Webcurios 17/09/21

Reading Time: 31 minutes

Gah! I am late! Not with Curios, you understand, but for a train – I need to be showered and dressed and OUT and here I am still writing the intro O WOE IS ME!

So anyway, while I scrabble about and attempt to pack an overnight bag why don’t YOU make yourself comfortable and settle down to enjoy this weeks links’n’words in my absence? DON’T BREAK ANYTHING YOU WILL PAY FOR IT.

I am still Matt, this is still Curios, and everything continues to trend towards entropy as is the natural way of the universe.

By Titus Poplawski



  • Skin Caviar: We kick this week off with a return to the fabulous world of luxury cosmetics web development – a world in which I presume all the account handlers are borne aloft on shields like conquering heroes and constantly pelted with a stream of low-denomination coins and notes whilst harps are played in tribute to their uncanny ability to persuade rich clients to build stupid websites that make literally no sense. This particular example is here to sell you a facecream by Swiss beauty outfit La Prairie, and BOY is it keen to convince you of its magical properties. “La Prairie discovered a unique property of caviar”, the website begins…”It only exists in obscurity”. Er, what? “It only thrives at night”. Hang on, caviar…thrives? Does it? Well, you now have an opportunity to ‘unlock’ four caviar-based experiences to discover more! Amazingly, there is apparently a parallel ‘art experience’ which is going to launch at Art Basel later this year and which is made by a PROPER ARTIST (who has a quote on the site reading “I would not define myself as an artist, but as an achiever of dreams” – yes mate, of course you are, and I am definitely 100% certain that it’s dreams that motivated you to collaborate on a fish egg skincream-themed installation and not the 6 figures thrown at you by a marketing department gone wild on cocaine. This is, I promise you, one of the most preposterous product website I have ever seen and will cheer you right up – as the site itself exhorts you, “Indulge in the line-smoothing potency of caviar, tonight and beyond” – SEXY, EH? I wonder if it makes your face smell faintly of sturgeon.
  • Are You You?: I have over the past few years featured a number of sites in Curios which are designed to educate users about the technology they interact with each day, how it works, and how they might want to consider their relationship with it in terms of privacy and rights – this is another one, which uses your webcam to highlight quite how good facial recognition software is getting, and how it’s increasingly hard to throw it off the scent when it has a reasonable idea of what you look like. It’s simple, clear, silly, and will do a decent job of scaring/impressing (delete as applicable, based on your own personal perspective on the growing techpanopticon) you as to the quality of the tech you can now just run in-browser – I also wonder, though, who the fcuk is seeing this stuff and how it’s being distributed, and why I keep on stumbling across it despite being pretty far down the list of ‘the sorts of people who need educating about the fact that they are being watched by machines more often than they may realise’. Anyway, have a play with this and realise that there’s no way in hell the machine vision death machines won’t be able to track you down come the Second Great Machine Uprising of 2117.
  • Buy The First Smiley: I think you can all guess what the missing words in that short description are. Go on, all together now…”…AS AN NFT!!!” That’s right, the ‘let’s monetise literally everything; seriously, there’s probably some soiled tissue paper knocking around that we can claim holds the mucal emissions of Steve Jobs!” bandwagon rolls on, and this week brings us the opportunity to buy an NFT of the first recorded use of an emoji in human communication – specifically, Scott E. Fahlman’s 1982 ARPANET message suggesting the use of 🙂 to connote humour in a response and 🙁 to connote its opposite. Except obviously you can’t actually ‘buy’ that message – instead, though, you get, er, a link to an image of the message! And “two essays Fahlman wrote about the creation of the emoticon: one penned in 2002, upon its 20th anniversary, and another written specifically for this auction reflecting on the creation; as well as a signed and framed certificate from Fahlman”. Look, there’s just under a week left on this at the time of writing, and bidding’s currently sitting around £11k – part of me thinks this is very, very silly, but another (smaller, and likely to feel very sheepish in a few years’ time should it ever look back and read) wonders whether this is the GREATEST INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITY EVER and should be snapped up. It probably isn’t, but, well, you never know.
  • Untitled Frontier: I probably ought to chuck the NFT stuff in its own little section so that people can just skip it wholesale if they find the topic tedious beyond belief, but that would feel a little bit too much like I was legitimising it. Anyway, this is the latest thing to make me sputter “but…well…why?” in largely blank incomprehension – Untitled Frontier is “a permissively licensed shared-story universe about the future of simulations, our collective records, and our humanity”…on the blockchain!!! Each story comes with memorabilia attached to it which is sold as an NFT (OF COURSE IT IS) – so you can buy the cover art, for example, or digital representations of some of the things featured in the narratives. There’s some vague guff on the site about a ‘plan’ – there’s a DAO behind the whole thing, obvs, and the whole setup claims that it supports storytellers with a new revenue model (ok, fine, I get that bit), helps ‘connect with the stories in new digitally-native ways’ (by…buying merch? Digital merch? I suppose I get that), will build a community (CULT! CULT!) and will eventually (and in ways that are not even vaguely guessed at) ‘allow fans to more directly participate in the creation process’ (so you’ll give superfans who buy into the ponzi scheme…what, artistic license? Votes on narrative progression? You’ll let them buy into your artistic vision so they can then bend it to their will? This…doesn’t sound great for the artists, if I’m honest). Of course, the crucial test of this is WHAT IS THE WORK LIKE? Are the stories currently available through Untitled Frontier the sorts of things that could only have been conceived of thanks to this exciting new crypto-based Web3.0 model? No, they are bilge. Thanks, NFTworld!
