Webcurios 18/08/23

Reading Time: 37 minutes

Oh wow, turns out that when I take a week off my fingers sort of forget how to work and my brain gets gummed up and basically this is all a LOT harder than it normally is; apologies in advance for any appreciable drops in quality (lol) that you notice compared to the usual standards.

Anyway, HI! I’m back! It was, I have to admit, genuinely nice to be back in Italy for a a few days, not least as I was able to remember what ‘fruit’ is like (it’s nice, turns out, we should try selling it in our shops, could be revolutionary), and it was also lovely attending Naive Yearly last week (honestly, such an interesting event for anyone who cares about ‘making interesting, small stuff on the web’ and I can’t recommend it enough for next year – don’t worry, I am desperately antisocial and won’t try and talk to you, so don’t let my potential presence put you off in any way), and now I am back in London and, well, it’s currently a bit less lovely and I rather wish I was still in Cosmopolitan Europe tbh.

Still, I have sought to distract myself from the fact that all indicators suggest a country desperately trying to return itself to the 1980s in every way possible by writing a newsletterblogtypething, so the least you could do is be grateful ffs.

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and you know you’ve missed me, stop lying to yourselves.

By Ruth Shively



  • Countercloud: We begin this week with something QUITE SERIOUS – or, at least, something that vaguely waves in the direction of QUITE SERIOUS implications. You may have heard that there are one or two elections coming up next year – elections which, it seems fair to say, will probably set a new standard for mad febrility, unpleasant campaigning and obsessive, irrational partisanship – and you may also be aware of this thing called ‘AI’ that people have been getting excited about of late…well, Countercloud is a (very bare-bones, admittedly – the public-facing part of this amounts to nothing more than a video so far) proof-of-concept bit of coding/hackery that outlines just one of the potential ways in which politics and The Machine might collide in the coming year or so to INTERESTING EFFECT. Countercloud is a project set up by a pseudonymous infosec person, and basically goes like this – 1) AI goes out and scrapes the web for new news stories around a certain theme or topic; 2) AI determines which articles to respond to based on a degree of pre-training around what is ‘interesting’; 3) AI writes a counter-article to a specific piece of news, attributes it to a fake journalist profile, and then posts it to the CounterCloud website along with AI-generated images and sound clips, and fake comments by fake readers to create the illusion of a real audience; 4) AI goes to Twitter, searches for accounts and tweets that are relevant to the article that’s just been written, and then posts links to the AI-generated articles, followed by posts that look like user commentary, conspiracy theories, and even hate speech. See? You don’t even need people anymore! Do you remember all those stories about the Russian Internet Research Agency a few years back? CAN YOU IMAGINE!?! Now before we all start running in circles waving our pants over our heads and scream-crying about THE DEATH OF TRUTH AND DEMOCRACY, it’s important to bear in mind that this *IS* just a demo and it *IS* only working in a controlled environment, and there’s nothing to suggest that the created content is super-convincing or likely to CHANGE HEARTS AND MINDS…but, then again, it’s quite mind-boggling that this is already something that could in theory happen tomorrow, and that, to continue labouring a point, THIS IS THE WORST THAT THIS STUFF IS EVER GOING TO BE. There is going to be some reasonable money to be made in the next 12 months for any organisation able to do some ‘digital political literacy education’ work, should any of you feel like chasing down some public dollar – the rest of us might just want to brace for some genuinely stupid politics in 2024 and beyond.
  • Text Jesus: A few short months after ‘Chat With The Koran’ (I may be misremembering the exact title, but it was basically that), and riding the coat-tails of Twitch’s AI Jesus (I just checked in with AI Jesus, btw, and he’s currently dispensing spiritual counsel about battered fish (no, really), so that’s nice), comes the inevitable, long-awaited CHAT WITH JESUS – a GPT-based interface, trained on the Bible and through which you’ll be able to ask the Risen Christ anything you fancy (it’s…unclear whether or not you can jailbreak Jesus into offering smiting advice, but I encourage you to try). Not only can you access Jiminy Christmas via a single, simple app interface – according to the screenshots on the page, premium users can avail themselves of a whole pantheon of heavenly counsel, ranging from Mary, Joseph (I don’t, based on my admittedly-fuzzy recollections of my pseudo-Catholic upbringing, recall Joseph actually having that much of a place in the Bible beyond his general status as ‘helpful cuckold’, but perhaps I’m misremembering here) and the disciples, and it includes both the New AND Old Testaments (I wonder how it reconciles the…somewhat differing styles of Godliness outlined in each?), and the bottom of the page contains the single greatest one-line review you could hope for, from an anonymous user: “it helps with a lot of things”. WHAT MORE COULD YOU ASK FOR? Oh, and in case this writeup felt too benign and sunnily-optimistic, let me once again remind you of the imminent future in which EVERYONE HAS ONE OF THESE BUT YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT FLAVOUR. Is my interlocutor being guided by a digital representation of a benign and peaceful deity, or the in-phone embodiment of Jeffrey Dahmer? FCUK AROUND AND FIND OUT!
  • AI Twins: I presume that this has sprung up in response to the recent wave of Twitch streamers who’ve created AI versions of themselves (you will doubtless recall the Dutch stream kiddy who I featured the other week who’s basically outsourced their job to the CG version of themselves – that, basically) – now YOU TOO can create your very own AI version of yourself (or at least the bits of yourself that can be reduced to a predictive text-like algorithm and represented via what looks, from the sign-up page at least, an off-brand MeMoji. It’s unclear exactly how this is going to work – it’s a waitlist signup page so far rather than anything more substantive – but the ‘conversation’ between an influencer’s AI avatar and their ‘fan’ presented on the homepage suggests that you’ll basically train it on your content and it will basically create a semi-autonomous digital puppet that you can monetise in various ways (premium chat for your superfans on a pay-per-message basis, that sort of thing). Fandom in 2023: spending several hundred quid on Taylor Swift tickets and spending several hundred more on merch; fandom in 2025: spending hundreds of quid on a premium-rate messaging service so you can further indulge your parasocial relationship with the digital puppet of your favourite influencer. PROGRESS OF SORTS! BONUS CONTENT: this is an interesting little article about what it might end up being like when we’re able to create ‘copies’ our ourselves and digitally-outsource bits of our personalities (‘weird’, mainly).
