I had a genuinely unsettling experience last night; I was at some sort of PR event thing (it’s organised by a friend of mine, attendance was an act of solidarity rather than an endorsement of an industry I fundamentally despise, honest guv) and it turned out that an unsettling number of people in attendance had at one point or another worked with me at various points in my unsuccessful and peripatetic joke of a ‘career’, and so I ended up standing there while various people I know to varying degrees exchanged ‘amusing’ anecdotes about my professional (mis)demeanour(s) while I stood there feeling not unlike Hugh Grant in that bit in Four Weddings when he gets seated at a wedding table with all his ex girlfriends.
Anyway, hi to anyone I saw yesterday and, also, fcuk you.
I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and one day (ONE DAY) people will stop going on about that fcuking email I sent that time.
THE SECTION WHICH WONDERS WHAT SORT OF SOCIOPATH YOU HAVE TO BE IN ORDER TO SCALE THE DIZZY HEIGHTS OF THE SUN’S SHOWBIZ HIERARCHY, PT.1:
- Viola The Bird: We start this week with something…nice! Someone got in touch last week to gently chide me for kicking off the previous edition of Curios with a link that was basically a small glimpse into the future of AI-enabled killer war machines (SORRY MARTHA), and as such this week we open with a link that, honestly, you’d have to be a cold, dead, unfeeling husk not to be charmed by – ARE YOU HAPPY NOW?! Ahem. Viola The Bird is the latest digital toy thing by Google, which uses machine learning to help you play the role of a preturnaturally-talented avian cellist, playing along to a selection of big ticket classical numbers like Holst’s ‘Planet’s or ‘Ode To Joy’ – I presume that the ‘machine learning’ element of this is whatever code exists under the hood to ensure that your spastic scrapings translate into something halfway-melodic, because it’s pretty hard to create anything too cacophonous – instead, enjoy the soothing rhythm you fall into as you use your mouse (other input devices are available) to draw the bow back and forth across the strings in vague time with the prompts as beautiful, feathery and magnicficently-purple Viola makes sweet, sweet music from your machine. This is lovely, and, honestly, if you’ve had a trying week I’d probably just stop here because it only gets worse from this point onwards.
- AI TV: Well this is interesting. You will, of course, recall that a few months back I featured a link to an academic paper which detailed a Stardew Valley-style AI simulation in which individual AI ‘characters’ existed and interacted in a game space to create emergent narratives and a weird sort of computer-generated soap opera – you…you do remember, right? Well this is different, but similar (ish). Imagine a near future in which you can create TV shows other dramatic formats with AI – you have a cast of characters, you throw in a scenario, and *poof!* – a wild script appears! It’s obviously intensely scifi and barely-probable-sounding, but, equally, according to this series of Tweets, it’s also not a totally implausible concept. This is a thread by a company which calls itself The Simulation and which is claiming to be in the process of developing an AI-enabled narrative sandbox which does exactly that – the thread shares a bunch of (what they claim are) AI-generated episodes of South Park, where by The Machine has been trained on a bunch of scripts and the art style, and can now (apparently) spit out whole episodes with dialogue and animation and a vague ‘narrative arc’ and…ok, look, this is obviously dogsh1t in terms of the script (there are no jokes, for one – insert your own gag about its fidelity to the South Park model here, should you wish, but know that I am judging you for your lazy humour) and the voices (also all AI-generated) but, again, I think if all you see here is a poorly-written and poorly-acted script that reads as though it was written by someone who has heard of the concept of ‘humour’ but never actually laughed out loud in their life then you are perhaps missing the point. This, to once again tap the sign, IS THE WORST THIS TECH IS EVER GOING TO BE. Except, to make everything more confusing, there are slight hints that this isn’t quite what it seems – the company behind the animations and the tech is called ‘The Simulation’, and it lists its address as ‘Baudrillard Drive, San Francisco’ (BAUDRILLARD, HYPERREALITY, DO YOU SEE?!?!), which, based on my cursory research, doesn’t actually exist. Basically I have no real idea what’s going on here or what is real and what is fake (welcome to our collectively-uncertain future!), but I do know that those of you still holding on to the belief that human creativity is somehow a magical and unique quality that can never be replicated by machine are in for a series of rude awakenings in the coming few years. Fine, YOU don’t want to watch AI-generated South Park – but I bet there are enough people who will happily consume the machine dreck to make this an economically-attractive model for the content providers to aggressively pursue.
- Stable Doodle: This flashed me RIGHT BACK a couple of years, to…2018-ish, when OpenAI’s very first DallE toys started appearing and we first got the opportunity to hamfistedly sketch an outline and have The Machine turn it into a horrible, blocky, muddy approximation of a landscape. GOOD TIMES! 5 or so years later, here’s a new version of the same schtick, powered by Stable Diffusion and which is significantly more powerful and significantly less ugly in its outputs – sketch an outline, add a prompt and watch, amazed, as your imagined creation comes to life! This is really impressive and pretty fun, and for those of you who either have a Wacom (other stylus interfaces are available) or who are better than I am at drawing with your mouse, it’s actually a pretty useful tool for creating mockups and quick visualisations (and, as I have just discovered, it is GREAT for creating really, really grotesque faces).
