Webcurios 21/04/23

Reading Time: 32 minutes

Happy Friday everyone! Unless you worked for Buzzfeed News, in which case it’s probably quite a rubbish Friday – sorry about that.

(Brief aside about Buzzfeed News – reading Peretti’s statement from yesterday in which he said that he didn’t think it was possible to make a business from journalism anymore – maybe, Jonah, just maybe, the issue isn’t that journalism can’t be made to work as a business – perhaps it’s just that it’s impossible to make it work as a business WHILE AT THE SAME TIME ATTEMPTING TO FEED THE HORRIFYING VC VAMPIRES? Just a thought that perhaps the problem here isn’t so much ‘journalism’ as ‘the horrible ratfcuking greed of every cnut involved in financing any and all vaguely-tech-adjacent businesses in the past decade or so’?)

This week’s newsletter is typically replete with goodness, so much so that I advise you handle it carefully lest it burst all over you like some sort of overfilled knowledge-abscess (a simile both disgusting and nonsensical, well done Matt!) – and no, sorry, the prose doesn’t really rise above that sort of level I’m afraid.

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and if any of you are doing the marathon this weekend then good luck you lunatics but I th.

Photographer Unknown



  • Dr Gupta: I’m always fascinated by people who somehow manage to become hate figures not once but multiple times – those who seem to not only attract public opprobrium but who actively court it, who would rather see out their time on earth in the company of an excited and enthusiastic hatemob rather than then have their passing go unnoticed. Which is why I was so tickled by this new company – Dr Gupta (that’s Dr GuPTa, DO YOU SEE?!?!?!) is, I think, the first of the inevitable tsunami of AI-enabled ‘disruptors’ to attempt to insert itself into the consumer medical space by replacing doctors with AI…and you’ll never guess who’s behind it! Go on, take a moment to have a think – which 21stC hatefigure has previous with the medical industry and is exactly the sort of miserable, grifty little sh1tweasel to jump on this bandwagon with minimal care as to exactly what the potential side-effects of offering chatbot-based medical advice to morons? Did you get it? It’s Martin Shkreli! Yes, amazing-but-true – the West’s most punchable man (oh, ok, but definitely top 20) is back to SAVE MEDICINE with, er, a $20 a month subscription service that lets you ask what I presume is a custom-trained GPT medical questions and receive infinite medical ‘advice’ on demand. Would YOU trust your health to a black box system peddled to you by a man with Shkreli’s history? If the answer is ‘yes’, then, well, I hope Dr Gupta takes good care of you. Amusingly, Shkreli is apparently thinking of offering this as an enterprise product, meaning you can look forward to a host of ‘doctors’ offering ‘advice’ and ‘diagnoses’ based on this sort of crap – a future in which we have a new divide in healthcare provision, between those who can afford to get actual, proper medical counsel those who instead have to trust in a digital equivalent of Dr Nick Riviera to patch them up.
  • AR Mind Maps: This is only a proof-of-concept, but it’s quite a fun and exciting one; this video demonstrates a prototypical example of mind mapping software, with added AI support, in augmented reality – you sort of have to watch the footage to get the idea, but imagine that you can create a Minority Report-style movable map of interrelated ideas and concepts which would float in front of your eyes like some sort of really intellectually-dense hallucination, and that it’s all pulled together in no time by natural language processing that gathers associated terms and concepts based on your direction. Well, it’s like that.
  • The Nerds Are Trying To Make Google Glass Again: Another quick prototype video from Twitter, this amused me because a) it’s quite impressive, in a janky sort of way; b) this is literally what people were getting Google Glass to do (admittedly less well) a decade ago. Someone’s hacked together “a personal AI agent delivered directly through AR smart glasses”, which effectively means a system which uses facial recognition to identify whoever’s in your field of vision, and then based on that information pulls up information from your recent interactions (texts, WhatsApps, heartfelt LinkedIn endorsements, that sort of thing) to use as conversational prompts. Which, obviously, is hilariously awkward (even moreso than the really quite astonishingly wooden interaction in the video might suggest), but the imminent explosion of custom-built and custom-trained LLMs means that we can expect a lot more of this sort of hacking together of AI systems for this sort of thing – except much, much weirder (off the top of my head here, but for example it would be entirely possible to create a version of this sort of thing which uses the HUD to feed you lines scripted by a specially-trained LLM – which, actually, makes me think of some interesting use cases for interactive drama and immersive theatrical stuff).
  • Getting GPT To Do Everything For You: I promise we’re almost done with the ‘videos of AI stuff pulled from Twitter’ bit – but this one’s pretty impressive too. Remember the AutoGPT stuff from last week, where people are getting GPT to set goals and then take steps to realise them? Well this is that, basically – GPT as a practical assistant, which can (for example) find and book a restaurant for you based on loose instructions. Obviously this is slow and a bit janky, but it’s quite obviously The Future – equally, wow are there going to be some interesting times while this sort of thing gets embedded and isn’t quite working correctly. BONUS CONTENT: this is a similar demonstration in which someone gets the AI to do some research and then quickly spin up a webpage displaying the answers; not hugely compelling on its own, fine, but worth watching as it’s a useful indication of exactly how much terrible, terrible content and awful websites we’re going to be subjected to in the coming year or so.