  • AI Town: You will of course recall with absolute clarity a link from a few months ago, dumped in the longreads section, which described an experiment by MIT in which they created a digital ‘town’ with AI agents who ‘lived’ and ‘talked’ and generally lived ‘lives’ within the simulation…well, this is that but live and in your browser, so you can peer into the sandbox and see what these little digital citizens are doing and, honestly, I could quite easily sack this whole newsletter thing off right here and quite happily just spend the next few hours variously clicking on the different citizens wandering around the central vegetable patch and seeing what is going on in their heads. Right now, Alice (the village’s resident conspiracy theorist, from what I can tell) is chatting to Bob (he likes trees, seemingly) about how he should really listen for the trees SECRET WHISPERS, while Kurt has been avoiding conversation with Lucky because (to quote Kurt), he’s been ‘going through some personal stuff lately’ (although he doesn’t seem inclined to give details; maybe Lucky will press him for answers)…yes, ok, fine, this is not exactly a compelling narrative that’s being built out here (it’s not ‘The Archers’, is what I’m saying) but I can’t help but be charmed at the digital doll’s house and the idea that this is JUST THE START and that this sort of model creation (environment and personalities and interactions) will become easier to set up and play with…this honestly feels really exciting, in a ‘yes, ok, fine, it’s rubbish NOW, but you can see the possibilities, right? RIGHT?’ sort of way. Also it affords me the opportunity to make what is almost certainly the 300th reference to ‘Little Computer People’ in the past couple of years of writing this fcuker.
  • Beard Style AI: I am not including this website because I think it is good; I am instead including it because I wish each and every one of you – each and every one of US! – the confidence of the person who set up this website which lets you upload an image of yourself and which will use THE MAGIC OF AI to return to you a selection of allegedly high-quality pictures in which you will appear with a selection of luxuriant and well-coiffed beard styles, ALL FOR THE LOW, LOW PRICE OF £10! In fairness the service does promise to send you ‘hundreds’ of pictures, so perhaps this is a worthwhile investment for someone wishing to set up a selection of alluring profiles on, I don’t know, findmeabeardedmanwhoisntintopaleo.com or Scruff or whatever your preferred matchmaking platform might be. Still, £10! Lol!
  • The Bulwer Lytton Prize: After the Lyttle Lytton earlier this year comes the latest celebration of full-length, full-fat, imaginary awful prose in the shape of the 2023 Bulwer Lytton contest, in which (as you doubtless know by now, but let me refresh your memory) contestants are challenged to “compose opening sentences to the worst of all possible novels.”. You know the drill by now: click the link and marvel at the artistry of the collected openers submitted by a selection of twisted minds, and glory in the beauty of the prose. Every single one of the entries here collected is a ‘winner’, but my personal pick is this gem: “Jonathon Emerick’s obsession with cinema meant he constantly lived his life mimicking the movies he studied, so on this Sunday he dramatically prepared a rich elaborate foodie meal like Jon Favreau in Chef, invited his friends to dine with abandon like Babette’s Feast, and of course after dinner, fed the leftovers purposefully and firmly into the disposal as if he was Peter Stormare feeding Steve Buscemi into a Fargo woodchipper.” Beautiful, and I would read the fcuk out of the rest of that.
  • TextFX: Another gorgeous bit of experimental webwork with a dash of added AI from the Google Arts and Culture Labs – this time letting you play around with words, offering users a selection of tools which harness generative AI and the lyrical brain of Lupe Fiasco. The site was “designed to help rappers, writers, and wordsmiths expand their process. It was created in collaboration with Lupe Fiasco, drawing inspiration from the lyrical and linguistic techniques he has developed throughout his career…TextFX consists of 10 tools, each is designed to explore creative possibilities with text and language.” I have had a play around with these and they are SO interesting, and…not-terrible, in their own way – and there’s something intellectually fascinating about spelunking around in latent space like this (if you see what I mean, which, fine, I appreciate you may not). You can use this to do LOADS of different things with words – find similes to anything you feed it, make your text…odder and more unexpected, find alliterative words, find ‘intersections’ between words and concepts…my ACTUAL POET FRIEND Rishi said that this looked ‘not bad and maybe even useful’, or words to that effect, and I can think of no higher endorsement than that tbh. Regardless, though, of your propensity to pome, this is a lot of fun for anyone who enjoys words and messing about with them.
  • Singularity: “We have a process that pushes the boundaries of human experience. FEED THE SINGULARITY”, burbles this website, inviting you into its SHINY WORLD in which you scroll and click (or at least try to – the interface is occasionally a *bit* shonky) and IMMERSE YOURSELF in the tripartite values of UNIFIED, CURIOUS and FEARLESS…I am 100% certain that you won’t be able to guess what this is selling you until you get  to the end, and even then you’ll be largely baffled as to what the everliving fcuk is going on – without wishing to ruin the surprise here, I would like every single one of you working in the service industries to bookmark this for the next time your business is contemplating a website refresh because, honestly, it is SOMETHING ELSE. I applaud the madness behind it, but would…question taking consultancy advice from anyone who signed off on this copy.
  • Internet Onion: This is a repeat appearance for this project, which I featured last year and which is back with ALL NEW CONTENT in 2023 – per last time, “The “internet onion” is a perennial website anthology about the possibility of love online. Launching late each summer, THE LIFE AND DEATH OF AN INTERNET ONION is readable for 5 weeks — a typical shelf life of a non-refrigerated onion. As its title suggests, it will live and then start to decay, resulting in a mostly dead onion by the end of summer.” Scroll or click through each layer of the ‘onion’, with different content on each layer which takes you ‘deeper’ into the concept being discussed by the various artists and writers contributing to the project – this year’s ‘onion’ is about ‘love’, specifically “the like/heart button as a flattening affordance of giving affirmation and love. The text-editor provides a much more expressive input. But even people who can’t communicate well because of language barriers can express love through actions, like cooking food. Can we create other “love inputs” that might allow us to “reach across the chasm of a seamless signal”? What is expressing “real” love or affirmation about? Is it about effort, thoughtfulness, generosity, something else? What might a thoughtful or generous interface feel or behave like?” Gorgeous.