- Dream Generator: Another in the occasional series of ‘links to really, really impressive devices hacked together with AI to create something genuinely fun, and which I am including here because I desperately want one of you who reads this and who is SUCCESSFUL and WELL=RESPECTED and INFLUENTIAL (lol who am I kidding, you are all just webmongs like me) to sell this sort of thing to a brand because, honestly, HOW ACE IS IT?’ – the Dream Generator is a proof-of-concept device which has been cobbled together from…a bunch of different bits of kit (the fact that the person behind it, one Kyle Goodrich, works for Snap suggests that they might have access to *slightly* better tech than you or I), and which is effectively a camera with an inbuilt AI filter, which lets the photographer apply a bunch of different AI effects to any image they shoot using a lovely little analogue selection wheel. This is SO NICE – frivolous and silly, obvs, but (in the same vein as the AI photobooth or the AI astrology machine) it’s also just delightful and playful and FUN, and basically I remain convinced that the first brand to make something interesting and playful and REAL WORLD using this sort of tech will absolutely clean up from a PR point of view. Which, I know, is an awful sentence to type, but sometimes I can’t help myself. BONUS ADDITIONAL COOL LITTLE HACKED-TOGETHER AI STUFF: this is another wonderfully-imaginative use of image-analysis and generative text tech – a projector which generates a new, short kids’ story and accompanying visual slides each time you turn it on, and which (despite the fact that the stories are, based on this video, somewhat on the simple side) hints at the possibility of some genuinely amazing toys and games. ADDITIONAL BONUS HACKED-TOGETHER AI THING!: this person put a GPT-enabled text-to-voice version of themselves inside a Big Mouth Billy Bass, which, honestly, is possibly the best elevator pitch for a Black Mirror episode I have heard in years.
- Tommy Parallel: It increasingly feels like the entire metaverse/web3.0/NFT (yes, I know that these are all separate things, but, equally, they all sit in the same mental filing cabinet in my head, the one labelled ‘snake oil and lies’) house of cards is being held together solely by the luxury and fashion industries, who, despite the fact that the whole schtick appears to have been revealed as one of the more frothy bubbles of recent years, seem happy to continue chucking significant sums of money at VIRTUAL WORLDS and DIGITAL CAPSULE COLLECTIONS and ON-CHAIN TRANSFERABLE BIT-BASED CLOTHING SOLUTIONS, which suggests that some people somewhere are still forking out actual fiat cashmoney for this rubbish. WHO ARE YOU, MYSTERIOUS PURCHASERS OF DIGITAL OUTFITS FOR AVATARS THAT WILL NEVER BE USED? Anyway, that’s by way of poorly-written and overwrought (nothing if not self-aware over here) preamble to this latest metaversal aberration, this time commissioned by Tommy Hilfiger and purporting to be…what, exactly? You can buy digital outfits, obvs, which you can then take into a variety of uninhabited virtual worlds whose names you’ve never heard of (Hiberworld, anyone? No, thought not. Although in fairness this stuff does work with VRChat so that you can wear your Tommy drip next time you’re hanging out with all the racist echidnas), you can take your avatar running around a largely-featureless 3d cityscape, entirely uninhabited and with nothing to do…WHO IS PAYING FOR THIS? WHO LOOKS AT THIS AND THINKS ‘YES, THIS IS AN EXCELLENT USE OF BUDGET AND TIME? And, perhaps most puzzlingly of all, who agreed to sign off on this without bothering to check that the English was at least correct? I don’t know about you, but “Show of your style in every world and bridge your online and offline identity” [sic] doesn’t scream ‘premium product’ and HIGH-END LUXE to me. In the vanishingly-unlikely event that anyone reading this has any insight into how and why this exists, please can you tell me?
- The Return of r/Place: In what is being taken by the Reddit community as a naked bit of PR flummery following some…testing times for the platform, Reddit’s open, collaborative pixelart canvas, Place, has returned for its third iteration, a mere year or so after its last appearance. Obviously this doesn’t quite have the whole ‘shiny and new’ thing going for it anymore, but I still find the general premise and air of collaboration between strangers immensely-pleasing. You can see the canvas-in-progress by clicking the link, and the subReddit has a nice timelapse of the first 24h of the project – it will be fascinating to see where this ends up over the course of the next few days, and the extent to which the politics around the site and the overall issues of API access, moderation, and community vs corporation play out in the eventual artwork (there are…quite a lot of angry messages directed towards the site’s hierarchy dominating the canvas at the time of writing).
- Human Shader: Orthogonally-related to Place, this is a really interesting (and hugely geeky) little project which has seen a bunch of people working together to solve a bunch of equations, each of which when solved gives an RGB value for a specific pixel within an image, which eventually resolves into an image when all the colour codes have been worked out. Yes, I know, but click the link and I promise you that this will make significantly more sense. This is WONDERFUL, incredibly, incredibly nerdy, and the sort of thing that will briefly give you faith in the wonderful things that people can achieve when working in collaborative concert (now if only we could apply this sort of effort to stuff that matters!).
- LLaMa2: Would you like to play around with Meta’s new open source LLM? No, you probably don’t care, do you, what with us now being all jaded about the magic of ‘chatting with The Machine’ – still, it’s here, and if you’d like to test it out you can do so courtesy of this version being run on Perplexity. YOU’RE WELCOME!