  • Red Pajama: AND SO IT BEGINS! Well, ok, fine, it began a month or so ago when Meta’s Llama LLM was leaked, but this week felt like the moment when the open source AI thing really picked up. Red Pajama is “an effort to produce a reproducible, fully-open, leading language model. RedPajama is a collaboration between Together, Ontocord.ai, ETH DS3Lab, Stanford CRFM, Hazy Research, and MILA Québec AI Institute. RedPajama has three key components: Pre-training data, which needs to be both high quality and have broad coverage; Base models, which are trained at scale on this data; and Instruction tuning data and models, which improve the base model to make it usable and safe”. This is the training data, which anyone is now able to download and use as they see fit – OK, fine, this is all technical and boring and is unlikely to mean anything to you unless you’re in the market to make your own LLM, but it’s also worth being aware of because this is the point at which you have to accept that not only is this stuff going to be potentially EVERYWHERE, it’s also going to be…weirdly unknowable, insofar as we’re not necessarily going to have any idea of WHAT exactly any given AI we’re interacting with has been trained on, or with what sort of weighting. I appreciate that I am a tedious Cassandra about this sort of thing, but it strikes me that perhaps we ought to be a touch more concerned about this additional nail in the coffin of what we used to like to call ‘the vague concept of objective truth’. BONUS OPEN SOURCE AI MODEL: here’s another, parallel open source LLM being developed elsewhere, which you can help to train if you’d like to take a personal hand in creating the circumstances of your own obsolescence.
  • Debate Devil: This is a fun toy – pick a position and have an ARGUMENT with a machine! This is exactly the sort of thing I imagine would be really useful if you were a member of an amateur debating club (or, er, a really poor-quality barrister, probably), but, presuming that applies to literally none of you, you could instead use it to practice arguing for that payrise or that holiday to the Maldives or that divorce. More seriously (lol I am always serious) this isn’t a terrible tool to test hypotheses and reasoning – based on my (admittedly limited) fiddling with it, it does a reasonable job of teasing out the obvious holes in a given position (but, also, I am a terrible and lazy arguer and so your mileage, as ever, may vary).
  • Beauty Dig-Tionary: I don’t, as a rule, spend a lot of time looking at skincare websites, but this one rather grabbed me – I think it’s a Korean brand, but that’s not really important. What IS important is for you to click the link, click the hamburger menu, select ‘Look Search’ and then pick from the selection of doe-eyed, high-cheekboned young men and enjoy the frankly mental interface through which you can examine their largely-poreless faces from what seems like every possible angle. What they’ve done here is attempted to give you the same sort of 360-degree camera movement you’d expect from a CG model but instead using photos – so they’ve taken about 100-odd pictures of each model’s head and face, and you can move the camera around in jerky, stop-motion fashion, and it basically feels like you’re directing your own (admittedly slightly-staid) version of ‘Sledgehammer’. This pleased me immoderately, and in general I would like to see far, far more examples of this sort of labour-intensive and massively-inefficient UI design.
  • E-Pals: This feels…a bit icky, tbh. “E-Pal”, so the site’s blurb promises, “is a social platform for gamers to make friends worldwide through playing video games…The E-Pal community has two roles: ePals and Gamers. ePal is a group of passionate gamers who enjoy providing companionship to others. They are reviewed by the platform, they share about themselves, and they provide both free and paid companionship services to everyone. Gamers can choose to play with an ePal, or sign up as one to help others too.” So the idea is that it’s a service that lets you effectively hire people to play videogames with – which, given the fact that nearly all online titles these days have sophisticated and well-designed matchmaking services to pair solo players with potential teammates and opponents, might strike you as a bit unnecessary. Until you go and actually have a look at the people that are advertising their services as ‘Gamers’ waiting to be hired as in-game companions and you realise that they’re all basically Belle Delphine analogues and that this is basically some sort of slightly-shady-feeling pseudo-escorting gig (there are, to be fair, a few guys on there too, but, well, you click the link and tell me it doesn’t feel a touch like a contacts mag for the sort of people who wear those Matrix-style trenchcoats).
  • Find Your Fest: Are you all excited for FESTIVAL SEASON? I was made to feel INCREDIBLY FCUKING OLD the other day when I discovered that my mate’s daughter is playing Glastonbury (WHERE’S MY GUESTLIST FFS?), but at the same time I can’t pretend that I ever want to ‘enjoy’ the feeling of 7am sun beating through canvas as my drugswollen tongue swells to fill the tent ever again (yes, I appreciate that there are other ways in which to ‘do’ music festivals but, equally, I know myself by now) – if you are younger and more energetic than me, though, you might be wondering whether there are any decent festivals coming up at which you might stand a chance of getting a ticket. Well WONDER NO MORE thanks to this rather useful site, which has a frankly terrifyingly comprehensive database of festivals worldwide and which bands are playing where, along with accompanying playlists and practical details and everything you could possibly need to ensure that your trip to (for example) a psytrance festival in the mountains of Bulgaria goes smoothly (seriously, this sounds amazing, does anyone want to come with me?).