  • Artifly: One of the nicest things about the modern web is the ability it gives us to find artists from around the world whose work we admire and who we can support through the purchase of said work (this does not require NFTs! We can do this using existing systems!) – still, though, those works need to be made by people, and people are slow and inefficient and can be expensive, and have a finite production capacity and need things like food and sleep and water and love and, frankly, are a massive pain in the ar$se to administer. Thank GOD, then, for new services like Artifly, which remove the tedious and unpredictable ‘human’ element from art creation and leaves it all in the digital ‘hands’ of the machines. Artifly is a bleakly-brilliant service – it presents you with a succession of images of machine-generated images from which you select your ‘favourites’, which the software uses to ‘learn’ your tastes. At the end of this triage process, you get presented with a seemingly-infinite selection of machine-generated canvases which you can tweak based on your palette preferences or whether you prefer abstract or landscape art – everything churned out by the site is printed on demand and purchasable at very low prices (£29 is the entry-level cost of a small stretched canvas) with free shipping, and is ‘guaranteed unique’ and why does this make me so sad? Still, there is literally no excuse for anyone to have generic IKEA prints on their wall anymore. Artists, form an orderly queue for the JobCentre and STOP CRYING.
  • Treedom: Not, sadly, an arboreal network of stern dominatrices, this is instead a lot more like Trees as a Service – Treedom is a company that basically promises to do your green work for you, letting individuals or companies pay to have trees planted on their behalf, whether as a salve to one’s guilt for going on another holiday abroad despite what you know it’s doing to the planet (“but it’s been SO LONG, and, honestly, after the Summer we’ve had it’s so important for my mental health!”) or as a bandage on the axewound of corporate impact on the environment. As the website cheerfully burbles, “Are you looking for the right partner to help your business have a positive impact on the environment and people? With Treedom you can give life to your company forest and communicate your commitment to sustainability in an engaging, powerful way, which benefits your bottom line.” Even better, you can follow your tree online (although no word from the site as to whether your sapling will send you increasingly-desultory letters of obligation each year thanking you for your support and telling you how well it’s doing at school)! Will this make a difference to the state of the planet? Not a bit! Still, trees are good, right?
  • Audiostrip: Another tool that lets you extract both vocals and instrumentals from either an MP3 or a YouTube link – this works surprisingly well (though I’ve only tried it on a couple of songs) and is a useful shortcut if you want some quick and dirty audiowork done.
  • The Infinite Corpse: In many (well, maybe one) respects the web itself is like a gigantic, human-wide game of Exquisite Corpse, in which we’re all constantly riffing off the stimuli passed onto us through digital channels by the myriad other people that make up our online world (sorry, that was needlessly and pointlessly pretentious, I’ll try and dial it down a bit). The Infinite Corpse is a rather more traditional rendering of the famous Surrealist parlour game, in which one participant starts a drawing or narrative and then hands it on to another player to continue, without the second player being aware of what the first has drawn or written – here, a bunch of comic artists are drawing/writing an infinite pass-the-parcel of three-panel comics, the one unifying thread being that the central character is a(n incredibly put-upon) skeleton. I love this – part of the beauty is that you can just spin up a random panel and see where you end up. The site accepts submissions, but to preserve quality they are all reviewed by a Chicago collective of comics artists to make sure each entry is up to snuff; I could quite happily sack off writing this right now (but I won’t, just to spite you) and spend a few hours going through this, the work is uniformly-excellent and occasionally very funny indeed.
  • The Human Body: You need to create an account to access this, or sign in with Google or whatever, but I promise you that it’s worth it (and as yet they don’t appear to have done anything awful with my details). This lets you explore an incredibly detailed, zoomable, spinnable 3d model of the human anatomy (male or female models are available), which you can PEEL LIKE AN ONION to reveal all the layers of nerve and muscle and bone beneath the dermis. Honestly, this is SO compelling – I know nothing of biology (regular readers may be aware that I am not hugely comfortable with the realities of the fleshiness of corporeality, at least not as they apply to me) and so as a gaping know-nothing this was a fascinating opportunity to do some learning about exactly what lurks under my increasingly-loose skin. Also, the model’s face looks absolutely TERRIFIED once you peel back the skin – though perhaps that’s to be expected given what it’s going through.