- Love Will Save The Day FM: Love WilL Save The Day is a music newsletter compiled by Friend Of Curios Jed Hallam – over the past few years its grown into a proper community of music lovers, and tomorrow there is an ACTUAL RADIO STATION launching, created and curated by the people brought together by Jed’s crate digging and curation. It’s not live yet, but you can sign up to get notified when it kicks off – this is SUCH a nice thing, and a wonderful example of how the web really can bring people together to make lovely stuff (he says, in uncharacteristically-Pollyannaish fashion).
- Expo 58: Journey back in time by 55 years and visit a digital recreation of the 1958 Expo which, it transpires, was the first big international exhibition-type event after WWII and brought together nations and international institutions to present their vision for a utopian future born from the ashes of conflict. This site lets you take a tour in glorious 3d-modeled CG through the various pavilions of the original Brussels site, accompanied by slightly-less-glorious descriptions delivered by robotic-sounding avatars that are reminiscent of the character models of world leaders from the earliest versions of Sid Meier’s Civilisation series. I really like this – it’s fun, interesting, nicely-presented, and as far as I can tell it’s been put together as part of someone’s Phd research which, frankly, feels like an insane degree of effort and the sort of thing for which one ought really to just be given a doctorate. Kudos to Dr. Anastasia Remes, whose work this apparently is.
- Storehouse A: I LOVE THIS! It’s a few years old now, I think, and, if I’m nitpicking, it’s a bit shonky in terms of some of the functionality and interface, but the general idea – a gallery-style space which you, the user, explore in the now-legendary style of an ASCII roguelike and through whose corridors you traipse, interacting with the various exhibits and reading poetry and generally just taking in the intensely-web1.0 vibes of the whole thing…as its creator explains, it’s “A text and typography–based virtual exhibition showcasing interactive visual poetry inspired by the lexicon of NetHack” and, honestly, it’s so much nicer than something rendered in poor-quality, low-poly metaversal 3d. There’s a lesson here somewhere.
- Project E-Ink: On the one hand, times are tough and money is tight and I don’t for a second imagine that anyone reading this has a spare £2,800 to drop on a piece of digital wall tech which exists solely to present newspaper frontpages on a gorgeous, hi-res e-ink display – on the other, I genuinely like this and find the idea of having a rolling selection of frontpages displayed in my kitchen properly appealing. So, er, if anyone who’s ever thought ‘wow, I do love Web Curios, I wish there was some way in which I could show Matt my appreciation’ is reading this, here’s a way! I mean, come on, it’s only fair.
- Get Well Soon: Well this is quietly devastating. Get Well Soon is an online artwork by Sam Lavigne and Tayla Brain which simply and powerfully collects messages of support scraped from crowdfunding website GoFundMe – specifically, messages left on fundraising campaigns seeking to raise money for medical treatment. “The comments posted on gofundme.com’s medical fundraisers form a revealing archive. These messages express care, well wishes, sympathy and generosity in the face of personal adversity and systemic failure. This is an archive of mutual aid in response to a ruthless for-profit health system. It is an archive that should not exist.” Take a few minutes to read a selection of the messages – this really does kick you right in the gut, and rightly so.
- Chiptune Archive: Would you like a browsable archive of over 200,000 pieces of chiptune music ripped and scraped from all around the web and playable through a minimal music player? YES YOU WOULD! Obviously your enjoyment of this will largely depend on your appetite for music that sounds like it’s being generated from an NES operating right at the very edge of its capabilities, but presuming that that’s your thing – who doesn’t love the bloops and the burbles? NO FCUKER, etc! – then this will prove a hugely-enjoyable resource. As far as I can tell this is basically the chiptune MOTHERLODE.
- The Deep Dive: My occasional quest to direct my few remaining readers to other newsletters continues with The Deep Dive, a genuinely great publication which every week sends out a selection of links to super-in-depth YouTube documentaries about a range of different topics. The growth in longform, incredibly-specific documentary deep dives has been one of the more interesting elements of YouTube’s evolution as a platform, and there are some genuinely talented creators making some truly exhaustive enquiries into pop culture, history, music and the like – this is a great way of discovering more of them (although, to be clear, to get the most out of this you will also have to commit to watching about 6h of YouTube doc a week, which may not be compatible with things like ‘having kids’ or ‘having a life that doesn’t involve staring at screens for 80% of your waking existence’).
- Seal Rescue Ireland: The TikTok account of an Irish seal rescue charity. All of the joy of seals (SO CUTE! Basically like big wet dogs! LOOK AT THEIR FLIPPERS!) with none of the drawbacks (possibly a bit TOO big! Very damp! Smell of fish REALLY STRONGLY!) – this really is a balm for the soul.
- The Comedy Pet Photo Awards 2023: I don’t know whether it’s the simple fact that it’s been going for a few years now and that there’s a finite number of different ‘funny animal photos’ that it’s possible to capture, or whether the world is simply too fcuked at the moment for me to find solace in a picture of a tortoise messily eating a dandelion (am…am I dead inside? Maybe I am), but I don’t feel that this year’s selection of nominees and winners for the latest Comedy Animal Photo Awards are quite up to scratch – still, you may feel differently, and I will concede that the ‘dog in the weed’ shot is a really nice piece of photography.