  • AI Simulations: Bored? WHY FFS ONLY BORING PEOPLE GET BORED. Still, if YOU are such a ‘boring person’ then you might find some momentary distraction in this selection of GPT-powered scenarios in which YOU are tasked with coping in a very specific situation – as an FBI hostage negotiator, for example, or a military strategist, or, er, as someone who is trying to leg it from a restaurant without paying. As I think I’ve previously mentioned, there’s something rather fun about the idea of using GPT (other LLMs are, of course, available) as sandboxes or DMs, and there’s a wide enough range of scenarios here to keep you occupied for an hour or so inbetween spreadsheets and bouts of sobbing.
  • Blocklayer: I am, I think, the least-practical man I know; while my friends have almost all to an extent embraced the multifarious joys of DIY and home improvement, and seemingly every single one of my contemporaries owns a toolbox and, on occasion, several copies of the Screwfix catalogue, I remain stubbornly incapable of doing anything more than rewiring plugs or, if pressed, painting walls (LOOK I HAVE LIMITED TIME THE INTERNET DOESN’T READ ITSELF FFS) – if, though, you are one of those people for whom the word ‘spackling’ holds no fear, or for whom the prospect of spending several days with plaster dust in your wrinkles and nails in your mouth and for whom the phrase “load-bearing wall” is cause for mild-excitement rather than white-knuckled terror then WOW will you enjoy this site, which basically lets you specify exactly what you want to build (sheds! Stairs! Fences! ACTUAL HOUSES!) and will spit out in return a range of information about lengths and cuts and quantities and all the sorts of detail you’ll need to actually go about MAKING A THING! You now have no excuse not to start building the extension, is what I’m saying here.
  • The Quest of Evolution: There’s something almost…strange about coming across NFT/web3 projects in the wild in 2023, like you’ve stumbled upon the last living outpost of a tribe once feared and renowned but now struggling to survive in a new and modern world which no longer makes sense to it. So it is with THE QUEST FOR EVOLUTION (the title isn’t capitalised, but it feels like it ought to be), which is a VERY shiny site (there’s obviously some real money somewhere behind this, though fcuk knows whose, or how, or why) which claims that it is THE HOME OF CRYPTO NOVELS (again, my caps – also, what the fcuk is a ‘crypto novel’, and what makes you think that anyone wants such a thing?)! The explanation on the site is the usual mix of grandiose claims (REINVENTING THE NOVEL) and incomprehensible word mulch such as “We believe that existing paradigms of collaboration for creatives are too rigid and centralised, and want to re-imagine what it is to augment value through collaboration and common ownership. Creators that use our platform will be rewarded with both royalties and ownership, made possible by blockchain and smart contracts with in-built royalty splitters and our native $QEV token…O
  • ur mission is to induce and collect artistic collaborations to create Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) commodities which have monetisation value to third party licensors in large industries like film, gaming, the metaverse, merchandise and publishing. We want to offer a gamified framework that incentivises people around the world to be part of multimedia masterpieces, rewarding them fairly for their creativity (Intellectual Property), while actively supporting social causes.” – God, it really makes the soul SING, doesn’t it? A look at the ‘novels’ available on the site suggests that there’s not been HUGE takeup here, and while the works might well be canonical masterpieces that will one day be spoken of in the same breath as works by Woolf and Kafka and Austen I am not attempting to buy a fcuking token to buy a fractional stake in one to find out. Baffling – but, again, I would love to know where the money here is coming from as the site does not look cheap.
  • Random Garbage: Ryan Broderick’s Garbage Day newsletter really is one of the best resources currently available for anyone seeking to make any sort of sense of the current lumpy morass of ‘internet’ ‘culture’ (I don’t know why, but neither of those words, despite being perfectly adequate descriptors, really seem to quite…fit anymore, but I can’t for the life of me conceive of better terminology at 827am on a Friday morning and so I’ll just have to keep using them) – Ryan has finally done something I have been meaning to do with Curios for years but which I have always been far too lazy and disorganised to actually get round to organising, to whit creating a sort of ‘I’m Feeling Lucky’ button for all the links he’s ever featured in his newsletter. Click the link, hit the button and get some GREAT OLD MEMETIC CONTENT from the past 3-4 years, spoonfed to you from the Garbage Day archives. The stuff Ryan writes about means that this tends more towards the ‘funny/weird video/tiktok’ end of the spectrum rather than ‘cool and interesting links’, but as a way of getting a random shot of internet culture injected right into your veins then it’s pretty much perfect.

By Alex Schaefer



  • The Supermind Ideator: I genuinely adore the name of this project, an little experiment into AI and concept development by MIT, which puts me in mind of the supercomputers from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (you may be the sort of person fortunate enough not to have a small part of their brain taken up by the fact that one of the computers which came after Deep Thought in the HHG2 mythos was ‘The Milliard Gargantubrain’ but, well, I am less lucky, sadly) – it’s not QUITE that ambitious in scope, I don’t think, but you can always try asking it the answer to ‘life, the universe and everything’ and seeing what happens. The Supermind Ideator (seriously, my internal voice is incapable of saying that without some Brian Blessed-style vibrato) is an intriguing beta product (you need to sign up for access, but it seems to be granted quickly and indiscriminately) which is designed to help you break problems down into sub-questions – you feed it a question you want to explore, or a problem you want to solve, and The Machine will do various sub-tasks, like breaking the problem down into sub-questions, say, or spinning up analogies for the problem, or the larger problems that your problem is a subset of…basically a bunch of early-stage critical thinking work which might be helpful in terms of recontextualising or reframing an initial question in a way that allows for better, deeper or smarter investigation. This is, I think, hugely interesting, and based on a cursory play this week could be genuinely useful as an early-stage tool when considering questions of planning and strategy (or just if you want a really high-level thinking companion to help you get out of Tony’s party tomorrow night).
  • Europeana: OH GOD EUROPE HOW I MISS YOU AND YOUR SHONKY, CHARMLESS PUBLIC SECTOR WEBSITES FOR EU-FUNDED PROJECTS! No, really, I genuinely mean that – there’s something so joyless and dry about the way in which seemingly all digital things that the European Union has a hand in are presented which, perversely, I find really pleasing and which I now find myself nostalgic for in the post-Brexit horrorshow in which the UK now exists. Anyway, pathetic FBPE-style nostalgia aside, this is a GREAT resource – “The Europeana website provides cultural heritage enthusiasts, professionals, teachers, and researchers with access to Europe’s digital cultural heritage. Why? To inspire and inform fresh perspectives and open conversations about our history and culture. To share and enjoy our rich cultural heritage. To use it to create new things. We give you access to millions of items from providing institutions across Europe. Discover artworks, books, music, and videos on art, newspapers, archaeology, fashion, science, sport, and much more.” SO MUCH HISTORY! SO MUCH ART! SO MUCH FOOTAGE! Honestly, even if you can’t think of any reason why you might have need of footage of Dutch people playing street hockey in 1934 you should be glad that this archive exists – I promise you that there will be at least one thing that’s peculiarly-interesting in every search you do, so just chuck in some random keywords and see where you end up.