  • The Mammoth: Or rather, ‘the company that this week announced that it was going to try and clone the mammoth’ – the company is called ‘Colossal’ and you will doubtless all of have read about their plans to bring back everyone’s favourite hairy pachyderm thanks to the magic of DNA sequencing and MODERN SCIENCE. It’s worth having a look at the project website – partly because you get a sense for the people behind this (oh HELLO tech-solutionist Valley man! Hello! – also, interesting to see a glowing endorsement of this ground-breaking, never-before-attempted genetics work from noted expert in the field…er…life coach (and person about whom there are a LOT of very iffy allegations) Tony Robbins, a man whose presence definitely adds legitimacy to the venture), and partly because the copy made me wonder whether we weren’t maybe placing something of an excessive burden of expectation on the poor beast. “Earth’s old friend and new hero!”, the website breathlessly exclaims – if this were a film, I would file that line under ‘obvious foreshadowing’ and start to expect something suspicious and dark to start bubbling under around the end of the first act. Also, I properly lol’ed at the email signup form – “Let’s make a better world together – send me newsletter updates!’, yes mate that is exactly what we’re all doing with our newsletters, honest.
  • The 2021 Drone Photography Awards: I expect that in a year or so there will be a separate category for ‘photos taken autonomously by said drones’, but for the moment these are all snapped on the command of their fleshy operators. The most impressive of these, to my mind, are those where the photographer eschews the slightly-cliché ‘shot directly from above’ framing and does something more interesting with depth – still, as is increasingly common with these sorts of contests (and as I think I have been moaning about for several years, suggesting I really ought to get a new hobby horse) the dominant style continues to be ‘TURN ALL THE LEVELS UP REALLY HIGH’ and ‘WOW ISN’T HDR AMAZING’ and frankly it all seems a bit much if you know what I mean.
  • The Lamest Edit Wars: Wikipedia once again goes all meta, with this entry documenting what the platform itself considers to be the ‘lamest’ (their designation) wars between editors currently occupying the platform. You may think that you know ‘petty’ – you may think that your workplace is a seething pit of small, daily squabbles which have long-since stopped being about anything other than not letting that bstard win, and you may believe that your family is unsurpassable in its ability to keep long-running feuds simmering, but you have seen nothing until you’ve seen the incredible dedication to beef that the people contesting whether or not obscure band ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ should be designated metal, metalcore or Christian metalcore. Honestly, I will never mock Wikipedians because they do valuable work but, well, this is all just silly, isn’t it?
  • China Ghost Cities: One of the truly mind-flaying things about China is those occasional moments when you read a news story about the country and it cites a particular city that you have never heard of and you Google it and it’s literally bigger than London and it’s just AN Other ‘second tier’ city which is considered ‘largely unremarkable’. This site is less about that, and more about the side effects of that sort of urbanisation – all the places that didn’t quite work, the ghost cities that sit abandoned because political whims changed, or business shifted, or the money vanished. The photos it collects are eerie and wonderful, and part of that very specific sort of China-related content you find online which tells you a little bit about the country whilst at the same time reinforcing the image of it as vast and utterly-unknowable and slightly more ‘future’ than is probably good for us.
  • Waterbear: “The first video on demand platform dedicated to the future of our planet” – so states the homepage, and who am I to argue. Waterbear is a video platform backed by all sorts of charities and which hosts documentaries, free to view, all about the environment and how fcuked it is. Given that the site hosts lots of programmes about animals and the natural world, clearer-headed copywriters might reasonably have wondered whether ‘dedicated to our planet’s fast-vanishing past’ might have been a more appropriate strapline, but should you wish to watch a lot of docs about grizzly bears and how to save the planet (lol! Too late!) then this is a great place to start.
  • DeepFace Live: We’ve had a few years of deepfakes now, and it’s fair to say that they haven’t yet brought about the collapse of trust in filmed reality that we had feared (amusingly (ha! SO FUNNY), trust in pretty much everything appears to have collapsed entirely without their aid) – still, early days! This is an interesting Github repo that will allow those of you who are codefiddlers to play with some live, realtime faceswapping tech for streaming or videocalls – if you’re technically-minded enough, you could be speaking to colleagues LIVE with a creepily-rendered mask of Rowan Atkinson replacing your usual bored countenance (there are a couple of preloaded models available, of which he is one; there’s also software to train your own, though). This is still A LONG WAY from being convincing or indeed the sort of thing that anyone needs to be scared of, but it’s interesting that there’s no cost barrier to playing this beyond the (admittedly significant) computational might needed to make it work. Basically if you can afford enough processing power it is now entirely possible to wear your boss’s face on a Teams call like a creepy fleshmask – and if that’s not enough to motivate you to grind for that that payrise, I don’t know what is.
  • Will You Press The Button?: A seemingly-infinite series of dark bargains – do you take them? “You could control your dreams BUT you can never get out of bed” – tricky, that one. “You are an NBA champion BUT you have no eyebrows” – I think I can live with the lack of brow-caterpillars, sign me up! You get the idea – the nice bit is that you can see after each answer how your choice compares to others, which is how I discovered that a surprisingly large number of people would accept never having to work again, even if it meant that they needed to spend a significant proportion of their additional free time defecating. Wow, we really do hate our jobs, don’t we?