THE SECTION WHICH WONDERS WHAT SORT OF SOCIOPATH YOU HAVE TO BE IN ORDER TO SCALE THE DIZZY HEIGHTS OF THE SUN’S SHOWBIZ HIERARCHY, PT.2:
- Printernet: This doesn’t feel like a new idea, but let’s not worry about that – let us instead glory in the wonderful marriage of analogue and digital that is embodied in Printernet, a service which lets you pull together a collection of ONLINE WORDS and have them printed out and delivered to you as an actual magazine – you can select up to five ‘content blocks’ which will be compiled, printed, bound and mailed to you at your request, all for $10. Which, fine, is possibly quite a lot of cash for what is effectively a printing service, but I very much like the ethos behind it and the idea of taking the online offline, and, honestly, I’m almost tempted to set up a ‘print on demand’ service for people to get old editions of Curios in magazine format (because, honestly, what could be more wonderfully, blissfully pointless than a newsletter full of links WHICH YOU CAN’T CLICK ON? Art, I tell you, art!). Via Daniel Benneworth-Gray’s newsletter, which is very good.
- Sweden Sans: Sweden has its own font! You may have been aware of this already, but I confess to being momentarily thrilled by this discovery – it sent me down a small, momentary rabbithole and made me wonder whether every nation on Earth has its own national typeface, and if so whether these are collected anywhere, and what they might all look like (Guatemala: pleasingly rounded; Tajikistan: aggressive serifs; that sort of thing), and whether or not we should, if these don’t already exist, host some sort of international typography design contest…also I’m intrigued as to the usage rights here, and whether there’s some sort of smallprint buried on the site somewhere which suggests that by using Sweden’s font you’re effectively granting ownership of whatever you write to the Swedish state…If anyone can shed any light on the whole ‘typefaces for countries’ thing, please do let me know.
- Is This How You Feel?: It does feel rather like all the Bad Climate Stuff is happening rather faster than we anticipated – I’ll be honest, I was expecting to have long since shuffled from this mortal coil by the time the whole ‘the earth is basically now just a red-hot fiery space marble’ thing kicked off, and yet here we are in July 2023 with everything looking quite a lot like this might be the beginning of the end (or, more accurately, the end of the beginning) – which makes this link particularly timely. This project is by one Joe Duggan, and is a few years old now – in Joe’s words, “From 2014 to 2015 I approached the world’s leading climate scientists and asked them to respond to one simple question: How does climate change make you feel? Their responses were truly moving. 5 years since the project launched – as Australia burns and floods simultaneously and meaningful global action on climate change appears to be painfully slow if not, totally non-existent, we are revisiting the original contributors and asking them the same question once more.’ITHYF 5′ is a collection of these letters.” The letters here collected, from scientists talking about how they feel about their work, and its meaning, and its possible impact, are heartbreaking – even more so when you realise that you’re looking back at statements written several years ago, and that in the intervening years we have, collectively, achieved what feels very much like the square root of fcuk all when it comes to ameliorating the climate mess.
- Texts From My Ex: This very much feels like A Bad Idea – still, that’s never stopped us before and is unlikely to do so now! Texts From My Ex is a service which will analyse any conversation thread you feed it (you can, if you’re feeling particularly security-agnostic, give it access to your WhatsApp account, or, more sensibly, you can just feed it the text) and determine the ‘health’ of the relationship embodied in the chat, with the basic premise that it can give you an assessment of how you and your significant other (wife, husband, colleague, gimp) communicate and relate to each other. This is a promo gimmick for a dating app, as far as I can tell, but the premise here feels like something that people might actually be interested in, given the current focus on analysing every single aspect of one’s relationships for ‘toxicity’ and ‘boundaries’ and oh god please can everyone stop talking like an airport self-help book it makes me want to die.
- The Graphic Design Archives: “The Graphic Design Archive (GDA) at Rochester Institute of Technology documents and preserves the work of significant American graphic designers active from the 1920s to the 1960s, as well as selected contemporary designers working in the modernist traditions. The GDA is a collection maintained within the Cary Graphic Arts Collection and supports all areas of design education at RIT as well as research by scholars from around the world. While many of the GDA collections represent the complete surviving work of a particular designer, some are smaller sample collections that document a portion of a designer’s career. The collections contain original source materials documenting the designers’ working lives, and include such unique items as original artwork, sketchbooks, sculptures, architectural models, reliefs, and printed samples (tear sheets, proofs and sample issues of publications). In addition, many of the archives includes photographs and slides, as well as audio tapes and film.” This is a SUPERB archive for anyone interested in the history and practice of design.
- Tiler: A fun little webapptoything built by Deepak Gulati and based on the Internet Archive’s record of an old catalogue of ceramic tiles, this lets you create a vast array of different tiled and tesselated patterns from the classic designs from the 1800s. If you’re interested you can read more about the project here, but otherwise it’s just a really enjoyable tool to fiddle with and make pleasingly-geometric patterns.
- Uranienborg: Roald Amundsen, as you all doubtless know, was a Norwegian arctic explorer and all-round action man who lived in the late-19th and early-20th century and is something of a Norwegian national hero – this website is all about the house he lived in, which is now a museum but which those of you unable to make the pilgrimage to scandiland can explore via the medium of this site, which lets you see a detailed 3d scan of the property and explore its various rooms and learn the stories behind Amundsen’s life – I appreciate that not everyone will derive intense satisfaction from the ability to explore a three-dimensional model of the toilet of a 19thC Norwegian house in which a renowned explorer once defecated, but for those few souls who have been waiting their whole life for such an opportunity then, well, YOU’RE WELCOME.
