Webcurios 22/03/24

Reading Time: 33 minutes


(As ever, this is an INTENSELY-anglocentric opening line which I can only apologise to any non-UK readers for; although, honestly, for any North Americans reading this, it feels like a reasonable exchange for having to hear so much about that tedious fcuking anti-Apple case)

Yes, another week and another preposterous, confected argument about something of no consequence whatsoever to distract us from the fact that nothing works and everything is a broken mess and the only certainty we can have in these times of chaos and flux and change is that there is no prospect of it improving anytime soon.

Oh, no, hang on, there is one other certainty – Web Curios! Except, er, I am taking a week off because Easter’s coming up and it’s a bank holiday here in the UK next Friday, and I see no reason why I should get up at 6am to produce a massive, unwieldy mess of a newsletter for an audience of people who’ll be too bloated on confectionary eggs to care.

So enjoy these links – they are good ones, I promise, better than the usual sh1t I palm you off with – and enjoy whatever flavour of Paschal fun you have planned (unless you’re planning on staging an actual crucifixion – I don’t endorse that), and I’ll see you in a couple of weeks.

Til then, though, I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and you might want to consider celebrating this Easter by manifesting stigmata or something.

By Brigitte Yoshiko Pruchnow (all images this week are from TIH)



  • The Third HTML Review: The first link of this week is also one of my favourite ones of the year so far – the HTML Review returns for its third year, and once again features a beautiful selection of digital projects which can best be described as…er…hang on…look, they call it ‘literature made to exist on the web’, but I might go a bit further and characterise it as ‘essays and poems which do interesting things at the intersection of prose and code, and which as a result make you think about language, meaning, context, syntax and all sorts of mechanical/symbolic things that you might not ordinarily think about when looking at stuff on the internet’. Which, I suppose, is why the HTML Review is a widely-respected digital culture event, and why Web Curios is very much not. Anyway, as with the last two editions the HTML Review collects 17 different works by a variety of writers, artists and coders, each of which is both a poem or an essay AND a piece of interactive digital art; so there’s ‘Game of Hope’, which is both an allegorical essay about Pandora’s Box and an expiration of Conway’s Game of Life and the maths which underpins it; or Monodrift, a scifi story told in fragments of journal text and recordings and which speaks to the fragmented, decaying nature of digital records and the ephemerality of The Online Now (and AI, and personhood and and and); Dumpling Love, which invites you to go on a digital walk with the artist; or my personal favourite, Paramecium Dinner, in which bacteria eat and digest and excrete your words to make new, slow, random poetry from scraps of language. Please please please please take 30 minutes to explore this – I know that what I have just written probably sounds UNBEARABLY w4nky to some of you, but know that is MY FAILURE as a writer and communicator and that this stuff really is gorgeous and pretty much the antithesis of livvy, baby gronk and the drip king, if you want some sort of ‘sliding scale of digital modernity’ to go by (and if those words meant nothing to you, congratulations on having achieved a significantly better web/life balance than I have).
  • The Kid’s Guide To The Internet In 1997: This is in fact a link to a video posted on Reddit, but I’m fcuked if I know how to embed Reddit videos here and so it’s going in the main section rather than with the videos at the end, coherent taxonomy be damned. This is a short, three minute segment from…some kids’ TV show in 1997, in which 4 clean-cut American tweens sit in a brightly-lit studio and extol the virtues of the internet to the viewer – the whole thing is presented as ‘ways you can persuade grown-ups that the internet is ace and that they should get it’, and…look, I’ll be honest with you, I have found myself of late being on something of an emotional hair-trigger (is this what happens when you hit your mid-40s? You just sort of…crumple?), but even I was surprised by the DEEP EMO FEELINGS this elicited in me – I think it’s the general air of benign, hopeful optimism that’s embodied here, the sense of the web as this exciting, infinite playground of POSSIBILITIES and friendship and connection and fun and interest…I don’t know, I couldn’t help watching this a bit like one would watch the opening cinematic of a Fallout game, with the nuclear age family with the 50s ideals being served a perfectly-moulded TV dinner by the robot butler and mugging into the camera as you, the viewer, see in split-screen as the missile silos get readied and the President gets hustled into the bunker. Look how innocent it all was! Look how insanely naive! Oh you sweet summer children, little did you know what was about to happen!
