – but the real joy comes from the ORIGINAL MASTER SPREADSHEET which contains nearly 3,000 verified sportspeople with truly remarkable handles. From the regal majesty of Vonteego Cummings to the insanely-pleasing-to-say Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, every single one of these is a joy – that said, I’m finding it hard to see beyond ‘Ugly Dickshot’ as winner of the ultimate accolade.
  • Dead Simple Sites: A collection of websites characterised by simple, no-frills webdesign, based on the principle that, sometimes, less is better. I don’t necessarily find all of these to be to my taste, but there’s something undeniably arresting about the starkness of some of the design choices here.
  • Sebastian Lempens: Pretty much the diametric opposite of the design ethos espoused by the previous link, this is a VERY fancy, massively-overengineered and utterly charming personal site for French developer Sebastian Lempens, presenting his work and his CV in genuinely gorgeous fashion. I promise you it’s impossible not to smile at the moped.
  • James Taylor-Forest: Another personal website, this one on the more minimal end of the spectrum but which features one of the most elegant bits of webdesign I’ve seen in ages and which I would like all of you to experience. Click the url and then click some more to explore James’ work and writing, and tell me if that isn’t one of the most satisfying visual interface elements you’ve seen in years.
  • Digging: I do hope that the imminent IPO doesn’t ruin Reddit – though obviously many would argue that as it’s slowly become mainstream and morphed into ‘Facebook for people who think they’re somehow more edgy and interesting than people on Facebook’ it’s long been ruined anyway. Still, I can’t possibly have anything other than love for a website which fosters communities like this one, on a subReddit simply entitled ‘digging’, in which people (I am going to hazard a guess that the overwhelming majority of them are men, though this is possibly unfair and I am sorry to erase any female digging obsessives out there) talk about how much they like digging, how the digs are going, and share pictures of various digs-in-progress. It’s not, it’s probably fair to say, the most visually-compelling sub out there, but it is SO CHARMINGLY GOOD-NATURED. Via the wonderful blort.
  • Is Super Mario Maker Beaten Yet?: Super Mario Maker is a Nintendo game which let anyone create their own custom Mario levels and then share them online for anyone else to try and beat – after many years, Nintendo is finally shuttering the servers which support the player-created levels, meaning they’ll become unplayable at some point next month. Which, obviously, means that people around the world are now racing to complete all of the levels before they disappear forever – no mean feat considering there were tens of thousands left to beat just a few weeks ago. Now, though, there are just (at the time of writing) TWO LEFT – this website’s tracking progress of the project, but you can read more about the whole thing at this Metafilter thread, which also contains various links to let you see playthroughs of some of the trickier levels getting beaten. This is obviously sort-of pointless but I adore the sense of collective endeavour here and it feels like one of those perfect expressions of the best bits of being online, which frankly you don’t get that often.
  • Refrakt: Another attempt to create an app for photos that does what Insta did back when it actually cared about being a platform for photography – Refrakt is nice-looking, minimal in design, self-describing as ‘an independent space to share your photography in a way that shows it best. No ads, alogorithms, or attention stealing. It’s a more contemplative online space. You are encouraged to spend your time with intention, form new connections, and be inspired to get out and make photographs.’ It’s free, unless you want to start uploading big, hi-res pics, and it looks lovely, but as with all these things I question whether it can ever find enough of a community to survive – that said, if you’re someone who’s SERIOUS ABOUT PHOTOGRAPHY (it does feel rather as though it’s pitching to the semi-pro crowd) then you might find this worth a look.
  • Disconet: Metadata for LPs! “Vinyl sounds better, looks better, feels better and even smells better. But digital does have its benefits, musical metadata is one of them. Having the key, tempo and other musical metadata for your records at a glance would be useful!” Disconest uses Spotify to get the metadata, so if Spotify doesn’t have a track then you won’t get the BPM info, but this is nevertheless a potentially-useful tool for any of you who play records and like to pretend you can mix them.
  • Open: You may have heard that Ernest Cline, author of the execrable piece of fanboy fanfic ‘Ready Player One’ is in some way signed up to create A METAVERSE, which is being touted as being like that envisaged in the novel (despite their being a not-inconsiderable technological gulf between what is currently technically possible and what is depicted in the book) – while details are still…sketchy, there’s now a website you can visit to lear…no, actually, you can’t ‘learn more’, but you can watch an entirely-meaningless CG trailer or alternatively click the ‘about’ section to learn…no, sorry, I am going to have to reproduce this verbatim: “Open, the hero experience in the readyverse, is the first genre-defining aaa metaverse gaming experience with top-tier ip powered by web3 technology. a multi-biome, multi-ip, multi-mode battle royale competition, in development for pc and next gen platforms.” I mean, those are definitely words but…but they mean nothing! Still, good to know that there’s a web3 element, just to eliminate any faint traces of doubt I had that this would be anything other than a horrible, empty grift.