  • Obaa Life: Yes, ok, fine, this is an NFT project, but it’s a genuinely-aesthetically-interesting one, and as such I feel justified in including it – from what I can tell (which, admittedly, isn’t a HUGE amount – I do wonder whether the whole NFT thing might have crashed and burned less spectacularly were it not for the fact that the language around it has been, and continues to be, so utterly cnuty and incomprehensible, although I suppose one might argue that said cnutiness and incomprehensibility is exactly befitting for a movement built on snake oil and lies) this is mint in which each ‘piece’ is a digital representation of some sort of monocellular organism, rendered in digital 3d; there’s some sort of guff about how “obaa is a collective organism: a dividual. she embodies multiplicity in the way she divides, merges, and harbors other beings. her translucent membrane serves as a lens, distorting and refracting creatures and microplastics as she engulfs them and spits them out.  obaa unfolds on multiple time scales, on the order of milliseconds and hundreds of years. each obaa is synced to a real world timezone, and changes throughout the day. every organism in obaa is mortal, with lifespans in the range of months to years” but, honestly, give a fcuk, I just really like the way in which the little…blobs? are rendered tbh.
  • Stanza: I do love me a ‘preposterous business model that is never, ever going to work’ website, and Stanza is very much an ur-example of such a thing – would YOU pay £2.50 a month (admittedly not a high bar, fine, but just wait til you hear what you’re paying FOR) to have a digital assistant automatically put new episodes of TV shows that it thinks you might be into into your calendar so that you can rest assured you will NEVER MISS A NEW BIT OF CONTENT? Not only that, but it will do the same for televised sports games…er, that’s it actually, sorry. So, £2.50 a month, then? Honestly, I think I sort of admire the chutzpah here but, equally, who thought this was a viable idea? I would LOVE to see the business plan here, and the estimated market value – “well, everyone watches TV, and everyone likes certain shows, and everyone hates missing the shows they like…so yeah, I reckon the potential market is somewhere in the region of ~5bn people, so that’s a year 5 revenue projection of £130bn annually, yeah; you in?”. NB – based on my appalling track record of ‘picking winners’ in business, politics and indeed wider society over the past decade or so, we can be confident that you will all be signed up to Stanza by 2030 and I will be w4nking for pennies on a street corner somewhere.
  • Dead Parents What Now?: This is a GREAT idea – but its US-centricity made me think that there has to be an angle here in other countries, or indeed for a central repository of ‘deadmumanddad’ info worldwide. Dead Parents What Now? (such a good url too) is a site whose sole purpose is to offer helpful, practical advice on what you have to do when your parent or parents die – who do you call? What do you have to do about finances? What’s the best way to keep the dealers/debt collectors off your case? Where to divest yourself of the three kilos of meth that you unexpectedly discovered in the shed? ALL THIS AND MORE! I just finished wrapping up my mum’s affairs in Rome, a mere 13 months after she shuffled off this mortal coil, and FCUK ME was that a long and slightly-baffling and entirely-frustrating experience; I can’t imagine it’s ever fun, and so a simple, one-stop-destination for all your deadmumanddad needs is a genuinely smart concept which I am slightly amazed no bank/insurer has done a content-led campaign around (fun, parental death-related TikToks! What’s not to love? God, I really am borderline unemployable these days, aren’t I?).
  • Face Studio: Generate fake AI faces on-demand – a bit like thispersondoesnotexist, except you can specify the gender, age and ethnicity of the faces you’d like the machine to spit out and which therefore can be used to populate an entire fake corporate website with a credibly diverse and not-necessarily-beautiful (seriously, try generating ‘white men in their 40s’ and you get some surprisingly non-model-like results, it’s almost refreshing) cast of spoofed employees.
  • The Week: On the one hand, this is sort-of an interesting idea; on the other, I think I would personally rather grate my shins rather than do anything of the sort, but I appreciate that there are people reading this whose approach to life might be more collaborative and hopeful than mine and so I share it in the spirit of ‘you do you (but, to repeat, I would literally rather die). The Week is a participatory group experience designed to facilitate thinking about and discussion around the climate emergency (I don’t like the phrase ‘the climate emergency’, turns out; I might see if ‘the planetary clusterfcuk’ catches on by way of alternative) – per the site, “Recently, it’s been hard not to notice how fast the climate is changing. Experts say it will get worse really rapidly. The Week is for those of us who want to know how this will affect us, in the next 10, 20 or 30 years and what we can do about it. Too often, this issue feels abstract and overwhelming. The Week is a way to engage this issue, for real, with our friends, family or colleagues. It doesn’t tell us what to do, but empowers us to make up our own minds. So that we can say down the line: I knew what I needed to know, I did what I need to do and I have no regrets…You get together 3 times, during a week (hence “The Week”). Every time you watch a 1 hour documentary film episode. And then the heart of the experience:  a guided conversation for 30 minutes (or more if you want) to make sense of it all.” So, basically, apocalypto book club! The site suggests you can do this with friends, family or colleagues – so if your idea of a good time is spending three nights a week watching something that explains how everything is banjaxed and then additional supplementary time having heartfelt conversations with other people about what the fcuk, exactly, we’re meant to do about it, then, well GET INVOLVED! I’ll be elsewhere, drinking to forget.
  • Roggle: A very simple ‘game’ which I have to admit to playing far more of this week than I expected (or, frankly, than I can justify) – Roggle asks you to do one thing and one thing only: GUESS THE SEARCH TERMS USED TO GET THE RESULTS SHOWN ON SCREEN! I appreciate that for most of you this will likely sound as thrilling as watching paint dry – maybe less so – but if you’re anything like me and have therefore based a significant part of your personal and professional self-worth over the past couple of decades on being marginally less shi1t at Google than anyone else you know then you too will ADORE this.