  • Crab Fragment Labs: This is SUCH a cool initiative/company – Crab Fragment Labs is ‘the creative outlet for James Ernest’, who is an INCREDIBLY prolific games designer and whose work is collected on this site. There are, as far as I can tell, HUNDREDS of games you can access here – boardgames, card games, TTRPG-type games – and loads of the rulesets and templates for them are available to read and download for free, and, basically, if you’re the sort of person into tabletop gaming or card games then this is basically heaven for you.
  • The Food Disgust Test: It seems strangely apt that the week that saw the end of Buzzfeed News (RIP, but also HOW MUCH VC MONEY DID YOU BURN THROUGH PERETTI?!?!?) should see a very old-school ‘answer a bunch of questions and we’ll tell you who you are!’ quiz go moderately-viral online – this purports to tell you exactly what your specific food icks are, and how ‘disgusted’ you are by various factors when it comes to food and drink, and while it loses marks for the fact that it’s pretty dry in style and presentation it gains them for the fact that it will absolutely give you a solid 30 minutes of office/domestic chat as you all debate whether bananas or fish guts are more disgsting (it is bananas every time).
  • The 24h Homepage: Every generation gets their own version of the Million Dollar Homepage, so it seems – this is the latest iteration of Tewy’s methuselan idea, the gimmick here being that there is a new website link posted on the site each second, and anyone can claim one of those seconds for themselves. Submit a link and an accompanying image, select the time you want and YOU can own a specific time of the day, down to the second. Except anyone can bump you from your slot – UNLESS of course you pay a fee to lock down your position. Links are currently retailing at $9.90, with the price going up by $0.01 for each one purchased – I admire the chutzpah of the kid behind this, but I sadly feel that the moment for making bank from this sort of thing has sadly past (but, er, if you’re the person who made this and if you DO in fact end up becoming insanely rich as a result, fancy chucking me some pity cash? No? Fair enough).
  • Offal: This might be my favourite thing of the year so far – no joke, this is genuinely SUPERB. I got emailed by Mark Blacklock, its creator, who writes “OFFAL is the world’s first AI-voiced radio show, mixing a wildly eclectic soundtrack with spoken-word vignettes by cutting-edge fiction writers. Fragments of comedy, short plays and fiction presented by a troupe of synthetic voice actors merge seamlessly with acid house, jazz, hip hop and the outer limits of ambient and experimental, along with surreal interjections, fake advertising spots and brief psychedelic guided meditations. Rather than attempting to merely replace human actors and voices, OFFAL explores the artistic effects and possibilities created when pushing the limits of corporate text-to-voice tools never designed to be used for these purposes.” This is…honestly, this is wonderful – surreal, funny, dark, intriguing, confusing, liminal (yes, I know, and I am sorry, and ordinarily I wouldn’t, but it sort-of fits, I promise), and the closest thing to Chris Morris’ Blue Jam that I think I have ever heard. I can’t stress enough that you NEED to listen to this – there are three episodes at present, two available via the website and one only via WhatsApp, and I NEED MORE so pull your finger out please Max. This deserves to be famous and win awards and stuff, and whilst I’m conscious that putting it in a newsletter read by seven people who work in marketing is unlikely to make that happen, I hope that maybe one of you could shove it under the nose of someone influential and important because this is ART.

By Domenico Gnoli



  • The Coronation Toolkit: Are you excited? Have you greased your elbow in preparation for all the forlock-tugging? For those of you outside the UK who might be bemused as to what the fcuk I am talking about – WE ARE GOING TO DO A CORONATION! Yes, in just a few short weeks the UK will pretend that it’s a perfectly normal and natural thing to celebrate the illusory hereditary superiority of the latest in a long line of largely-mediocre inbreds whilst all the while ignoring the fact that half the country is cold and hungry and increasingly mad. PAGEANTRY! CEREMONY! HERITAGE! SERVILITY! Anyway, in preparation for that WONDERFUL WEEKEND OF JOY the Palace has released the Official Coronation Toolkit and, honestly, it’s just so miserable. Go on, click the link – some slightly crap ‘print and colour at home’ kids’ games! Five terrible-sounding recipes! PRINT YOUR OWN BUNTING! To be honest this is SO crap it feels like satire, but the url is the official one and this is legit and OH WHENCE THE DAYS OF EMPIRE. Lol, we are *such* a joke of a country, aren’t we? Although on the unofficial memorabilia side of things, I do rather like these.
  • Companion: I like to think that in 2023 everyone carries around their own personal mental version of the Doomsday Clock that tracks exactly how close they feel everything is to Total Collapse – if your Apocalyptic Countdown Ticker is moving somewhat faster than you find comfortable, you might be in the market for “Companion”, a USB stick for sale for the low, low price of $10 (in fairness to the people shilling this, they also offer refunds) which its makers assure you is packed with ALL THE DOCUMENTS you will need to survive a ‘SHTF Event’ (this is their terminology – I am presuming that that stands for ‘sh1t hits the fan’, but have limited interest in being targeted forever by mad prepper advertising and as such you’ll have to accept my uncertainty in this regard). Obviously it’s on a USB because the internet may have gone down and so you’ll need offline resources – I imagine that if you’re the sort of person who feels the need to buy this sort of thing you’re also the sort of person with a backup generator to power a laptop, otherwise, well, lol! – and the website promises that with all this information to hand you’ll be safe in the event of “natural disaster, economic collapse, or societal breakdown”, which is nice. Now, I’m not suggesting for a second that this is a good or ethical idea, but, well, given they’re selling this for only a tenner, I reckon there’s probably a semi-lucrative grift in buying the content, scraping it all and feeding it to an LLM to create ‘PREPBOT: YOUR APOCALYPSE COMPANION!’ which you can then sell as a subscription service to morons. Obviously, though, that would be a deeply unethical thing to do and Web Curios in no way condones it (but would appreciate a 10% cut of any profits should any of you be appalling enough people to follow through with the idea).