  • Pod Engine: A service which promises to let you search podcasts and monitor across thousands for brand and keyword mentions – I have no idea if this works, or whether it’s any good, but I figured it might be the sort of thing that some of you might find genuinely useful and so, well, here it is.
  • The Alternative Videogame Screenshot Art Exhibit: You need to download this – and it’s a big file – but it’s also strangely wonderful and oddly beautiful, and if you’re as interested in the idea of ‘games as spaces’ and digital geographies and all that sort of semi-esoteric w4nk then you will adore this. “Carefully curated & polished Virtual Photography (videogame screenshot art) from the community. A mixed bag, including my Noclip images. ‘Epic’ or ‘cinematic’ style corporate Bullshots and other ‘promotional’ style marketing generally avoided. Instead we highlight the kitschy, the mundane, the liminal, the overlooked and unexpected. A sense of the hyperreal..” I did some digging into who this is by and…I don’t really know how to describe this, so I think I’ll probably just leave the link here along with the description and let you make up your own mind. “welcome, netizen! consider ‘republic of bob: internet as lifestyle’: a way to think about and around web3, digital neoliberalism and ‘the future of the net’. something casual and friendly that happens between people, in the collective imagination. an informal culture protocol – like holding doors open for others, offering guests a drink or being quiet in a library. an expansive laboratory for adventurous creatives to hang out, #rob is a surreal, lo fi social experiment in keeping the net strange. #rob does not strictly exist; some call it the real meta, tim’s house, gibsonville, videodrome, interzone, black atlantis ii. the name isn’t important however – rather, it’s the unique interrelationships outside the capitalist net that #rob helps grow and encourage.” This is, not going to lie, quite odd, but it’s also interesting and curious and feels very much Curios-adjacent – I spent a bit of time spelunking around Rob’s site, and it is a LOT.
  • Coffee Receipt Stories: This is SUCH a wonderful little project. Four years ago the person behind this website was sitting in a cafe, bored, and so doodled a small comic on the receipt for their coffee – from that, this site was born, collecting hundreds of tiny vignettes, comics, anecdotes and pictures sketched on the back of receipts. These are perfect – small pictures of moments, snapshots of places and people and windows into a life which I could peek at all day. I really do love this.
  • Othello: A simple, lightweight, in-browser game of Othello or ‘Go’, a game which is famously complex and where humans have for a while now been second best. Or, if you’re me and really can’t get your head around this game AT ALL, a very distant last.
  • Needledrop: This is a GREAT little game – each day you get a different song, and all you have to do is guess in which film it first appeared; for each wrong guess, you’ll get an additional clue. Simple but good, quick, clean fun (I am fcuking TERRIBLE at it).
  • Babyrace: Finally this week, a small browsergame made (I think) as a promo for a chain of Swiss supermarkets, which inexplicably features a baby participating in a Super Mario-like platformer over a dozen or so levels – this is baffling to me, but…actually not bad, as it happens, and you can pass a pleasing 15 minutes zoning out as you bounce the infant around the levels and collect dummies and milk bottles while, for reasons known only to the developers, attempting to reach the doors of the alpine equivalent of Sainsbury’s.

By Paul Davis 



  • If We Don’t Remember Me: Sent to me this week by Raf Roset, this is an excellent (historic) Tumblr collecting beautiful animated gifs, from the period when we liked to call them ‘Cinemagraphs’ and think of them as a bit arty (ask your Creative Director, they’ll get all misty-eyed). “IWDRM was a blog of animated movie stills active from 2010 to 2015. A video installation was shown in exhibitions at the Contemporary Arts Museum (Houston, TX), &FOAM (Amsterdam) and The Event (Birmingham).” These really are rather lovely.
  • Real Dancing Girl: You have to read the ‘about’ page to understand this – and there’s a lot of it – but I promise you that this is ART, exploring the genesis and meaning and online ‘life’ of a gif from the early days of the web. .


  • Pillars of Barbican: An insta feed in which the nameless photographer behind the camera takes pictures of all the massive concrete pillars that make up London’s Barbican centre, in some sort of celebration of cylindrical brutalism. Beautifully-obsessional, and there’s something bizarrely-interesting and oddly compelling about seeing all the pillars arrayed on the Instagrid, identical-but-different. This came to my attention via the Twitter feed of the world’s most personable stationery shop.