  • The Tail Company: I was at a festival a few years back, and there was a point at which I sort of snapped and decided that I hated everyone there (look, it was one of those ones an hour or so out of London, and literally EVERYONE worked in advermarketingpr and was on lots of cocaine – honestly, you would have hated everyone too, I promise it’s not just me being miserable) and I think the motivating factor was seeing literally hundreds of them wearing tails. YOU ARE AN ACCOUNT MANAGER FOR A COMPANY THAT MAKES ADVERTS FOR WEAPONS FFS DO NOT TRY AND PRETEND YOU ARE WHIMSICAL YOU APPALLING GHOUL! Had they, though, been made by the Tail Company I might have been a bit less anti- these look GREAT, and are fully articulated, and you can move them via remote control or via an app on your phone (it’s called ‘MiTail’, obvs) and, well, look, I have no interest in wearing one of these but I can’t begrudge you if you do.
  • The Forest: 2021 really has been a big year for ‘we want to bring the sense of serendipitous discovery back to the web’, hasn’t it? I must have come across about a dozen sites whose main theme and focus is ‘helping you discover small, interesting, odd, niche webstuff in a single click – so it is with The Forest, a very minimalist version of the genre. Inspired by the idea that the web was once somewhere you got lost, before Facebook and Insta and the rest turned the crepuscular corners into a single, tarmacadamed highway with BIG SIGNS and INTRUSIVE LIGHTING, users can either choose to be taken to a random site or to submit their own – I think, judging by the places I was taken, this has been knocking around coder communities for a while as there are lots of small portfolio websites and obscure-looking projects cropping up, but some of them are charming (like this one!) and this is worth a look if you’re feeling curious.
  • World of Spectrum: Rest in peace Sir Clive Sinclair. The Spectrum was, if you grew up in the UK in the 1980s, probably your first experience of home computing – my cousins in Nottingham had one, and playing Chuckie Egg on it was by a long way the most exciting thing about visiting them.  World of Spectrum is “the world’s biggest and most popular archive of Spectrum related material. It plays host to a huge archive of software including utilities, games, tools, type-ins, TR-DOS games, et al. The archive also includes documentation, instructions for games, magazine scans, tape inlays and other assorted stuff.” You will need to download an emulator to make this stuff work, but if you can be bothered then it’s a gateway to some wonderful nostalgia (for about 10m, til you remember the games are all objectively terrible by today’s standards and SO HARD MY GOD) and a superb way to torture your kids for the weekend (“No, no, no PS5 today, we’re going to play the games that I used to play when I was your age!” – a statement no child in history has ever reacted to with anything other than misery).

By Trey Abdella



  • What Do You Want Me To Say?: This is a beautiful little online artwork by Lauren Lee McCarthy. What Do You Want Me To Say? Is a piece about the feminised personae we give to voice assistants, and the things that tells us about gender expectations and roles and what is considered to be ‘women’s’ work. Speak to the art and the art speaks back, repeating your words in its own voice (specifically, the voice of McCarthy herself). This is oddly-compelling, and I found myself entering into a far more prolonged call-and-response sequence with my laptop than I was expecting to. If you’re at all interested in digital art distribution (NOT THE NFT SORT FFS) then the platform that this is being exhibited and sold on is also worth a look – the work is available for all to experience for a month, then for its collectors for a year, and then it reverts to being an archive playback version,  including the set of phrases the piece was instructed to say over the year. I am genuinely fascinated to see/hear its final evolution (and I love the fact that the character of the piece changes over time).
  • Ling Your Language: This is SO MUCH FUN! Basically, listen to a short clip of someone speaking – your task is to work out which language they’re speaking in, selecting from a multiple-choice selection. As you play, the game introduces more options to choose from, making the process harder – it’s astonishing quite how many languages I found I recognised, and how the game really quickly teaches you to recognise differences in tonality and nuance between languages which I had always thought in my ignorance sounded similar. I promise you, you may not thing that this will be enjoyable, but you are WRONG. Also, it’s a lovely project – it’s all compiled by volunteers supplying the audio samples, and the description is just super-cute: “Inspired by “The Great Language Game”, LingYourLanguage is a collaborative effort to bring the world’s languages to a wider audience in an entertaining, engaging way. The project began at a hostel in the center of Prague, Czech Republic, where visitors began contributing their languages to the LingYourLanguage collection. It soon spread to family, friends, acquaintances, friends of friends, and so on, and links together people and cultures. We hope to create a collection of all the different languages, varieties, dialects, accents, and linguistic peculiarities that are such an important part of cultures around the world.” See? Adorable.
  • Why The Fcuk Do You Know That?: Specifically, a Reddit thread answering the question ‘what fact do you know that makes people go ‘why the fcuk do you know that’. Fans of odd trivia will be in heaven here – the one about ‘if you hold a sheep’s nose closed it forces said sheep to urinate’ is one I REALLY want to try (with an acquiescent sheep), but my personal favourite is the line, calmly delivered, “The foreskin of circumcised babies are typically reused as lip grafts. I learned this after I had to get my lip replaced.” SO MANY QUESTIONS. There are no citations, so you have to go on trust here (or be willing to do some supplementary Googling to verify the claims), but SO INTERESTING.