  • Space Elevator: Prolific creator of viral toys Neal Agarwal returns with this page, which does the whole ‘scroll and explore something really, really deep/tall/long’ thing – as you scroll, the page takes you up through the various atmospheric stages between the floor and space. The mechanic here isn’t new, and you’ve seen this done a dozen times before, but this is elevated by the care and attention to detail – this is information-rich, and full of gently-amusing gags, and the graphics and design are much better than they need to be, and in general this is both a nice, fun bit of lightweight webwork and a good example of how polish can elevate a concept, even one as broadly unoriginal as this.
  • Buy ALL The Classic Cars: Or at least, bid on all the classic cars – whether or not you’ll be able to buy them will depend rather on the depth of your pockets. Still, there are 230 vehicles being auctioned as part of this lot on May 19th, so if you’re in the market for a vintage sportscar then you could do worse than take a look here – although judging by the blurb, these could be in need of a bit of TLC before you’re able to don your driving gloves and go Full Partridge in a bank holiday traffic jam. Still, there’s something lovely (and, to be clear, VERY mad) about the fact that this was all one person’s lifelong passion – “The collection was stored in a church and two dry but dusty warehouses. Mr. Palmen was starting the cars on a regular basis to keep the engines from being seized. Most of the collection is in an unrestored and original condition. He kept the cars how they were when entering his warehouses and he almost did not sell anything after it was added to his collection. He rarely showed the collection to anyone, so very few people knew of its existence. The maintenance was mostly done by himself. You can definitely call it one of the best kept secret car collections of Europe. Mr. Palmen loved Italian cars like Alfa Romeo, Lancia, Maserati and Ferrari. Plus, French Facel Vega’s and German BMW’s, Mercedes, and NSU’s. The British are well represented with Jaguars, Aston Martins, and Rolls-Royces, while American classics include Chevrolets, Cadillacs, and Fords. The collection also features Tatra, Monica, Moretti, Matra, Alvis, Imperia, and Villard.”
  • Sounds Like These: Oh God I love this website. Click the link and make sure your sound is on – Sounds Like These is a company that does sounds for brands – they call themselves a ‘creative audio company’ – and their website is one of the very, very few that makes it worth turning the volume up for. This is SO SO SO SATISFYING, from the sound splashes on the homepage to the way it plays (pun unintended, but I will take it) across all the other sections – really, this is such smart and pleasing digital design and I am slightly in awe of it.
  • Fireman: I rather like tools and sites that enforce constraints on the user, and Fireman is no exception – a Chrome extension which lets you save links to read later, much like any other bookmarking service, but which asks you to specify a time limit when you save a link; once the time limit’s passed, the link is no longer available to you, and can’t ever be resaved in the app. As someone who has a weird problem where I have started to vaguely anthropomorphise the open tabs in my browser, to the point where I am beginning to actually feel *guilty* if I close them without having read them after a few days, I feel that this could help solve what I worry is a burgeoning psychological issue.
  • Random Airports: Would you like to be taken to a different random airport in the world every time you click? No, probably not, and yet that’s what this website is offering and so the least you could do is feign gratitude. This is, in fairness, more interesting than you’d think – it’s astonishing how many airports worldwide are built in places that really don’t look like very sensible places to build airports.
  • Bubblemania: You know when you’re a little kid and you take a straw and blow HARD into a bowl of washing up liquid and become entranced by the bubblepatterns that emerge and burst and vanish and reemerge with each childish exhale? Yes, well this is EXACTLY like that it except it’s in your browser and its digital and it requires neither a working pair of lungs or a bowl of Fairy to enjoy and therefore it is BETTER.
  • Koi Pond: Do you feel stressed? Do you feel like it’s all TOO MUCH? Would you like to be able to gaze blankly at a pond full of peacefully-unaware fish, moving quietly through water in a state of near-zenlike piscine bliss? OF COURSE YOU WOULD! Here, then, for your delectation and relaxy enjoyment is such a thing, but in digital form. If nothing else, it might be fun to load this on your phone and watch your cat go mental for a few minutes.
  • Doogie Typer: This week’s ‘link nicked from last week’s B3ta’ is this rather fun toy which does the whole ‘mash the keyboard anywhich way you like and the site will pretend you’re typing’ thing, but rather than making you look like (for example) a l33t h4xx0r (I have never felt my internet years weigh so heavily on my shoulders) this instead has you typing out the journal entries from 1980s/90s ‘he’s a teenage boy, but he’s also a Doctor!’ medical comedy-drama Dougie Howser. Which, fine, is probably only funny if you remember the show, but I do and it is so there.
  • A Simulated Deck of Cards: Why? WHY NOT! If nothing else, this will enable you to play poker and blackjack at work even if they’ve blocked your access to gambling sites so, er, that’s nice! On reflection, possibly not the best use-case I could have come up with, but hey ho.