  • The Snellings Museum: Oh YES – this is practically perfect, and a labour of love, and the sort of thing that makes me want to point at big brands with HISTORY and HERITAGE and say “LOOK YOU LAZY FCUKS IF LOVELY SNELLINGS CAN DO AN ARCHIVE THEN YOU CAN TOO FFS!” Roy Snelling was a Norfolk man who set up a shop selling televisions in the area in the mid-20th Century – Snellings still exists as a business, but the Snellings Museum is a separate concern, a digital recreation of Roy’s archive of television kit and memorabilia which has been in storage since 2016 but which is faithfully reproduced here through photos of old stereo and hifi and TV equipment, all of it looking like it smells slightly of burning dust and the 1970s and, honestly, you will probably appreciate this more if you’ve a deep and abiding love for Cathode Ray Tube-based devices from 100 years ago but, regardless, it’s hard not to be charmed by both Roy’s story and the existence of the museum.
  • The Sri Chinmoy Marathon: Do you think you’re HARD? Do you eat 10ks for breakfast? Do standard marathons no longer hold any joy for you? Do you look at people contemplating a sub 3h20 time for a single 26 mile track as, frankly, pathetic amateurs? No, of course you don’t, literally noone who fits that profile would ever conceive of sitting reading 8,000 words about ‘stuff on the internet’ when they could instead be doing their knees serious, tarmac-related damage! Still, if you happen to know anyone who is feeling all Alexander-ish about the world of distance running (no more worlds left to conquer, etc) then you might want to point them at this race, which starts in 12 days in Queens, NYC, and which takes place over a 52 day (yes, that’s right) stretch around a single block, with each participant looking do do an average of nearly 60 miles a day (SIXTY MILES A FCUKING DAY FFS) until they’ve done the full route of just under 5000k. You have 12 days to train and get yourselves to NYC – please, readers of Curios, one of you prove me wrong about your general fitness and physical prowess! But, er, don’t die! Or, if you do, please don’t hold me responsible.
  • The League of Pigs: A YouTube channel featuring pigs, racing. The pigs are small, they are nimble, and the races are…significantly more compelling than you might expect them to be. No word from the organisers whether the threat of the loser being turned into sausages is what compels them to such speeds, but let’s hope not and just enjoy the spectacle.
  • Retroflix: This is the latest in a long line of ‘sites that exist to give you a single portal via which to watch a whole bunch of old, out-of-copyright films from The Past’ (see also VoleFlix), Retroflix has a decent-looking selection which, based on a cursory examination, is a little lighter on ‘mad scifi and horror schlock’ and a bit heavier on ‘sub-Hitchcockian 50s thrillers’, and which might be pleasing for any of you looking to hide from modernity for a while via the medium of forgotten cinema.
  • Tote Design: You might think that the website for a webdesign company would best be served by demonstrating the sort of clean, shiny, functional UX/UI that said company is capable of, and that it would probably make sense for it to present a clear sense of ‘what the agency has done’ and ‘how to get in touch with it should you want to book a commission’ – but you would be WRONG, as the correct sort of website is in fact exactly like this one, by Japanese design shop Tote Design, which is possibly the most-confusing and yet most-enjoyable examples of ‘hang on, no, sorry, wtf?’ webwork I have seen in ages and which is even better for the fact that it’s meant to be a shopfront.
  • Insects: I don’t know who any of you are (oh, ok, fine, I know who a handful of you are, but I like to think that there are some of you who I don’t know, whose lives and hopes and dreams remain a mystery to me and who as such exist as nothing other than orbs of pure digital potential in my mind) and as such I have NO IDEA what some of you might be compelled to make with this MASSIVE dataset of a million or so high-resolution, annotated images of insects, but I hope that it is something odd. If nothing else there is no excuse for you not using pictures of random beetles on your next website’s 404 pages.
  • Bandit: On the one hand, this might be a great idea; on the other, I have never been in a band (amazing that someone with my ELECTRIC PERSONAL MAGNETISM and uncanny ability to reach Grade 4 classical guitar wasn’t snapped up for the ‘charismatic frontman’ role when I was in my teens, really) and so I have no clue whether this app, which I have mentally described as ‘Tinder/Grindr for musicians’, is the sort of thing that might appeal to bandmates seeking the final, triangle-playing component in their world-beating skiffle covers outfit. Musicians sign up, complete their profile with their instruments, styles and location and whatever examples of their skills their care to share, and those seeking musos can scroll and swipe to their heart’s content. I guess this is simply a modern equivalent of those old ‘four piece seeks drummer (must be able to count)’ classifieds from the NME 50 years ago, so maybe THIS is the way you’ll find your musical soulmate.
  • Sprites From Old Fighting Games: A GDrive containing collections of sprites from old 16-bit fighting games (think Final Fight, that sort of thing) – this came to me via Daniel Benneworth-Gray, who rightly pointed out that the folder full of ‘character on fire’ models would make a genuinely awesome design for a silk scarf, should any designers be reading this (er, designers with access to a silkscreen printing setup, specifically).
  • Kiezcolours: Oh this is GREAT! Kiezcolours is a website which lets you select any area of Berlin on a map and which creates a small colour-based postcard for you based on the land usage of the area you’ve chosen – so the colours on your personal postcard, and the sizes of each colour field, will reflect whether the area you’ve selected contains more residential land, or parkland, or water, or whatever, and as such you can create a very personal little graphic that reflects the character of your neighbourhood. I LOVE THIS SO MUCH and immediately got to thinking about how you might tweak this for London – number of chicken shops in a certain area, perhaps, or the tube lines that run through it…honestly, this is such a beautiful idea from concept to mechanic to execution, and I adore it.
  • Yarn: Via the lovely Lee Randall comes this super little site – type in any word or phrase and it will search an incredible archive of video for clips containing the terms you specified. This feels OLD, but it was new to me and it’s honestly quite magical – I just typed in ‘I wish I was dead’ on a whim, and I got a quite incredible clip of a man seemingly being beaten to death with a very large, very floppy, very heavy-looking rubber pen1s, which frankly is all the reason I need to recommend this pretty much unreservedly.
  • New Word Order: An excellent game by Monkeon – your job here is to guess which of the three words or phrases or terms was used first, then second, then most recently. Compelling and surprising and frustrating in equal measure, my main takeaway from this is that many neologisms aren’t in fact as new as I thought (chiz chiz).