  • The IgNobel Prize Winners: Yes, yes, I know this was last week, sorry. Always a wonderful exploration of the sheer insanity of some academic research – how the fcuk the people researching whether the type of film people watch in cinemas makes the cinemas smell different got funding will forever be a mystery to me. Still, it’s good to know that the important research into cat purring is being undertaken – although why exactly we needed two separate investigations into why people sometimes do, and sometimes don’t, bump into each other when crossing the road is beyond me.
  • Are.na: There is, to my mind at least, something interesting in the fact that despite it being around for a decade or so now, and despite the fact that ‘keeping track of everything you see and read online in a way which makes it retrievable and useful’ is still the sort of thing one would imagine people would find useful, Evernote is still very much a niche concern – and that no other viable competitors have sprung up that do it better. It speaks, I suppose, to the deeply-personal mental models and processes people have for keeping track of their thoughts and ideas and memories, and the utter-impossibility of creating a system and interface that augments these models in a way in which is universally helpful or which suits all, or even most. Are.na is AN Other attempt to create a system of tagging and retrieval for the FULL WEB EXPERIENCE – it’s simple and minimalist, with less of the clutter and bloat that has ruined Evernote for many people, and it’s free for the first 200 things that you tag. Pricing beyond that seems reasonable ($45 a year for unlimited collections), but your mileage will depend entirely on whether you can get on board with the interface and whether your brain is the sort that lends itself to index carding everything you see online ever (I wish mine was ffs).
  • Dust: If you’re into scifi or interested in filmmaking (or both!), this is quite the find. Dust is production company whose YouTube channel hosts a staggering number of professionally-produced short scifi films, spanning every single genre convention and trope you can imagine, and all produced with the sort of production values you don’t always see on YouTube. Creators can submit their own completed films for inclusion on the channel, and there are literally HUNDREDS of videos on there, from full series of indie scifi productions to music videos to standalone shorts, running the gamut from space operatics to grimy near-future dystopias. So much material here if you’re a genre fan.
  • Clos: This is amazing – I stumbled across this app via a post from the photographer who shot Zendaya’s recent cover for…Vogue? Elle? Some fashion mag…anyway, they were saying that they had taken the shot featured on the cover using Zendaya’s phone, controlled via this app, whilst sitting at home in London. Which is ASTONISHING. Clos basically lets you take over someone else’s phone from your own, fiddling with all the camera settings and letting you communicate with the subject over the mic – so you can effectively art direct them from the toilet or wherever you happen to be. Obviously you’ll still need someone to worry about lighting, costume and the rest, but this struck me as utterly transformative and quite magical.
  • Space Age Pop: An excellent piece of vintage web, this – a fansite for what the author terms ‘space age pop’, defined loosely as a sort of weird midpoint between rock and jazz, and spanning such microgenres as ‘esoterica’, ‘space-age bachelor pad music’ (no, really) and ‘The Now Sound’. Basically it’s all music that sounds like someone from the 50s and 60s idea of what music might sound like in the future, and it’s GREAT – also, the site hasn’t changed in what I suspect is approximately 20 years, thereby adding to the retro feel of the whole thing. This is a pre-YouTube site (bless!) so doesn’t actually have anything you can listen to, but open YT or Spotify in a separate tab and spend the afternoon on a musical journey into what really doesn’t sound like the space age of anything anymore.
  • Find Tech Jobs: This is a good idea – this site pulls a live(ish) feed of tech jobs posted to Twitter, using nothing but Twitter search API. This is such a good and simple and easy and cheap way of building something like this – can we please do this for EVERYTHING? I’d like one of these that updates me on PS5 drops, and perhaps another that pulls a running list of every single illegal football stream – thanks!
  • YeetGarf: Garfield now exists in quite a strange place in terms of the web and its relationship with him – after the initial flurry of ‘wow, Garfield is actually really weird and dark’ analysis around a decade or so ago (Garfield Minus Garfield remains an ur-text of webart for me), he’s just sort of become a part of digital culture’s substratal layer. Anyway, this is a Twitter account sharing images of Garfield being thrown out of the window – and why not?
  • Suicide Notes: A few years ago there existed a subReddit where people went to post notes before killing themselves; it was shut down due to a lack of moderation in 2018. The people behind this site have taken it upon themselves to bring back the archive of those posts – their reasoning is as follows: “Over the years this subreddit was accessible, a positive community was created around it where users would help each other by talking openly about their problems and struggles. Discussing mental health without the fear of being judged is essential to break down the stigma surrounding suicide and it was something that this subreddit was well known for. The purpose of this website is to ensure that these notes remain safe and accessible so that the people behind them won’t ever be forgotten. Having all these notes available again hopefully serves as a reminder for everyone that we are not alone and that more people than we would expect struggle daily with thoughts of suicide.” TO BE CLEAR, THESE ARE (OR CLAIM TO BE) ACTUAL SUICIDE NOTES – caveat emptor and all that. I’m linking to this not out of some sort of morbid sense of fascination – although I am interested in the stories that people tell about why they choose to end their lives when they do – but because I think it’s important to acknowledge that people do feel sad and alone and awful, and sometimes do kill themselves as a result. Pretending otherwise, or not looking this stuff in the face, is, to my mind, unhelpful. That said, be aware that everything past the second click is VERY SAD, and you should proceed accordingly.