- The Perpetual Stew Club: This is, I appreciate, Very New York (specifically, Very Brooklyn), but I am charmed by the fact that this is happening (and also Annie Raewerda who’s responsible makes a bunch of internet stuff I really like and so I’m happy to pimp her projects). This is a small website alerting people who live in New York to the fact that Annie has been cooking the same pot of stew for (at the time of writing) 43 days now, and that if they want to try some they can come to one of her weekly stew evenings where she doles out the slop and people can bring their own ingredients to contribute to the forevermeal. The concept of ‘perpetual stew’ is not a new one, but there’s something very NOW about the idea of this sort of frugal, communal eating project (or, again, perhaps it’s just VERY NEW YORK) which I very much enjoy. This feels very much like the sort of thing Vittles might end up replicating in London (and I mean that in a nice, non-snarky way).
- Blackout: Digital toys that help you create blackout poems are not new per se, but reader Thom Wong sent me this variant on the theme which rather appealed to me; each time you visit the page you’re presented with one of nearly 10,000,000 excerpts from Project Gutenberg which you can then turn into your very own little pome by exposing a selection of words. Simple, but there’s something pleasing about the fact that each reload gives you the chance to create something utterly unique.
- Enigma: Cards on the table here – I do not understand this AT ALL and as such I can’t adequately assess whether it actually does what I think it’s meant to do or whether it’s just an elaborate and nicely-designed hoax. Still, those of you with a better understanding of cryptography might be able to enlighten me as to whether this is a Real Thing or not – this is (apparently) a working model of the Enigma machine, famously used by The Bad People in WWII to hide their nefarious communications from The Good People. This model seems to be a working digital representation of the encryption mechanism, showing you in detail how the cryptographic mechanism functioned – but, as stated, the lack of anything resembling an ELI5 narrative for idiots means that I’m left staring at the graphics on the page like an orangutan attempting to master binary. Maybe you’ll fare better. Still, it LOOKS nice.
- Dudel: A lovely little creative apptoy, this – every day the app gives you a different shape which you can use as an inspirational canvas on which to draw. This is based on the basic principle that we all see shapes and patterns in everything, much in the same way as we see shapes in clouds, and can function either as a soothing quotidian creative exercise OR as some sort of long-running Rorschach test whereby you can undertake an ongoing assessment of your own mental health (if you find yourself turning the shapes into corpses three days in a row, seek help!).
- Reflect: Many years ago I briefly became obsessed with Evernote- which, you may have heard, is going through something of a time right now – until I realised that, actually, I don’t actually care that much about ordering and sorting the vast piles of crap in my head after all. Still, if you are someone who wishes that they had all of their memories, their thoughts, the weird little lists that they make on the back of receipts, their dreams and their brainfarts all linked and annotated and interconnected then you may find that Reflect is the perfect solution for you – as is the law in mid-2023, it obviously has an AI LAYER (fcuk knows why, if I’m honest, but I think there’s a vague ‘turn your scattered thoughts into coherent prose via the magic of GPT’ thing built in here), but the main sell here is the annotated infodump and the whole ‘extension of your brain’ thing – it’s priced at $10 a month, which you may or may not think is worth paying for what’s basically just a fancy digital filing cabinet for your extended brain.
- World of Playing Cards: Have you ever lain awake at night dreaming feverishly of a future in which you can have every single piece of information about the historty of playing cards at your fingertips? REJOICE FOR THAT FUTURE IS HERE! World of Playing Cards is a pleasingly-old-school site which has obviously been aroujnd for a while and which seemingly exists for no other purpose than to afford the curious and the obsessive an opportunity to glory in the wonderful ludic history of suits and face cards and jokers and the like. This is, honestly, GREAT – the section of ‘playing cards from around the world’ is a partciular highlight – although I confess to being a bit disappointed that there doesn’t appear to be a section dedicated to the ‘exotic’ playing cards which every 1980s schoolchild purchased on trips to The Continent (if you claim otherwise, know that I know you are lying).
- Rail Cow Girl: In a week strangely replete with Norwegian links, this is the YouTube channel of a train driver who films her beautiful, relaxing, picturesque journeys across Norway, though snowfields and past fjords, encompassing some stunning scenery. This is basically the pinnacle of ‘slow TV (or at least I presume it is – these videos are LONG, and as a result I’ve only seen bits of them and so can’t totally guarantee that it doesn’t all get a bit ‘Aliens’ around the three-hour mark).
- You Are Atlas: I always say this, but I am SUCH a sucker for sites that track the number of people currently visiting them and which alter their content accordingly in reaction – You Are Atlas is very silly and totally pointless (just how we like it) – it tells you how many people are currently on the site, and tells you that if noone is there the sky will fall (the site’s visitors are Atlas, holding up the sky – DO YOU SEE?). To date, the sky has fallen 352 times – keep this webpage open forever and ensure that it NEVER FALLS AGAIN.
- James Yawn’s Rockets: A wonderful example of monomaniacal online weirdness, this – James Yawn has been maintaining this website for YEARS, on which he documents his enthusiasm for, and adventures in, home-made rocketry. James apparently specialises in making propellant from sugar, which sounds, frankly, insane and like the sort of thing that were you to attempt it in London might get you in not insignificant trouble with The Authorities, but which you can probably get away with if you like in, say, North Dakota and your nearest neighbour is approximately 60 miles to the West. Anway, if you’d like to experiment with blowing things up – and, quite possibly, yourself, and your neighbours – then you will ADORE this. NB – Web Curios accepts no responsibility for injury or criminal charges resulting from your use of this website, or indeed for any lists that you might end up finding yourself on as a result of manufacturing 300 kilos of sucrose-based rocket propellant in your kitchen.