  • LCD Please: “Papers, Please” is rightly-regarded as one of the best ‘games as art and political commentary’ pieces of the past decade or so – the game, if you’re not familiar with it, tells a series of poignant stories through the medium of you as the player processing people through the immigration and asylum system – and this anniversary edition reimagines it as an LCD Game And Watch title from the 1980s. The gameplay is necessarily simplified and streamlined, but it doesn’t lessen the impact of its message, and the recreation of the style and interface of the games its aping will be a Proustian moment for anyone who grew up in the 80s.
  • How Many Cities Can You Name?: British cities, to be precise. That’s it. Name cities. You may not think that this sounds hugely compelling, and you’d probably be right, but despite that fact I have been stuck on 29 for ages and am now basically compelled to keep staring at this until I can think of a 30th (I am so, so embarrassingly bad at geography).
  • The Uncolouring Book: Via last week’s b3ta, a lovely toy for the more visually-creative among you (this basically makes me feel like some sort of untermensch, but I appreciate that there are those of you for whom ‘the visual’ is a less confusing and terrifying concept and who will therefore probably enjoy this a lot more than I did) – The Uncolouring Book is a lovely little idea, which invites you to draw the lines around the colours (the reverse of a colouring book, DO YOU SEE?!?!) to create images – you get a splotch of colour or two, a rough prompt and some simple line-drawing tools to draw what you see; it’s like looking for shapes in clouds really (yes, I am sh1t at that too, why do you ask), and I think you might enjoy it.
  • Clone-A-Lisa: Matt Round has done it again – can YOU create a passable clone of the Mona Lisa in just a minute? TRY IT AND SEE! This is very fun, despite how aggressively-sh1t I am at it.
  • Wip3out In Your Browser: Wip3out was the game that made games cool. I don’t care what you say – prior to the PlayStation, and Sony’s insanely-aggressive marketing campaign that saw consoles fitted with copies of this game installed in the backrooms of actual nightclubs so that people boxed off their t1ts on pills could deal with those moments when it all ‘got a bit too much’ after the third dove and cling onto the controller while they attempted to process the pixels breaking across their field of vision, videogames were so uncool that you’d rarely find anyone admitting to actually enjoying them; after Wip3out, everything changed. People would spend 5 hours at the ‘afterparty’ (lol such a highfaluting name for something that literally means ‘sharing space with whichever dreadful people still have drugs and energy at 5am) entranced by the speed and the visuals and the soundtrack (the music here still fcuking BANGS, by the way) and it basically created the aesthetic for a specific type of ‘cool’ for a few years in the mid-90s (and made a whole generation of people, now in their 40s and 50s, fetishise the work of The Designer’s Republic to a degree that was probably unhealthy on reflection), and this is THE WHOLE GAME PLAYABLE IN YOUR BROWSER! Honestly, this is FCUKING AMAZING (and hard, so so so hard, especially if you don’t have a controller) and if you are Of A Certain Age then there’s a strong possibility you’ll just want to lock yourself in a room for 36h with this and a bag of questionable tablets engarved with various poorly-rendered designs. DRINK WATER (but not too much).

By Tania Font



  • Identifying Cars in Posts: Send this anonymous person an image of a mystery vehicle from a social media post and they will, seemingly unerringly, tell you what sort of vehicle it is. I mean, for all I know they could be making this sh1t up – I am in no position to differentiate between a Toyota Camry and a Dodge Suppository (I am, as you may have guessed, right up at the edge of the limits of my knowledge of vehicular models here), but noone seems to be screaming ‘LIAR’ at them and so we shall just assume that they’re a preturnaturally talented car identifier.


  • Loved Orleer: On the one hand, the advances being made in AI-generated video are coming thick and fast, and the latest versions of Runway let you produce some pretty-impressive stuff with a bit of work; on the other, this Insta account posting machine-created movies is fcuking HORRIBLE and as such I recommend it unreservedly.
  • Tada Gaku: Glorious animations in watercolour – and other styles, if you scroll back a bit – done with a combination of techniques and demonstrating a beautiful eye for style and composition


  • LLMs and How They Work: Yes, I know, AI IS BORING AND YOU DON’T WANT TO READ ANY MORE ABOUT IT! You ought, however, to have learned by now that Web Curios contains a tedious strain of didacticism which means that I don’t care what you want to read and instead will continue to present the stuff that I think is useful and important until you either get worn down and exhaustedly concede defeat or until the point at which I alienate my final reader and finally reach the apogee of the newsletter writer’s experience (specifically, a newsletter with no subscribers, a sort of zen state of publishing which I seem to have been working towards for years) – and so, I present to you a really good explanation, delivered simply and helpfully in language that anyone can understand, of what LLMs are and how they work, by Simon Willison. I promise you that knowing a bit about how these things function is REALLY useful, not least in terms of your ability to distinguish between what they might be useful for and what they definitely are not useful for (this week I read something written by someone on LinkedIn – and yes, I know, but someone else sent it to me for comment, it’s not like I hang out on there I promise – which ran “by focusing on the mundane tasks that can be taken off our plates by AI, the IR profession stands to miss out on the huge opportunity AI provides to elevate what we do. No, AI can’t replace the “Relations” element of Investor Relations (thankfully – that’s the best bit!), but it can do things that an IR team of 1, 2 or even 20 will never be able to do.”, and it struck me as exactly the sort of blandly-moronic, generalistic pronouncement that someone who didn’t have the first fcuking clue how this sort of stuff works would make; don’t be that person, basically).
  • What AI Teaches Us About Good Writing: The unwritten second half to this article’s title being ‘…because it produces so much terrible, terrible prose’; this is a very good article in Noema Magazine by Laura Hartenburger in which she explores what it is that makes writing ‘good’, and the extent to which those assessments may need to be rethought based on what LLMs are ‘good’ at, and the extent to which that ought to make us reconsider where the value in prose lies; in particular (and I know that I’ve touched on this before over the past year or so) I have an increasing belief that the rise of LLM copy will do a gentle (and timely) job to maybe undermine the fetishisation of ‘clean, simple, monosyllabic, short-sentence copy’ in favour of something, well, more…baroque, if you will (I am not, to be clear, suggesting that everyone write like me – I would quite like to write less like me, if I’m honest, but am sanguine about the fact that the wind has changed and the ship has sailed (see? LOOK AT THOSE METAPHORS, MIXING LIKE OIL AND WATER)). Again, though, the theme/fear at the heart of this is the question of what we might lose when we lose the propensity to practice – and we will never know (unknown unknowns!).