  • Might Delete Later: THIS IS WONDERFUL! An Insta feed sharing musical tracks made from samples of anonymous voicemails left on a Dutch (I think) phone number and other bits of found audio… silly and creative and playful and just brilliant, I am a huge fan (via Nag).
  • Who’s Who: An art Insta, via Things Magazine, which shares fragments of images by different artists which share a visual language. Which I promise will make absolute sense when you click on the link – this is so interesting, particularly if like me your art history and general knowledge of the contemporary scene is…somwhat lacking.


  • Mods and Cults: Not the *actual* title of this excellent New York Magazine piece by Jay Caspian Kang, but one which I think fits slightly better – the general thrust of this is that all spheres of life (Kang is writing specifically from and about the US, and about the mores and etiquette in surfing communities,, but I don’t think it’s any sort of a stretch to universalise much of this) has been reshaped by the way in which we relate to each other and behave online – and that an increasingly-useful way of thinking about the way in which people respond to rules and attempts to constrain or determine their behaviour is in the context of their relationship to, and mistrust/resentment of, ‘mods’ in online communities, and it’s this friction between the cult (the fandom, the political movement – whatever, we’re using cult) and the mods attempting to control them that is at the heart of much contemporary social discourse. This feels INCREDIBLY true – I also very much enjoyed Kang’s suggestion (echoing one I first read articulated many years ago by Michel Houellebecq in Atomised, oddly enough) that Aldous Huxley is in many respects a far better lens through which to see the modern era than George Orwell. Anyway, this is interesting and, I think, genuinely illuminating in terms of ‘WHERE WE ARE NOW’.
  • AI Safety Is Not A Model Property: Arvind Narayanan and Sayash Kapoor at AI Snake Oil give a really useful series of explanations of all the reasons why attempting to institute AI safety measures at the model level doesn’t really work, and why instead it makes significantly more sense to instead to think of it more as a ‘downstream’ problem. This is, fine, a bit on the technical side, but it’s genuinely interesting for anyone curious about the questions of how, if at all, any of this stuff can be made helpfully-useful: “Why has the myth of safety as a model property persisted? Because it would be convenient for everyone if it were true! In a world where safety is a model property, companies could confidently determine whether a model is safe enough to release, and AI researchers could apply their arsenal of technical methods toward safety. Most importantly, accountability questions would have relatively clear answers. Companies should have liability for harms if model safety guarantees fail, but not otherwise. By contrast, accepting that there is no technical fix to misuse risks means that the question of responsibility is extremely messy, and we don’t currently have a good understanding of how to allocate liability for misuse. Assuming that retrospective detection is easier, one low-hanging fruit is to require anyone who hosts a model, whether closed or open, to adhere to certain standards for monitoring and reporting misuse — see our call for generative AI companies to publish transparency reports (and, more generally, the least cost avoider principle). But that won’t be enough, and downstream defenses are needed.”
  • The History of UBI: This is fascinating and taught me loads that I’d previously been entirely unaware of; specifically, that the concept of Universal Basic Income was significantly further along from a legislative implementation point of view than I’d ever imagined, particularly in the US in the 70s, and that it’s been discussed with varying degrees of enthusiasm for centuries…who knows, perhaps the imminent prospect of the general fabric and framework of what we laughably call ‘the science of economics’ (LOL IT IS NOT A SCIENCE) being entirely upended by the decoupling of intellectual labour from earning power will make us once again think about it seriously.
  • The British Library Hack: I don’t as a rule tend to link to too many institutional statements here, what with them as a rule being incredibly fcuking dull, but this particular one, from the British Library, is an exception. As you’re probably aware, the Library was subject to a ransomware attack last year and has basically been utterly hamstrung from an IT point of view for several months – this statement is the Library’s account of what happened, what they did, and what happens next. It’s honestly SO much more interesting than you might think, partly because it goes into a lot of detail about what they actually did and how their systems and processes worked and you get to learn all sorts of things about organisational operation that you wouldn’t ordinarily hear (which, yes, I know doesn’t SOUND interesting, but you’ll just have to take my word for it) and partly because it’s open and honest in a way that these sorts of documents rarely are. Exemplary comms work in what must have been a really miserable time – the ‘lessons’ bit at the end is particularly good and worth reading in the unlikely event that any of you reading this are in charge of digital security for a major cultural institution.