  • Tokyo Jazz Joints: If you’ve ever read any Haruki Murakami then there’s a decent chance that any mental image you have of Tokyo will be soundtracked by jazz, and that you’ll have a vague picture in your head of the sort of tiny jazz bar staffed and frequented by monomaniacal obsessives, the sort of place I believe Murakami worked before he embarked upon his insanely-successful novel writing career. Anyway, this site is literally ALL ABOUT THOSE PLACES, and is just glorious – it’s mostly just photos, but the places depicted in the shots are AMAZING, tiny and rickety and smoke-stained and SO SO COOL, and this whole site basically rekindled my long-dormant desire to visit Japan and feel incredibly uncomfortable and out-of-place in venues just like this.
  • Tetris E60: As part of the promo for the film, here’s a chance to play a version of Tetris which is coded to look like the original version which Pajitnov coded on a device called an Elektronika60 – look, it’s Tetris, it still fcuking rocks whatever version it is. Plus, this has a particularly-banging rendition of the soundtrack which renders it immaculate – I lost HOURS to this this week, so be warned.
  • Where In America?: This is a little game by The Pudding which has to be a p1sstake, no? The idea is that you’re shown five photos of a mystery location in North America, and you have to drop a pin on the map to guess exactly where you are – you get one guess per photo, and after each you’re told how far away you are from your target…except HOW THE FCUK ARE YOU MEANT TO IDENTIFY THE LOCATION BASED ON SOME GENERIC PHOTOS OF GENERIC BUILDINGS? I just loaded it up now, and the first clue it’s giving me is literally a photograph of some rocks by a roadside – I posit that this is IMPOSSIBLE and is in fact some sort of weird gag that only Americans can understand. Can one of you explain it to me, please?
  • EggHunt: A presumably Easter-themed browser game by some retailer or another, where you have to collect the eggs across various maps – this is surprisingly fun for 10 minutes, which I appreciate isn’t a huge endorsement but, well, the bar gets lower each and every day.
  • The Spring Thing Festival of Interactive Fiction: I love IF, and I love an IF festival contest thing, and as such it’s no surprise that I have enjoyed so many of the entries in this year’s Spring Thing IF festival. I haven’t tried all of these – there are about 30-odd entries split across two categories – but, of those I’ve experienced, I personally particularly enjoyed Drew Cook’s ‘Repeat The Ending’. All the entries are categorised by theme, length and content, so it’s easy to find something that suits your tastes or mood – I genuinely think that IF is one of the most interesting narrative genres around and continues to be wildly underappreciated in terms of storytelling creativity, and the works here reinforce that.
  • The Greggs Game: It feels like Greggs is now what Wetherspoons was in The Time of Jeremy – to whit, something which is, objectively, not very good but which it is Very Important that a certain type of left-wing commentator be loudly and performatively be a fan of lest they be thought of as somehow pretentious or out of touch (you know I am right about this) – but despite my slight irritation at how much everyone LOVES IT I can’t help but, well, LOVE this videogame representation of A Day In The Life Of A Greggs Worker – made by someone called ‘Gav’, this is a superb 8-bit evocation of a day spent manning the ovens and churning out Questionable Meat Products (but you really do need to read the instructions before you start, as it’s harder than you might imagine). Why the pasty-peddlers haven’t chucked Gav a few grand to make this official is beyond me tbh, this has ‘superb brand activation you don’t even have to think about’ written all over it.
  • Escape Speed: XKCD has done another of its occasional ‘interactive explainer game-type things’ and, honestly, this is really impressive and a lot bigger and deeper than you might initially think. I am increasingly of the opinion that XKCD is one of the great treasures of the past decade or so of online cultural life, and that we don’t quite appreciate it enough.
  • Undergrowth: Finally this week, a browsergame which is also a song! Undergrowth is what I presume is the lead track from the forthcoming album ‘O Monolith’ by the band Squid – to accompany its release, they have made this game which acts as a sort of interactive music video and which does a few nice things with genre and expectations and, most importantly, is genuinely fun and a nice accompaniment to the music (there are a couple of bits where the gameplay shifts gear just as the track does which are particularly nice). Basically I want to know when we’re going to have the first proper ‘album as videogame’ thing, and I want to make sure that it’s not done by U2 (it just feels like the sort of thing they’d do tbh).

By Barkley L Hendricks 



  • El Diabolik: Not a Tumblr, but neither you nor I care! This is a great site – El Diabolik describes itself as ‘the world of psychotronic soundtracks’, and houses an absolute treasure-trove of both audio from the weird soundtrack world of the mid-20th-century. Honestly, if you like ‘obscure but often quite insanely catchy vinyl oddities’ then this will be catnip to you.


  • Wrinkle The Duck: Wrinkle is the duck’s name, not an instruction. Wrinkle has 600k+ followers, meaning it’s not impossible that many of you are aware of…her(?) already – still, if not, enjoy this very photogenic quacker (although I am not 100% convinced that the whole ‘feeding it at the table in restaurants’ thing is ok, if I’m totally honest).
  • RK Ceramics: This is just lovely work, and rather unusual in style, and I have a vague feeling that it’s being run by someone I used to work with years ago (in which case “HI RACHEL, I LOVE YOUR POTS!”), and even if not I think it’s worth a look.