  • AI Comes For The Thumbnail Industry: We’re at an interesting point in the hype cycle for generative AI at present, very much heading towards the slough of despond (or whatever it’s called when you get into the post-initial-peak slump) – familiarity is breeding a degree of contempt, and I’m hearing a lot of ‘well it can’t take my job so frankly I don’t see what the fuss is about tbh’. To which sorts of statements I like to point to pieces like this in response, because JUST BECAUSE IT’S NOT AFFECTING YOU RIGHT NOW DOESN’T MEAN IT’S NOT GOING TO CHANGE THE WORLD IN A LOT OF OTHER WAYS YOU SOLIPSISTIC PR1CK. Here Rest of World looks at the cottage industry of YouTube thumbnail designers which has built up over the last decade or so in the developing world, making attractive visual assets for YouTubers at low, low prices (comparative to the West, obvs) and whose business is starting to be undercut by automated services trained on billions on the fcuking things and which can create a fairly standard ‘bug-eyed amazement’ thumbnail and a bunch of A/B variants in approximately seven seconds for 10p. As with all this stuff, it bears repeating – it won’t kill the whole market, it certainly won’t kill the very top-end, and it may even create interesting new adjacent gigs…but this stuff is very bad news for the bottom-to-middle end of any market this tech touches.
  • AI For Creativity: The inimitable and always-useful Ethan Mollick writes about how to think about LLMs in terms of creative output, and how to potentially use them as part of your creative workflow. As I think I might have said before (so many words, so much repetition), whilst I don’t personally think these tools are particularly useful for actual idea generation, they can be super-helpful for eliminating all the terrible ideas that your colleagues will come up with without the need for a soul-crushing ‘brainstorm’ where people just say things like ‘what about a hashtag campaign?’ as though those words a) mean anything; b) have any value.
  • Making a Visual Novel with AI: Jay Springett, whose work on worldbuilding I linked to a few months ago, writes about some of his workflow attempting to pull together a visual novel in the solarpunk style, using various AI tools for the visuals; this is very practical, but I found it an interesting explanation of both the limitations and the practical steps you need to take to make something with a visually consistent style and that exists within a ‘defined’ area of latent space.
  • Boning In The Robotaxi: On the one hand, I am not wholly convinced that this entire article isn’t a piece of fiction – I mean, try verifying any of this. On the other, there is something so beautifully modern, so awfully dystopian, so perfectly San Francisco about the story that I couldn’t help but share it. You may have heard that self-driving cars are taking over San Francisco as the various companies seeking to convince us that no, really, this IS just around the corner offer heavily-discounted rides to the techies and the VCnuts zooming around the city, occasionally running over a homeless addict (probably) – well, per this piece, an unintended consequence of this is that people are taking advantage of the lack of a human driver to finger each other in the backseat (I paraphrase, but that’s basically it). SO MANY QUESTIONS! Do they wipe down the upholstery afterwards? Does ANYONE? Did the person who penned this read or watch ‘Cosmopolis’ in the period immediately preceding its genesis? Do the people apparently doing the boning really not care that they are obviously being filmed throughout?   Anyway, I look forward to automated vehicles becoming the 21st century phonebox – used largely by addicts looking for somewhere dry and secluded to tie off and shoot up – or for the spin-off enterprises that will result from having a theoretically-secluded, private mode of transport at your disposal; haircuts while you travel? Dentistry on your way to the meeting? Your in-car hairdresser? THERAPY WHILE U WAIT! Honestly, the possibilities are endless, the fingering’s just the start.
  • The Side-Effects of Home Monitoring: Another Rest of World piece, this looks at the way in which domestic surveillance tech (your Ring analogues, basically) being employed in India by wealthy families and homeowners to exert an additional degree of tracking and control over their domestic staff, monitoring their working patterns and timekeeping, and exacerbating existing dynamics of power and control through the (thinking charitably) unintended consequences of their function: “unlike office employees, domestic workers — mostly women with minimal education — have no control over what the apps track. There is no app interface for domestic workers and a typically a security guard appointed by the housing complex marks their attendance on the apps. In fact, 14 domestic workers told Rest of World they did not even  understand all the features of the apps. For instance, MyGate offers a rating system akin to Uber, where residents can rank domestic workers across parameters such as attitude, punctuality, and quality of service. But unlike Uber’s drivers, workers on MyGate cannot see their ratings nor rate the employers.”
  • The History of Corporate Presentations: Not the first time I’ve featured a piece on the wild and crazy and ROCK AND ROLL world of those people who used to make and arrange large-scale corporate presentations in the era before PowerPoint, when there were actual specialist companies creating the ‘son et lumiere’ for, say, IBM’s 1974 All-Hands jamboree in Aspen. There’s loads of great detail in here, and it really is a very different world – my main takeaway, though, is that specialisation is A Good Thing, and the idea that ‘everyone is good at making and delivering presentations’ is one of the great corporate fallacies of the last 30 years and one which has led to more wasted time, bored staff and pointless, terrible slides than anything else in the history of work. I mean, just read this and think how much you’d rather have The Muppets than listen to Jeannette’s stilted delivery and clumsy slide transitions: “At the height of Mesney’s career, his shows called for up to 100 projectors braced together in vertiginous rigs. With multiple projectors pointing toward the same screen, he could create seamless panoramas and complex animations, all synchronized to tape. Although the risk of disaster was always high, when he pulled it off, his shows dazzled audiences and made corporate suits look like giants. Mesney’s clients included IKEA, Saab, Kodak, and Shell; he commanded production budgets in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. And in the multi-image business, that was cheap. Larger A/V staging companies, like Carabiner International, charged up to $1 million to orchestrate corporate meetings, jazzing up their generic multi-­image “modules” with laser light shows, dance numbers, and top-shelf talent like Hall & Oates, the Allman Brothers, and even the Muppets.” Seriously, next time someone asks you to do a presentation I suggest you stick your neck out and demand additional budget for a light show and maybe some sword swallowing at the very least.