  • The PS4 Emulator: This is SUPER-geeky – it runs on Linux ffs! – but if you are the sort of person who can deal with that then this is apparently the world’s first fully-working PS4 emulator that you can run on your desktop.
  • Ants: File this under the same heading as clicker games, and other stuff that is ‘fun’ for reasons and in ways that I don’t fully understand. The premise of the game here is simple – select a map, place your ant spawning points, and see how much ‘food’ the ants can collect in a set amount of time. Given that this involves two things: a) clicking to place your spawning points; and b) hitting ‘start’ and watching as your ‘ants’ (tiny black pixels’) ‘eat’ their ‘food’ (more pixels, this time green), you wouldn’t expect this to be compelling – AND YET. It’s oddly satisfying to watch your ants chow down, and the compulsion (for me at least) to beat other users’ scores was strong enough to see me waste a good 20 minutes’ of an employer’s time on this.
  • Quake in 13kb: Finally this week, a truly remarkable feat of coding by Dominic Szablewski, who’s built an entirely-playable version of venerable FPS Quake which has a filesize limit of just 13kb (SO SMALL). This is not only technically staggering, but it’s a really nicely-made port which is really fun to play and with which you can comfortably waste the rest of the afternoon should you so choose.

By Mark Forbes



  • The Kimono Gallery: Only one Tumblr this week, but it’s a lovely one – The Kimono Gallery collects images of kimonos – photography, but also portraiture and design work – along with other aesthetically-similar imagery of Japan. Beautifully-curated.


  • Letterboxd Out of Context: A selection of some of the more idiosyncratic opinions left by users of film reviewing and recommending site Letterboxd. As ever with these accounts, you wonder whether much of the content is created on purpose by people wanting to be featured (and then you remember that no, actually this is what we are like) – fair play, though, to the person leaving the all-caps comment under Spider Man: No Way Home “IF ALL THE SPIDERMANS HAVE AN ORGY MY LIFE WILL BE COMPLETE”. You speak for all of us.
  • David Umemoto: Geometric, architectural cut-out cardboard sculptures and designs, like the sort of play set you might see being sold in the gift shop of the Tate which will disappoint every child you give it to, but, well good.


  •  9/11 and the Birth of the Big Lie: This is written by an American, and from a US perspective, but it was hard not to nod along compulsively reading it as a Brit – and I imagine there are many other Western countries where this all feels grimly familiar. The piece lays out the thesis that the attacks on the Twin Towers ushered in a new era of political mendacity in which bigger and bigger lies were required to maintain the illusion that our response to the new world in which we found ourselves was right-thinking and made sense, and wasn’t always doomed to failure. The lies begot lies begot lies, and because this is an American piece the conclusion is that they eventually begot Trump. Leaving aside the Americentrism for a second, though, I think it’s reasonable to argue that the more universal impact of these lies was a generational breakdown of trust and belief for a generation of people – as the author writes, “the legacy 9/11 has left us is that there is no common set of facts we can agree on about anything: Not about the COVID pandemic and masks and vaccines; not about the climate change that has killed hundreds and left town after town burned to the ground or under water and destroyed by tornadoes and hurricanes. We cannot agree that votes counted amount to elections won or lost.  We cannot even agree on the common good of vaccines that will save us, that science is worth studying, that learned experts are worth listening to.”
  • Machine Writing and Literary History: A look at the extent to which our current early-stage experimentation with machine-created texts is a TERRIBLE ABERRATION WHICH WILL DESTROY LITERATURE, or instead, as the author argues, simply a sort of modern extension of the formulaic nature of much of what was termed ‘literature’ in the pre-Romantic era. The central premise here is that whilst we might be sniffy about what machines and GPT-n and ‘probabilistic’ models of writing might end up doing to culture, we should also be aware of the fact that all cultural production is in many respects formulaic and often born of a desire to replicate the mean, and to presume that much of what we do isn’t as fundamentally process-y as what a machine does is perhaps giving a little too much credence to our special-ness and perhaps not giving enough scrutiny to the way writing (and culture) works.