  • Health & Safety:  Despite the name of the account, this feed is very much NOT goal zero. Watching stuff like this makes me genuinely amazed that we’ve lasted this long as a species, frankly (and makes me look less negatively on the idea of the machines just taking over once and for all).


  • Renewable Energy Sceptics: As we await the frankly-enticing prospect of the XR lot facing off against Just Stop Oil, separated only by several-thousand fun-runners in fancy dress (whilst, to be clear, I very much support both XR and JSO’s broad aims, I also find there to be something very, very funny about this Judean People’s Front/Popular Front of Judea-level spat), so it seems timely to point to this story which makes some interesting points about the current state of the debate as to What Is To Be Done about the climate emergency and associated topics. In summary, the piece argues that rather than looking at renewable energy as a means of enabling us to continue living largely as we are now, we should instead start to radically rethink the ‘want’ portion of our relationship with the natural world – fundamentally, unless we all get used to having less, doing less and having what might charitably be termed ‘smaller lives’, all of this handwringing about whether or not to double down on biomass or nuclear is frankly a complete fcuking waste of breath.
  • Amazon’s Letter to Shareholders: Ok, fine, so this isn’t anyone’s idea of a sparkling piece of prosework (sorry Andy!) but it IS a super-interesting look at what the future is going to look like (let’s be honest – it is almost certainly Amazon’s future and we all ought to hope and pray that the company is going to be kind enough to allow us poor meatsacks to share it with it). This is VERY LONG, but it’s also really interesting in a slightly-depressing-and-inevitable way – reading this you very much get a sense of a business that has done a superb job of embedding itself into a frankly preposterous breadth of verticals, almost without us noticing, and the paragraphs about grocery and healthcare read very much like a threat to existing market incumbents (also the bits at the end about LLMs and Generative AI feel…ominous). Basically don’t bank on the post-Jeff era being any less successful for modernity’s most hungrily-omniovorous (and, by extension, most frightening) business.
  • What Was Twitter, Anyway?: It’s fair to say that Twitter really is dying – the site wheezes, the verification sh1tshow is in full swing, media outlets are pulling back and, perhaps crucially, a lot of people have simply…fcuked off. It’s a shell of what it was just a year ago…but, well, so what? Should we care? This piece in the New York Times is by Willy Staley and whilst it’s very much a grab-bag of US coastal media cliches in terms of the author’s place in the media universe and the resulting importance placed on Twitter, it’s also a very good overview of what made the site interesting and special and unique, and, I think, offers a good explanation of why it strikes me as unlikely that anything will ever really ‘replace’ it in a 1:1 sense.
  • Who Bought Pr0nhub?: You may have seen, and sniggered at, the news that global bongo favourite Pr0nhub was recently acquired by the fabulously, improbably-named ‘Ethical Capital Partners’ – but, as this piece makes clear, what’s really interesting about this is that noone’s really certain who Ethical Capital Partners are, or where the money to finance the acquisition came from, or whose interests it represents, and this raises all sorts of quite important-seeming questions about the extent to which it can be A Good Thing that one of the world’s most-trafficked websites, and one which collects all sorts of interesting user-data to boot, is now owned by…a mysterious and seemingly-unknowable cabal of faceless investors. As the author asks, “Ultimately because we don’t know who financed ECP, it’s hard to know what the concerns are. Some of the questions that came up for me were: What if a fund with drastically different ethical frameworks bought it? Or, what if this bid is just a ploy for the current leaders of MindGeek to keep running the company behind a shell leadership front? How can we hold the real owners accountable to Pornhub actions or impacts without knowing who they are?” This is SO interesting, less because of the specific facts of this particular case but because of what it tells us about how little we actually know about the people and money behind so much of the web.
  • Don’t Worry About The Jobs: Those of you who bother to read my words rather than just clicking the links and ignoring the horrible prose (thankyou, and I am sorry) will be aware of my position as something of a Cassandra when it comes to the whole intersection of AI with bullsh1t white collar jobs like yours and mine. This piece, though, suggests that I am being a needless worrywort and that in fact things will be FINE, because (and I am oversimplifying here) previous technological advances have created increases in demand which compensate for the reduction in labour they engender, and that (again, oversimplifying) that (for example) the ease with which we’ll all be able to sue each other using AI will mean that we’ll need loads more ACTUAL LAWYERS to deal with all the writs flying about. I…I don’t buy this argument AT ALL, and I don’t personally think that the examples used in the piece stand up in any meaningful way (why, for example, couldn’t this additional imaginary law work also be done by machines? Why are people necessary to meet increased demand for these machine-augmented services?), but you may find it a helpful corrective to my incessant and tedious doomerism.