  • All The ‘Girl’ Trends: On the recent (well, past few years’) series of ‘girl’-related trends (‘hot girl summer!’, ‘girl dinner’, ‘sad girl literature’, etc, ad nauseam) and what they ‘mean’, specifically in terms of the packaging and commoditisation of femininity and the term’s rejection of traditional tropes of ‘womanhood’…your mileage will vary here, but personally I found this simultaneously an interesting look at ‘what it means to perform femininity in 2023’ and a depressing ‘wow, it’s astonishing how much this stuff stays exactly the same when you look beyond the specific language being used to describe / determine it’ bit of ‘everything is marketing and you are always someone’s mark’ analysis.
  • Hacking Real Estate: Yes, sorry, this is an Insider piece and as such is a bit sh1t; equally, though, it’s a(nother) useful reminder that the current generation of young people is the most hustle-y and materially-obsessed since the 80s, even though they don’t necessarily like having it pointed out to them. So it is that ‘being a landlord’ is being repackaged from TikTok upwards as ‘hacking housing’, and ‘gouging your tenants as hard as you can’ is ‘getting your bag’ and, honestly, there’s a degree of cold-eyed ambition and drive about all of this that I find slightly terrifying (but which, I concede, I might empathise with a lot more were I in my 20s and staring down the barrel of several decades of penury rather than, as is probably likely for me, some cancers and a rapid decline) – I do think there’s something inherently interesting in the rise of ‘the hack’ as a concept, and the idea that every system, product or process can be tweaked or optimised to deliver better/preferable/optimal results, if only you know the MAGIC KEY, and the extent to which that is a good/bad/massively exploitable thing.
  • Singapore In Colour: A beautiful visual essay exploring the colour palette of modern Singapore, through its architecture and residents and decoration – it’s such a glorious way of learning about and exploring the citystate, and you can go neighbourhood-by-neighbourhood, visualising the palette of each individual area as you. This really does feel like a love letter to the place, and it’s a lovely bit of digital storytelling by the Straits Times.
  • Water in Jordan: This is a SUPERB piece of writing about the city of Amman in Jordan – and indeed the country as a whole, its history and development and its present and its future – seen through the lens of the climate crisis and the water shortages which are facing the country now and which will almost-inevitably worse in the immediate future. Honestly, this is so so so interesting – it teaches you SO MUCH while at the same time being a wonderfully-written article, and its clear that Ursula Lindsay knows the city intimately; she tells a story of a country whose future suffering is born of years of exploitative mismanagement of assets of private interests left to run unchecked, and where, as with so many things in so many places, the main hope for ameliorative change comes from small, grass-roots organisations that seem capable of a degree of perspective absent from business and state. I found this excerpt particularly telling – sound familiar to anyone, this? “…The state withdrew from its role as the primary provider of public education, healthcare, and social housing, and instead became increasingly “involved in real estate development as a facilitator, regulator, and provider of indirect subsidies for multinational corporations.” 11 These subsidies include cheap land, infrastructure, and tax breaks. The high-end projects that have ensued, according to Daher, “are extremely exclusive … built at the expense of water resources and green patches … and work to push the poor to the outskirts of the city.”
  • London Restaurants: A rare OLD piece of writing now – don’t worry, the ceaseless pursuit of THE NEW will resume forthwith – this is a piece in the London Review of Books from 2019, which looks at the history of the London restaurant scene and its genesis in the late-19th/early-20th Century, and how its existence depends to an almost exclusive extent on the various immigrant communities who brought their cuisine, their culinary skills and their labour to England’s capital. This is SO GOOD, both on the history of the restaurant sector and its evolution, but also on the food and the logistics and the way in which the restaurants changed the city and vice-versa. There’s something poignant about the coda to the piece, in which the author asks what will become of the capital’s food scene in the wake of Brexit and the inevitable departure of people who worked as chefs and waiters and pickers and and and and…well, we know the answer now don’t we? Fair play to the non-metropolitan-elites who voted for Brexit – they really did manage to royally fcuk this aspect of London, which I imagine is no small consolation for, well, EVERYTHING ELSE.
  • It’s OK To Be Bad At Games: This will probably appeal most to people who a) like videogames; and b) know who Bennett Foddy is, or at least know what QWOP is, or Getting Over It, but should you tick either or both of those boxes then you will find a lot to enjoy in this interview. Foddy, for the uninitiated, is a game designer whose works are notable for their frankly insane mechanical difficulty – click the QWOP link and familiarise yourself with the vibe – and who in this interview talks about why he makes them, why they are so hard, and, significantly more interestingly, about the relationship between designer, player and the work itself, and how these elements are in dialogue with each other in games as they are in few other mediums. The extent to which you enjoy this will depend in part on the degree to which lines like “a lot of this stuff is about metacognition. Looking inward on the process of learning to play a video game — on what it feels like — is a lot of what playing a video game is about” make your teeth itch, so, well, see how you get on.
  • Doppelganger: Naomi Klein (No Logo, Shock Doctrine, etc) writes about her experience over the past few years being repeatedly confused with increasingly-bastsh1t fellow author of bestselling non-fiction Naomi Wolf (The Beauty Myth, Vagina), and how it feels having your identity so consistently and completely undermined in people’s consciousness by the actions of another over who you have no control. This is an excerpt from a forthcoming book on the subject – I don’t know whether I want to read a whole 300-odd pages of this, but I very much enjoyed Klein’s discussion of how one’s sense of self is so intimately bound up in others’ sense of what our ‘self’ in fact is.
  • It’s Bloodsicle Time: I did not expect an article about feeding frozen blood to zoo animals to be one of my favourite pieces of writing of the week, but this really is glorious – I can’t quite explain why, but I adore the voice here and found myself narrating it in a slightly-bored tone as I read.
  • When Trucks Fly: It’s been a good week for ‘unexpectedly excellent pieces of writing about stuff I did not expect to be interested in’ – see also this AMAZING article all about the monster truck scene and the people whose idea of fun is ‘flipping a truck with tyres the size of a small house 360 degrees off a ramp’, which, as with all the best examples of this sort of writing, is equal parts ‘affectionate bemusement’, ‘kooky characters’, ‘wow, country people, eh?’, and ‘the city slicker author gets in over their head’, and is all the better for hitting each of these beats with perfect timing and weight.
  • The Best: Finally this week, a piece of short fiction about an author and a sex addict. No, it’s not THAT sort of writing. I enjoyed this a lot, and I think you might too,

By Nigel Van Wieck