- Fudge: Tetris, but backwards! Yes, I know that that makes no sense whatsoever but I promise that as soon as you start playing it will all fall into place (lol).
- Snip It: This is a fun little game, knocked up as part of an AI games jam – explore inside different classic paintings, clipping away elements to see what lies within, and behind, the different canvases. This is imaginative and really nicely made, considering it was hacked together in a couple of days, and it’s a good example of some of the ways in which generative AI can be used to accelerate the development of things like this (and, creatively, how the idea of ‘imagining outside the frame’ can be used for ludic purposes). BONUS AI ART GAME: this is a version of 2048 which uses AI-generated image assets; derivative, but, again, a nice example of how this makes reasonable-quality in-game artwork available to all (mobile only, FYI).
- All of the Flash Games: Look, this is a truly incredible resource and it contains basically every Flash game ever made, and if you spent any time on Newgrounds or similar in the early-00s then this is basically like time travel. You will get NOTHING ELSE done today if you click on this link – but, look, your job’s pointless and we’re all dying, so who the fcuk cares, eh? BONUS FLASH ARCHIVE: more games here!
- Big Ben: Finally this week, Matt Round has created something genuinely brilliant – a word game which thanks to its ingenious construction presents you with an entirely different puzzle depending on the exact time, to the second, that you land on the site. This is so, so smart – the almost-infinite replayability, the simple game mechanics, the nice touches like the day/night cycle in the background…honestly, Matt is SO GOOD at these things, and I am always slightly baffled that he’s not permanently assailed by agencycunts like you (and, ok, like me) begging him to make cool things for their dreadful clients (to be clear, I have no idea whether Matt would actually take these commissions – so, er, sorry Matt if you are now inundated with requests for stuff that you would rather eat your own face than build). This is GREAT, and incredibly addictive.
THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!
- 1 Million Cakes: I can’t in fact confirm or deny whether there are indeed a million cakes here, but there are certainly LOTS.
THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!
- Manuel Alvares Diestro: Via the excellent Things Magazine comes the Insta feed of photographer Manuel Alvares Diestro, whose imagery focuses (mostly) on high-rise and urban architecture in incongruous locations. You may not think that sounds like your sort of thing, but you are wrong.
- Toon Joosen: Cut-out, collage-y art with a strong focus on the interplay between image and text, this is excellent work.
- Gregory Climer: Gregory Climer makes textile-based art which features imagery drawn from gay porn; I never thought that I would want a quilt embroidered with a low-res pixellated image of a leather daddy, and yet, well, now I find that that is EXACTLY what I want.
LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!
- Starmer: A typically-superb bit of writing and analysis in the London Review of Books which looks at the current incarnation of the Labour Party under Keir (KEITH LOL!) Starmer, and, with every indication being that that Tories are heading for an historic kicking in 2024 (please god, let the kicking be terminal), what the UK might expect from Labour Government. Whilst I’m possibly less-certain than author James Butler that Labour are quite as much of a shoo-in as he seems to think (never underestimate the capacity of ‘the left – inverted commas because, well, ‘left’ doesn’t really feel like the right designation for this lot – to fcuk themselves spectacularly on the home straight!), I otherwise found myself nodding along throughout this article, which offers a reasonably-dispassionate assessment of Starmer’s authoritarian and very-much-centrist-at-best leanings and why that perhaps doesn’t bode hugely well, either for the country or for the party’s prospects of securing more than one term. As Butler points out, “The point isn’t just that those around Starmer are more cautious and less ambitious than they make themselves out to be, but that their supposedly revisionist energy calcifies all too easily into dogmatic assertion and a dreary repetition of past approaches. Promising to stick to Conservative spending plans for two years – a carbon copy of Blair and Brown’s commitment in 1997 – is an example of this. Blair inherited the best economic situation a Labour government had ever seen; a Starmer government will inherit a smoking ruin. Cloning New Labour’s policies is not a route to replicating Blair’s deft reading of his political moment.”
- Green Extractivism: An excellent essay by Leandro Vergara-Camus, contributing to the growing corpus of literature I’ve read this year that gently points out that just ‘going green’ perhaps isn’t the absolute end to questions around sustainability. This is really, really interesting, and not a little sobering, around questions of resource extraction and what exactly we mean when we talk about ‘green’ initiatives, and the extent to which it’s even a meaningful label whan what we really mean is not so much ‘environmentally friendly’ as ‘environmentally unfriendly in a different way to that which our current setup is’, and how we might want to start thinking about global economic justice and redistribution in ways that are fairer and more equitable to those nations which currently hold the keys to our current vision of a ‘green’ future.This is published as part of the Land and Climate Review, which contains a lot of smart writing about related issues and is generally worth a read should you be interested in this sort of thing (or if you just want to feel really, really miserable about the future).