  • AI and the Media Jobs: Another piece on AI and work, which I’m including because it vaguely addresses an argument I’m seeing around a lot at the moment. “If your job writing copy can be taken by a machine,” so the smug cnuts on LinkedIn and Twitter are saying, “then you need to write better copy! If your business thinks it can replace a human copywriter with AI, then your copy’s no good!” Except, look, have the people reading these arguments actually spent any time reading the vast majority of the ‘copy’ that’s out there in the wild right now? This article, in Slate, takes the starting premise that ‘if AI replaces ‘journalism’ then your ‘journalism’ wasn’t ‘journalism’ to begin with’, and the idea that, actually, it’s a good thing if The Machine is the one writing the SEO-optimised ‘what time does the Coronation start?’ searchbait copy rather than an actual human, so the human can go off and do MEANINGFUL WORK – except, as the author quite reasonably points out, there is literally nothing about the current models for journalism (and you can replace ‘journalism’ with ‘content creation’ and it still works) that suggests that anyone really wants or needs the meaningful work, or indeed that anyone is going to pay the actual humans any money to do it (cf Buzzfeed News being a very timely case-in-point). Basically, anyone currently going ‘no, don’t worry, this will free you up to do better/more meaningful/more creative work!’ doesn’t, I would argue, have any fcuking idea of what the past couple of decades in media have been like and should be ignored out of hand. Seriously, read this and tell me how it’s possible to disagree: “I’d like to imagine that in an ideal world, media barons would put the residuals harvested by their chattelled automation programs toward creating a much more considerate onboarding environment for young reporters, critics, and bloggers, if only so those jobs will never be inflicted on human beings ever again. But that also requires me to believe that the boardrooms making these decisions will prioritize the best interests of their employees when presented with a cost-saving, payroll-shortening innovation. There’s a good reason why everyone is fearing the worst. When given the option, the media industry’s financiers tend to embrace contraction, which means it’s much more likely that automation will unleash a fresh slate of wild depravities in the media.”
  • The Imminent Lawyerly Bonanza Around AI Music: Well THAT all blew up quickly – we go from the Savages track one week to the (frankly, not very good) Drake/Weeknd thing, and AI-Oasis and all of a sudden everyone is lawyering up and the record labels are getting frothily excited just like it’s 2001 all over again. There is SO much that’s interesting about this – the arguments about what constitutes ‘fair use’ and the extent to which ‘a machine ingesting literally the entire corpus of an artist’s work and digesting it and then creating reasonably-convincing new material which sounds like the artist but nonetheless isn’t’ can be described as ‘taking inspiration’ rather than ‘ripping off a quality that is unique to a performer’ are fascinating, and get to the very heart of the fundamental questions around the meaning of ‘copyright’ and the very concept of ‘ownership’. If the lawyers are indeed set to be rendered extinct by the LLMs, they’re due one final MASSIVE payday before they sign off.
  • Save The Quietus: The Quietus is a genuinely brilliant publication, championing interesting, intelligent and unusual writing about music and artists who exist outside of the ‘mainstream’ (whatever that is these days). It’s struggling for cash, and needs new subscribers to survive, and if you can afford it they have some great discounted packages available at the moment to entice you to back them. I’ve linked to various pieces from the Quietus over the years – certainly more than I ever have from the NME or Pitchfork – and it would be a genuine shame were it to go under.
  • The Mysterious Identical Songs of Spotify: You may have seen Tweets doing the round this week expressing confusion at the fact that Spotify is seemingly featuring the same song listed under over 50 different name/artist combinations – what is the song? Who’s it by? WHY IS IT EVERYWHERE AND WHY CAN NOONE AGREE ON WHAT IT’S CALLED? Ted Gioia investigates, and while he doesn’t quite get to the bottom of the story it becomes quite clear that the answer is, obviously, “someone’s using a lot of automation to attempt to game Spotify for £££”. What’s interesting, though, is the possibility that this is Spotify doing it itself as a move to wean people off person-created music and towards machine-created tunes – because, of course, you don’t have to pay the (pitifully small) royalty cheques to the machines. One to file under ‘stop worrying about the coming AI apocalypse, the tedious reality is that the ensh1ttifcAItion of everything is already well underway’.
  • The Post-Influencer Influencing Grift: Oh, ok, fine, none of the people profiled in this piece would want to be described as ‘influencers’ anymore, but, honestly, if you’re selling courses based on Who You Are then that’s exactly what you are doing. Still, I quite enjoyed reading the stories of former influencers who’d burned out and stepped away from the ring light to get ‘proper’ jobs, but who are making a nice little side-hustle along the way by offering courses to influencers telling them how to, er, stop influencing and get a real job. There’s something quite bleakly funny about not being able to get off the grind of selling an illusion, even if you try.
  • The Sound Boxes of India: THIS IS SO INTERESTING (and also, super-Gibsonian, in the sense that the early Sprawl novels had whereby superfuturetech was grafted onto a social reality that is significantly more prosaic and 20thC than you might initially expect) – this piece in the excellent Rest of World explains the growing phenomenon of ‘soundboxes’ being used by small shopkeepers across India to facilitate digital payments. Because of the fact that so many rural Indians can neither read nor write, digital payments can be problematic – messages confirming payment can’t be read by their recipients, creating confusion at sales points as vendors try and make sure transactions have gone through correctly. To help deal with this, retailers have started installing smart speakers which provide a verbal confirmation that a transaction has been effectuated, which speeds up the process and provides reassurance to vendors – and which has spun out into a separate industry providing loans to said shopkeepers to help them afford the devices in the first place. I find things like this fascinating – the interplay of socioeconomics and tech, and the formation of new markets like this, is super-interesting, even to someone with as little commercial nous as me.