  • Gamergate 2: It’s quite miserable even having to type that, to be honest – I was thankfully well out of the videogames business when gamergate happened, but I knew enough people still involved to have a bit of a handle on what it felt like from the inside (horrible), and I remain slightly astonished at the extent to which it has shaped SO MUCH CULTURAL DISCOURSE (you may think I’m exaggerating, but I’m really not – so much of online culture was reshaped in its wake, and as I like to think we’ve started to realise now, THERE IS NO FCUKING DISTINCTION BETWEEN ON AND OFF ANYMORE) – you don’t get Andrew Tate without Gamergate, is what I’m saying. Anyway, there’s another mad-but-almost-certainly-disproportionately-influential ‘scandal’ brewing in gaming, which once again features a bunch of idiots being manipulated by FORCES LARGER THAN THEM WHICH THEY DO NOT UNDERSTAND (again, not wholly joking here – if you can’t see some bigger game at play here when criticisms of DEI and ESG measures start being used in discussions about game plots and characters then I don’t know what to say to you) into getting violently upset about ‘woke’ messages being injected into videogames, and this being somehow the reason for the industry’s current parlous state rather than, say, the insane greed and moronic business practices of the finance businesses that underpin so much of everything. This WIRED piece explains the controversy – I appreciate it all sounds very silly, but so did ‘it’s about ethics in games journalism!’ and look where that took us.
  • Speed Dating Is Back: Look, I don’t know if this is true or not, and I don’t really care – I am including this Washington Post article almost exclusively because I’ve been saying “speed dating’s coming back!” for years now, and it’s rare that I get to point at actual media proof that I was (sort of) right.
  • There’s No Such Thing As ‘Viral’ Anymore: I personally think a better and more accurate title for this article would have been ‘we no longer have a shared experience of mass culture at meaningful scale beyond about a dozen things’, but I appreciate it’s significantly less snappy. Taylor Lorenz writes about the fact that basically noone knows what ‘viral’ means anymore – time was that your idiot client would ask you to ‘make something go viral’ and that meant ‘get loads of people to see it and talk about it’…now, though, getting ‘loads’ of people to see a thing doesn’t in any way mean that it will break out into wider culture (BECAUSE THERE IS NO SUCH THING ANYMORE), and the idea of a ‘thing that everyone has seen’ is vanishingly rare because we all exist inside our own internets and painstakingly-curated filter bubbles of our own devising. Don’t make me tap the ‘in the future everyone will be famous for 15 people’ sign again, please. SEMI-RELATED: this is an interesting piece looking at the end of a specific era on YouTube, specifically the era of ‘youtubers’ as an aspirational thing, because in 2024 there are only two youtubers (Marcus Brownlees and MrBeast) and the whole idea of ‘finding fame and making a living making content’ has rather been debunked as either impossible or FCUKING MISERABLE, and everything;s going to be AI sludge soon anyway.
  • Who Bought Deadspin?: You may or may not be aware that the latest casualty of the ongoing digital media apocalypse this week was the sports website Deadspin, whose owners announced on Monday that they’d accepted an offer for the site, that the buyers were keen to preserve the editorial integrity and ‘unique voice’ of the content but, er, that they were sacking literally everyone who was responsible for that integrity and voice immediately. This is an interesting – if a bit ‘inside media’ – dive into who exactly the acquirers are, which concludes that these BASTIONS OF MEDIA are…er…a Maltese gambling company! Welcome to the future, in which everything you read is produced in service of getting you to hand your money, your data or your immortal soul to some awful cnuts operating in an offshore tax haven somewhere.
  • The ‘Young Indian’ Method: Or, ‘how labour exploitation is evolving in the 21st Century’ – 404 Media (doing SUCH great work since they launched, it’s incredibly impressive) look into the frankly unsurprising new grift which involves passive income ‘influencers’ selling guides on how to use teams of low-paid workers in India (or the Philippines, or a number of other countries less well-off than the UK or US) to power your business while you effectively sit back and watch the money roll in. Which, to be clear, is literally what companies in the West have been doing for centuries, but there’s something chilling about seeing it extending down to suburban teenagers in Surrey who are selling instruction manuals on how to manage armies of sub-minimum wage contractors half-a-world away.
  • The KFC Brand Book: I know, I know, NOONE WANTS TO READ A FCUKING BRAND BOOK. Except I know for a fact that lots of you work in the benighted advermarketingpr industries (if you’re lucky and you’ve not yet felt the sharp sting of the axeblade against your neck – because know that it is coming) and as such might fall into the tiny demographic quadrant that actually really does want to – and also this effort, by KFC in (I think) 2015, is genuinely brilliant. Ok, fine, it’s still a fcuking brand bible and as such is sort-of horrible and evil, but, equally, it’s a really good example of the genre – it’s clear, it’s directional, it’s READABLE (so rare) and it’s even on occasion funny, and it’s written in language that is clear and doesn’t at any point dip into marketingwank. Really, really good, this.