  • Eco Fashion and Animal Rights: I really, really enjoyed this article, but must preface it by saying that it’s coming from a place of relatively-vested interest – the publication it appears in is called Craftsmanship, and is all about CRAFT and BEING AN ARTISAN, and so it’s not…hugely surprising that they would carry a longread about how vegan leather is not that good for the planet actually. With those caveats in mind, this is a really good look at how incredibly fcuking complicated questions of environmental ethics are when discussing when it is and is not eco-friendly to use non-animal products. Non-animal is not necessarily the same as ‘good for the planet’, is the central tenet here – there’s a lot of interesting stuff about the branding of ‘vegan’ as a concept, and the extent to which it’s as oddly-greenwashed as any other lifestyle choice being sold to us via mass-market capitalism. Small authorial note here – I DO NOT THINK THERE IS ANYTHING BAD ABOUT BEING VEGAN, just fyi.
  • Lebanon Is Gone: One of the sad realities of The Way The News Works for most of us is that something will happen in a country we know little about, we will spend 48h reading explainers helpfully put together by journalists to give us the precis of What We Need To Know, and then approximately 48h after that we will largely forget about that country’s existence until the next time it appears on the news. So it was (for me at least) with Lebanon, in the news last year following the tragic port explosion and which my cursory reading informed me was in a bit of a mess, generally – this piece in the NYT by Lebanese writer Lina Mounzer takes us back to the country a year on, and paints a picture of a barely-functional state which is struggling to support its people. This is very, very sad, and an incredible account of what a country in the process of falling apart looks like.
  • Chinese Podcasting: A look at popular podcasting platforms in China, how they work, and how that functionality means that the ecosystem for podcasts there looks rather different to how it looks in the West. “Instead of serving as just search and recommendation engines, [podcasting apps] also had features that allowed listeners to take notes and leave comments on their favorite audio content. On Ximalaya, listeners can create and join listening circles or discussion channels, or give gifts to support their favorite shows. Creators can livestream, monetize via advertising programs, and provide voiceover services — all within one app.” This all feels like stuff that will be coming to Spotify et al sooner rather than later, so worth perhaps thinking about what you can do with it when it does.
  • New Emoji!!!: I used to get very angry about emoji, particularly in that period around…2014(?) when they were everywhere and you couldn’t move for someone trying to flog you a pillow in the shape of a smiley poo, but I have mellowed slightly, not least as my girlfriend is a creative user of the medium and also because it feels like the way in which people use them has shifted and evolved slightly (language in ‘constantly-evolving’ SHOCKER! Ffs Matt, really). This is the latest dispatch from a really interesting newsletter which is all about emoji, their usage, their development and the wider culture around them, and makes some interesting points around what the new set of Unicode symbols announced this week mean in terms of the way in which we now use them as an adjunct to written communication. Basically the whole thing about moving from emoji as single carriers of meaning to contextually-dependent signifiers that are best-used in concatenated sequence (what a horrid sentence, I am sorry) is fascinating to me, and if you have any interest in linguistics then it may well be to you too.
  • The eBay Beanie Baby Scams: The Beanie Baby boom is one of those online stories that gets resurrected for a new generation every 3-4 years or so – this article talks about a resurgence in interest in the inexplicably-popular-in-the-90s plush toys based around their allegedly-soaring resale value. Obviously said spiralling resale value is all a scam, being fueled by grifters looking to make a quick buck out of gullible idiots, but what was most interesting to me about this was the extent to which at almost every point in this piece you could replace the term ‘Beanie Baby’ with ‘NFT’ and it would make about as much sense. IT IS HAPPENING AGAIN.
  • The Virtual Stripclubs of Roblox: My friend Dave got in touch with me a few months ago to ask whether his son – my godson – should be allowed on Roblox (he’s 9 – or at least I think he is, I am a terrible godfather). I responded with some sort of blithe ‘yeah, it’s fine, they have pretty good moderation and it’s not that paedo-y’ – then of course the stories started about Roblox exploiting kids with the promise of never-attainable developer millions, and now this? Yes, apparently there are strip clubs in Roblox where, er, people can watch blocky flesh-coloured avatars sliding up and down poles. Look, this is obviously a bit iffy, fine, but it also seems a BIT like a moral panic in search of an audience – or at least that’s what I’m going to tell Dave when he calls me and asks why Jack is twerking for pennies in a digital sex dungeon.
  • OnlyFans Burnout: Or, ‘turns out there is a limit to how many times a day you can crack one off on camera!’. My unfunny snark aside, this is a really interesting story that gets to the heart of what, for me, is rotten at the heart of every iteration of the ‘creator economy’ myth (regardless of the form of said ‘creation’) – to whit, that the effort required for most people to sustain a living doing this stuff is INSANE. We know it about YouTube and Insta (honestly, do any of you know any people who are professional content creators? Are you jealous of them? I doubt it, if so), we’re learning about Twitch, and so it is with OnlyFans – except quite possibly moreso, due to the specific and peculiar emotional connections that develop between fans and the object of their desires. The stories here about the amount of time performers have to spend pandering to the fans to secure those sweet, sweet tips are bleak.