- The World China Is Building: An interesting-if-flawed article in Noema, looking at the extent to which much of the future extractive economy referenced in the above piece is owned by China, and how in fact many of the countries in the second world are, increasingly, also effectively owned by China, and what that means in terms of East/West relations and the future of imperialism in the 21st Century. This is FASCINATING stuff, but there are a few things that gave me pause – for a start, I could have done without the (not particularly successful, to my mind) authorial digression at the start of the piece into what one can learn about a nation’s character from its poetic styles; also, I checked with my friend Alex who knows about China and who lived there and he was…somewhat sceptical about some of the claims made in the piece, based on stories such as this one and this one which give some idea of quite how fcuked the Chinese economy currently is, which rather gives lie to the broad ‘THE NEXT EMPIRE’ vibe which suffuses the piece. Still, a decade or so on from the peak of the ‘Belt & Road Initiative’, it’s interesting to see how far and wide China’s influence – and, depending on your perspective, control – now extends.
- Frivolous Mental Health: Freddie De Boer writes a slightly-ranty screed, which I found myself nodding along with wholeheartedly throughout, about the weird ways in which Western society characterises mental health and the commodification of both the broad concept of mental illness and the vocabulary that exists around it by social media, and the simultaneous consecration of mental illness as INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT and NO BIG DEAL and and and. Honestly, I firmly believe that the past ten years or so of ‘mental health discourse’ will at some point in the future be understood to have had an actively-deleterious impact on our ability to talk seriously and meaningfully about the insides of our heads and what they feel like.
- Working With AI: A rare Benedict Evans link now – I sort-of assume that Evans is widely-read enough that if you want to read him you already do, but will make an exception for this piece as it’s a really good bit of thinking and writing about The Coming AI Jobs Apocalypse. This is significantly more optimistic about AI and the world of white collar work than I am – but Benedict Evans is smarter than I am, so I would probably be inclined to listen to him rather than me. His overall thesis is that there is no practical reason why this latest wave of automation should have a greater or lesser impact on the way in which we work and global employment levels than previous waves of automation (cf the printing press, the textile mill, etc), and he lays out his arguments persuasively – I would say, though, that I have two main objections to the thinking laid out here, to whit: 1) AI automation is categorically different to other previous forms of automation insofar as it grants the potential to eliminate whole swathes of professions, including the ones invented to replace the initial disappeared jobs – the comparison often used is ‘well, photography didn’t kill painting’, but in this case you’re eliminating not just the process of painting *but the need for a person at all*, which feels to me to be categorically different on a fundamental level; and 2) I think Evans, and a lot of the more utopian (or less-dystopian) commentators on this stuff severely underestimate quite how many people’s jobs involve producing pointless stuff that noone cares about and which doesn’t matter, and quite how easy it will be to give those tasks to The Machine because, well, NOONE CARES and IT DOESN’T MATTER.
- AI is an Existential Threat: This piece offers an interesting bit of analysis on what the author perceives to be the *real* threat of AI – not the apocalypse, not the job losses, but instead the fact that, if it progresses as it currently looks as though it might, it may well render us even more intellectually lazy and bovine than we already are. I know this sounds like doomer hyperbole, but think about it for a second – if you now have the ability to, say, create an AI-generated summary of a complex, three-hour Parliamentary debate without reading it, or if you can spin up an article from bulletpoints someone else has given you in a matter of moments…when, exactly, is your thinking happening?
- Interaction Design: Oh this is so so so good. Rauno Freiberg has written this wonderful, chatty, discursive guide to interaction design, talking you through what it is, why it’s important, what makes certain design ‘good’ or ‘bad’…honestly, as someone who (as I think I may have mentioned one or two times before) has all the visual acuity and elan of Helen Keller, stuff like this is like watching Penn and Teller explain magic tricks. Honestly, this really is wonderful and I found myself learning without quite realising it.
- The Decline of Lemon8: Are any of you still using Threads, then? I logged in briefly to check on it yesterday for a thing I was writing and MY GOD is it horrible (also, Instagram people – what is WRONG with them? They’re like a different species, specifically a really dreadful one) – all BRAND BANTER and horrid, vapid engagement-bait (and Gordon Ramsey, which for reasons I can’t adequately understand upset me most of all), and I can’t personally understand what the point of it is and why anyone would choose to use it. Given the news that engagement stats on the platform have fallen off a cliff after the first week of use, it may not end up being the runaway success that Meta hopes – this piece looks at TikTok’s recent Insta-like, called Lemon8, which those of you who bother keeping up with these things will recall launched in February to a LOT of buzz and a high app store ranking, but which now, a mere five months later, appears to be something of a graveyard populated solely by brands and with no real people to make it interesting. It’s described by one quoted commenter as ‘too crafted and curated to the point of blandness’ which in itself feels like a warning to Threads. Anyone remember Google+, another service which used cross-promotion with an existing massive digital platform to lure a massive initial userbase before slowly dying a painful death because at no point did anyone actually need or want it? Well, exactly.
- Portugal and Drugs: The Washington Post looks at Portugal’s drugs laws, over two decades from the country’s decision to decriminalise consumption of all drugs for personal use, including the purchase and possession of 10-day supplies, and how they have impacted society – the sad news, at least for those of you who like me have long been advocates for this sort of approach, is that it doesn’t appear to have been a total success, with visible drug addiction increasingly seen as a national blight and an increasingly fractious debate taking place about the extent to which it can be considered a ‘right’ to choose to spend one’s time blissed off one’s tits on skag while the state looks after you. The main thing I took away from the piece, on reflection, was that once again this seems to boil down to a question of money and funding, and this could be read as much as a failure of government to adequately follow-through to mitigate the inevitable consequences of their policy as it could be a failure of the policy itself.