  • Battle Scenes In Films: Specifically, how exactly did filmmakers go about creating epic battle scenes in films in the pre-CGI era, when you had to conjure up the Battle of Thermopylae with nothing more than 50 ruinously hungover extras, some bedsheets and a sun-battered plain – this is honestly SO interesting, if perhaps a touch overlong, and contains enough mad anecdotes about insane directorial behaviour to last me a lifetime. I mean, listen to this – MADNESS: “To make the battlefield look authentic a team of labourers and engineers bulldozed and levelled two hills, deepened a valley, and laid five miles of roads.” Yeah, of course you did.
  • Jeff Minter: If you’re a British videogames enthusiast of a certain vintage, you’ll probably know the name Jeff Minter, singular creator of a bunch of idiosyncratic, kooky games which for reasons known only to Jeff always featured llamas. This is a profile of him, in advance of an interactive documentary about his work that’s coming out soon, and it’s genuinely charming – the details about Minter’s singular inability to back a winner made him particularly endearing to me.
  • Walking Phoenix: I have never been to Arizona, and I have no idea what Phoenix is like as a city. Chris Arnade, owner of a blog called ‘walking the world’ (in which, unsurprisingly, he writes about ‘walking’ around ‘the world’) has been to Phoenix, and had quite a rubbish time there – this is his account of why. This is a bit of an odd one – I can’t say that I particularly enjoy the tone of Arnade’s writing (Chris, in the unlikely event that you a) ever see this; and b) give even the slightest of fcuks about my opinion, console yourself with the fact that I can’t write for sh1t ether and yet it’s my primary means of earning a living) and I found the general tenor of the piece a bit uncomfortable in places…but, equally, it’s a pretty unflinching portrait of what a city looks like when you have no public infrastructure or social security support net, and everything is built in service of cars rather than people, and when people who should quite evidently be receiving treatment are instead left to fend for themselves…I think more than anything it’s utterly repellent that this should be the status quo for hundreds of thousands of people in just one of the major cities of one of the world’s richest countries. Think of it as a cautionary tale, because, really, this is not an entirely-alien picture being painted here.
  • How Men Pee: This made me laugh a LOT. Esther Wang writes of her confusion at the actual mechanics of how exactly men use urinals, and her subsequent conversations with male friends and colleagues to get to the bottom of the whole thing. I am slightly astonished by Wang’s ignorance here but this is very funny indeed.
  • Scrabble: My girlfriend and I play Scrabble reasonably regularly. At the last count, I have won a grand total of three games against her, ever. She regularly beats me by a factor of 2. It is, not to put too fine a point on it, incredibly humiliating and I’m starting to get something of a complex about it. She is not, though, as good as the subject of this profile, a man called Nigel Richards, a person so good at Scrabble that he is apparently basically playing a totally different game to everyone else. I loved this piece – I’ve read articles about high-end Scrabble before, but this does a better job of capturing the beauty of truly elegant play, and the curious oddness of someone who is so much better at one specific thing than anyone else currently alive.
  • Rave Culture: Chal Ravens reviews a book about UK rave culture in the 80s and 90s, free parties and flyers and the criminal justice bill and the co-opting of the scene by money and its eventual descent into mainstream self-parody by the mid-00s – this is super-interesting, particularly if you’re old enough to remember the birth of the scene (to be clear, I am not quite THAT old – my friend Simon is, though, to the extent that he was basically adopted by Spiral Tribe when he was 16 and went on the road with the hippy bus for years, and he endorsed this article so I feel that’s all the badge of honour you need).
  • Jim Martini: A wonderfully-stylish little short by Michael Bible which hits a very specific ‘American short story’ register quite perfectly.
  • At Miu Miu: Sophie Kemp writes about going to parties at Paris Fashion Week. You can smell the dry ice and bulimia from here.
  • Strings: Rosie Dastgir writes beautifully about parenting, illness and recovery, with a pleasingly sinister undertone which I very much enjoyed.
  • Maud: Our final longread of the week is this dialogue-based short by Noor Qasim, which is SO impressive – structure, tone, the works. This is beautifully crafted, and the central conceit of the interview between journalist and artist, and how it moves and what it reveals, and doesn’t, about each at each stage, works so well. I thought this was exceptional.

By Michael Kirkham