  • The Food Wars: Almost a companion piece to the vegan/eco one earlier on, this looks at the increasingly impossible-to-navigate debate around food and nutrition and health, and the insane quantity of conflicting and often contradictory advice being peddled about what is safe and advisable to consume. From influencers to Big Food, everyone has strident opinions about what we should – and, more often, shouldn’t – be consuming, and it’s increasingly becoming as much of an ideological position as a nutritional one to declare oneself an adherent of a certain stance on diet. What does this all sound like? THAT’S RIGHT, MORE CULTS. I will die on this hill, I tell you.
  • The Man Who Made Pixar Possible: This is a lovely portrait of an incredible-sounding man. Alvy Ray Smith was a proper visionary, a man whose conceptualisation of what could be achieved with computer software to make imagery ended up defining a large part of what we can now do in that field, and without whom we wouldn’t have computer animation as we know it. Every part of this is lovely and hugely inspirational (and I say that as someone who hates the word ‘inspirational’ and all it stands for) – if you have any interest in the history of computing, or animation, or just really clever people pursuing brilliant ideas, you will love this.
  • The 500 Best Songs of All Time: Rolling Stone this week published the updated version of their ‘best songs ever’ rundown, first published in 2004 and now refreshed to make sure it includes all the great music created since then, like Rebecca Black’s ‘Friday’ (the list does not in fact contain Rebecca Black’s ‘Friday’). This is obviously a) too long; and b) clickbait in the extreme (the only point of ranking things is to make people angry, after all) – that said, musos among you will enjoy getting irate at how they have/have not included that song, and I personally enjoyed a few of the selections that suggested that the editors were trying just a bit too hard to be cool with some of the recent selections (there is no way in hell that Kanye deserves this many entries, for one) (GAH! THEY HAVE SUCKED ME INTO THE DISCOURSE!)
  • Generation Wars: I wasn’t expecting to read something this interesting in the pages of Marie Claire Australia, if I’m honest (sorry, Marie Claire Australia!), but this article – in which the magazine interrogates the largely-made-up three-way intergenerational beef between Gen-Z, millennials and Gen-X through a conversation between three women of appropriate age. Honestly, this really cheered me up – it’s not hugely revealing, but there’s something really lovely about the way in which three generations find common ground and agreement, and it’s pleasingly-free of the sort of manufactured antagonism you sometimes find in these things. A palette-cleanser of an article, should you need one.
  • The Wine Is Changing: “Climate change is altering forever the flavour profile of my beloved California Zinfandels!” is, to be clear, the sort of middle-class cry that is ripe for parody, but this article – about the effect the increasing prevalence of wildfires across the West coast of the US is having on grapes and the viticulture industry as a whole, and the wine it produces – manages to be smart and interesting without at any point making you think that the wine is necessarily the important thing here. Another excellent article exploring how something huge that we all know about is affecting something tiny which we don’t – one of my favourite genres.
  • Mastering The Mental Game of Tennis: This is a great piece of personal writing by Sarah Manavis in the New Statesman, on what it was like for her becoming good at tennis – Manavis was, by her own account, a good-but-unspectacular player who one Summer learned to sort her head out enough to make the sort of leap in ability that makes coaches sit up and take notice. If you’ve ever read David Foster Wallace on his experiences as a good-but-not-great teen tennis player in the American midwest, you will enjoy this – the most interesting part, to my mind, is not just the extent to which Manavis’ mentality was the key to her improvement, but also the extent to which it’s even possible to ‘enjoy’ something when you’re approaching it like this. Read the piece and then think to yourself whether you’d want to think in the manner that it suggests you need to to attain success – I for one probably would not (which is obviously the ONLY thing holding me back from success, sporting or otherwise, and not a host of other failings).
  • The Voice vs The Pose: OK, I said I wasn’t going to post any Sally Rooney discussion but, well, this is only sort-of about Rooney and so I think I’m allowed. I’ve seen this article described elsewhere as ‘Roth is better than Rooney’, which I think is sort-of missing the point; the author contrasts stylistic trends in novel writing by comparing your 20thC canonical authors (men, mostly w4nkers, defined as ‘authors of voice’) with contemporary stars of modern fiction such as Ben Lerner, Otessa Moshfeghi and, yes, Rooney (defined as ‘authors of pose’). I don’t personally think there’s that much value judgement in here – instead, I found it an interesting analysis of the differing ways in which authors ‘present’ themselves in their work from then to now, and who that ‘presentation’ is for.
  • Karachi: A wonderful portrait of Karachi, and what it can tell the observer about Pakistan as a whole. This is an extract from a book called Karachi: Death and Life in a Divided City, and it was so good it motivated me to buy the whole thing which never happens.
  • In Search of Memsahib: Sejal Sukhadwala goes looking for a half-remembered Indian restaurant – this is lovely, on the impermanence of culture and how to write really good ad copy.
  • Guts: We close this week with a piece from Vittles – Abbas Asaria writes about a peculiar pre-match ritual of Atletico Madrid fans, the eating of deep-fried offal, and what happened to that ritual and the restaurants that housed it when the stadium moved a few years ago. Football, culture and intestines – this is GREAT, and will make you want crispy intestines in a bun more than you ever have before.

By Pablo Geraldo Camacho