  • The Taco Bell Innovation Kitchen: I’ve never eaten Taco Bell and I can’t imagine I ever will, but thanks both to trips to the US in the past, and the cultural flattening of EVERYTHING due to the web, I am familiar with the brand, its products and the increasingly-weird stuff that comes out of its development kitchens – this piece is all about how those weird things get decided upon and made, and if you’re anything like me it will make you want to work there SO MUCH. This is super-interesting, in part because it’s a window into a world that I have honestly never considered before (the fact that testing reveals the EXACT crunchiness people prefer in a tortilla chip, for example, to the point of ‘lbs per square inch’ pressure, is the sort of detail I go mad for) but also because it reveals quite a lot of interesting additional information (for example, the extent to which the increasingly cheese-heavy Taco Bell menu is a direct byproduct of what is effectively decades of hardcore lobbying by the US Dairy Management industry) about exactly how and why millions upon millions of people eat what they do.
  • The Gostak: Reading this gave me proper little mental frissons of excitement; you know the sort, when you realise that you’re being made to think about something genuinely a bit chewy and conceptually interesting, in a way that doesn’t happen anywhere near often enough. This is a piece about a long-forgotten piece of interactive fiction published two decades ago – it was called The Gostak, and it was told entirely in an imaginary language, which made playing the game a process not only of working your way through the story and puzzles but also of piecing together the rules and the framework for the language the story was told in as you went. Honestly, if you’ve any interest in language and communication (and also logic, and HOW WE THINK) then this really is wonderful – even better, it contains a link to play the game so that you too can start to grapple with the “delcot of tondam, where gitches frike and duscats glake.”
  • A Brief History of the Notes App: Or, more specifically, a brief history of the notes app in the context of celebrity apologies. This is a very serious piece of writing about a very frivolous topic, and is very much worth your time (not least for the fact that, if you’ve not read it, the James Charles example is quite staggering).
  • The Battle Over Techno’s History: Specifically, the two dance music museums which vie for the title of ‘International Museum of Techno’ – one, as you might expect, in Detroit, the other, less traditionally, in Frankfurt. To be honest, the whole ‘battle’ angle is rather confected for the headline – the guys in Frankfurt are pretty clear that they are a museum of dance music in general and appear to have made peace with the Detroit people after some initial froideur – but as an overview of the genre’s history, where it came from and how it developed on both sides of the Atlantic this is rather excellent and it REALLY made me want to do a lot of cheap speed and chew the inside of my face for approximately 9 hours straight.
  • My Transplanted Heart And I Will Die Soon: This is quite a remarkable piece of writing – I don’t think I’ve ever read anything quite like it before, at least in terms of the patient experience it describes. Amy Silverstein has had two successful heart transplants – but her second new heart is dying, and the drugs don’t exist to keep it alive anymore, and when it dies, she will die too. There’s quite a lot of this which I found…uncomfortable, but I’m not sure how much of that feeling is down to simply not quite knowing how to relate to the authorial experience here and how much down to specific choices of tone and language; the prose is beautiful at times, though, and I guarantee you will feel…something as you read, though I can’t promise what.
  • Goop At Sea: I don’t normally include things in the longreads section that I am not 100% sold on, but will make an exception for this because so many other people seemed to enjoy it and I have to concede that my taste is just crap. Lauren Oyler takes a press trip on the Goop Cruise, and writes it up for Harper’s, and…gah, what can I say, I fcuking HATED this with a surprising passion – it acknowledges the DFW-debt upfront, but I think I started losing patience when Oyler made the ‘is it still 2010?’-level gag about Foster Wallace being a misogynist, and a lot of his fans being misogynists too, and I never really regained my enthusiasm because – and know that I have read a LOT of ‘journalist goes on cruise, does longform, post-DFW’ pieces, and linked to them here, and as such I know a bit whereof I speak – this is VERY DULL. The prose doesn’t sparkle – I get that ‘millennial and affectless’ is Oyler’s *thing*, but, honestly, it’s Xanax-y throughout – and, if I’m honest, the fact that Oyler mentions her polyamory inside the first 1000 words gives you a perfect idea of how fascinating the whole thing is.
  • Why Elon Musk Isn’t Funny: This is a better article than the headline and premise deserve, mainly because it does a very good job of pinpointing exactly what flavour of annoying secondary school (high school, for the non-Anglos) loser Elon must have been and, sadly for us, still is. I don’t think I’ve fully recovered from the full-body pretzel cringe I did when reading his “still can’t believe my birthday is 69 days from 4/20!’ Tweet.
  • You Have A New Memory: I think I’ve mentioned the unique impossibility of writing about online in Serious Prose before, and the general consensus that it’s only really Patricia Lockwood who can do it with any degree of skill and consistency – this, though, is a very good article which does a particularly good job of describing a peculiarity of post-online life, specifically the degree to which we are ‘seen’ by the web and its agents, and how that sense of being surveilled is both reassuring and comforting and terrifying and intrusive and horrible and the most comforting thing, sometimes, you have ever experienced. There’s a skittering sort of ADD-immediacy to the prose here which I very much enjoyed, like it was very much being written ‘live’ (if you know what I mean).
  • The Golden Bough: Finally this week, a gorgeous short story from Granta 30 years ago, by one Salman Rushdie. This is beautifully-crafted and, technically, the best thing I read all week by quite a long way.

By  Timothy Lai Hui Ming