- The Bronze Age Pervert: ANOTHER piece touching on the ‘crisis in modern masculinity’, although at least this has the benefit of not being written by Caitlin Moran. This starts interesting but then, to my mind at least, spends far too much time attempting to analyse the undergrad-fash ‘philosophy’ behind the persona of The Bronze Age Pervert, a Romanian guy who studied in the US and who realised a few years ago that you can make decent wedge from presenting wafer-thin ‘thinking’ dressed up in macho garms. If nothing else, this is very much worth reading for the insight it will give you into why all the ‘greek statue avatar’ social media accounts are actually fash, as well as the way it contributes to my broad ‘everything going wrong with the world right now, and in fact over the past decade or so, can be attributed to the aggressive intellectual astroturfing of a generation carried out by a small cadre of very, very rich right-wing American men seeking to reinforce their position of socioeconomic dominance by the propagation of ‘traditional’ values’ thesis.
- Liberland: Apologies for the Unherd link, but this is worth a read if, like me, you are endlessly-fascinated by the micronational aspirations of the libertarian/web3/crypto class. Liberland, you may recall, is a not-really-extant micronation which putatively exists on a small strip of contested land between Croatia and Serbia, and which is described by its president Vit Jedlička, as “a nation of 700,000 people, with embassies in 80 nations,and relations with countries like Haiti, Somaliland, and Malawi.” In reality it’s basically a bunch of cryptob0llocks and will never come to anything, but I do enjoy these sorts of takedowns of mad projects like this – also, as an aside, if even an outlet like Unherd which is significantly more ‘libertarian-friendly’ than most looks at your project and goes ‘nah mate, this is mental’, then perhaps you have a problem.
- NPCs: You can’t move this week for broadsheet explainers on the NPC streamer trend on TikTok – you can read one here, if you like, or here – but I thought this take, by Rene over at Good Internet, was worth sharing; he rightly points out that this isn’t really new at all, and is just an extension of the odd relationship between online viewer and online creator/performer that has existed since the early days of the web, and that there is in fact limited difference between people doing this sort of thing (gaming the algo, giving the people what they want for money, etc) and, say, MrBeast, who is effectively as much a slave to The Machine as these kids tic-ing and sibillating into the mic for 7 hours a pop. At the end of the day we’re all going to end up effectively w4nking for pennies on the internet (metaphorically or otherwise) – these people have just got there slightly quicker than most of us.
- 50 Rappers, 50 Stories: This was only published overnight I think, so I haven’t had a chance to read all of the vignettes in this New York Times piece, but the ones I have read (Phonte, Violent J, 50 Cent) have been GREAT – each of these short pieces gives an insight into an artist’s career journey and their relationship to the wider industry, and I can honestly say that Violent J’s story in particular made me go all emo for a second. There’s a wonderful range of featured artists here and there will be at least one who you’re a fan of, promise.
- How Search Began: Oh this is SO INTERESTING – this piece looks back at Syracuse University library in 1970, where the first ever terminal-based textual search engine was invented; and yes, I know that that doesn’t necessarily scream MUST-READ ARTICLE, but trust me when I tell you that this is fascinating. Aside from anything else, it’s astonishing that we are currently using technology and systemic architecture that is, at heart, basically the same as it was 53 years ago – it’s slightly amazing that the coming era of AI-enabled natural language search will be the first major update to the way we interrogate digital texts in half a century.
- Scotti’s: A love letter to a Farringdon sandwich bar by Isaac Rangaswami for Vittles – if you know London you will be able to immediately picture Scotti’s from the descriptions, even if you’ve never visited, and the pen pictures of the staff and the regulars and the food and the chats are just perfect. If you don’t want a slightly-greasy chicken escalope sandwich by the end of this then there’s probably something wrong with you.
- The Climate Hoax: This is a super-interesting story which I am slightly surprised didn’t get more traction – then again, Novara’s something of a niche site and oxygen of indie journalism has rather been sucked up by the Byline Times’ Wootton exposé. Ash Sarkar writes about being approached about a story purporting to be about leaked Government documents…which in fact turned out to be a complete fake, orchestrated by a middle-aged advermarketingprcunt to attempt to raise awareness of the climate crisis. This really is fascinating – partly because, on one level at least, it’s a really impressive bit of PR (the whole ‘leaving things in the back of cabs’ is a legitimately brilliant tactic), but on the other it’s incredibly irresponsible and, you could reasonably argue, works to undermine more legitimate communications efforts on the issue. Whatever your perspective, my main takeaway is that there is literally NOTHING ON EARTH that middle-aged men working in communications can’t look at and think ‘you know what? I could fix that; I could do that BETTER’ (and, er, I know whereof I speak).
- Super Meko Land: A tightly-written little scifi-ish short story by the mysteriously lowe-case merritt k – this is really very good, not least because it’s pleasingly pared-back.
- The Hole: This week’s final longread is not, in fact, that long – still, it’s a glorious little portrait of a relationship by Nicolaia Rips in the Paris Review, and I adored this line especially: “A ghost is like a pet or a child, and I’m not responsible enough to handle a poltergeist.”
AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:
- This track’s called ‘Pendulum’ and it’s by Spanish Love Songs, and while it’s derivative of about 30 different songs/bands that I can think of off the top of my head it’s the good sort of derivative, honest. Excellent slightly-grown-up pop/rock for sad people over the age of 30 (or at least that’s how my head has chosen to characterise it).