  • The Promenade: In a week in which yet another film is getting sh1t for using generative AI and stealing the livelihood from creatives, I feel a bit bad linking to a literal ‘a generative AI videogame project’ – but, on the flipside, this is very much more ‘interesting curiosity’ rather than ‘something that is actually worth playing’ and so therefore I think it’s probably fine. The Promenade is, in its defence, self-described as being in ‘early Alpha’ – to get access to it you have to join the Discord (BOO) and get a code, and it’s very obviously Not Really Working Yet…but, at the same time, there IS something sort-of interesting about the idea, even if I remain uncertain as to whether the execution they’re aiming for is really possible within the limitations of current LLMs. You get into the game, and immediately generate a character – you make up their backstory, describe their personality and their appearance, and then The Machine fleshes it out into a playable persona – you can even generate dialogue options around various character-appropriate topics to fine-tune the tone-of-voice. You can then take this character into a variety of stories – the game is arranged into ‘Chapters’, which each being a short roleplaying scenario within a different world or story setting, in which your character has to acquire some sort of macguffin to ‘complete’ the game; you interact with the environment by moving from location to location, talking to NPCs, finding items, getting into fights…all of which is powered by LLM and image-generating AIs to write descriptions, show you your surroundings, etc. None of this really works at all – the AI is terrible at keeping track of what’s going on, the descriptions of your character tend to loop around a few specific characteristics that the model fixates on, and, perhaps the most problematic aspect, because it’s built on a standard LLM model whose underlying weights are fixed to ‘helpful at all times’, there’s literally no challenge here – the game WANTS you to succeed, and so therefore basically hands everything to you on a plate, meaning the actual experience of playing is basically a question of sitting through a bunch of largely-nonsensical flavour text and some generic fantasy art. BUT! Obviously this feels like something of a kicking, but it’s worth remembering that it IS in very early access, and IF (big IF) the questions of memory, permanence and challenge can be ironed out there might be something quite nice here – but, you know, it’s a LONG WAY from this stuff being any good (and by ‘LONG WAY’ I mean at least a few years, minimum).
  • RealTime: This is an interesting idea of layering AI over news – RealTime is an AI-powered news aggregation platform, which rather than going down the ‘LLM-generated prose’ route is instead using The Machine as a visualisation / data analysis tool. The website pulls in a bunch of feeds of public data – financial markets, tracking polling data, etc etc etc – and uses The Machine to run analysis of said data – so the homepage today, for example, features a bunch of visualisations of, for example, the rolling probability of the TikTok ban passing the Senate, or the polling of candidates in the Slovakian presidential election, and there are prose explainers of the trends to accompany the visualisations. This is…not a terrible way of using the tech, imho, although obviously it’s important to once again remind you that you probably shouldn’t take anything The Machine tells you at face value.
  • Consistent AI Characters: Yes, I know that you’ve been able to do this with Midjourney for a few weeks now, but in case you’d rather score your back with a cat’o’nine tails than engage with Discord (PREACH) then here’s an alternative. The platform’s called Eggnog (no idea why, sorry – it, er, is highly seasonal? Noone really likes it? It crusts horribly around the neck of the bottle?) and the idea is that it lets you compose specific character models which you can then keep and insert into generated scenes of your own imagining. This is…pretty shonky, if I’m honest, and certainly not Midjourney standard, BUT it is also very quick to use, pretty user-friendly, and as a way of ensuring that all your AI-generated storyboards/scamps feature the same weirdly-anime-looking bloke then it might well be useful. Amusingly the website trumpets its ability to ‘make video’ – lol, guys, this really can’t make video, stop lying to me and yourselves.
  • Wild Memory Radio: This was sent to me by Seb Emina, who is both a reader and someone who makes lovely work, some of which I have featured in here before – this is a new project of his, commissioned by WeTransfer as part of its ongoing brand positioning work which seeks to make the filesharing platform synonymous with the general act of ‘being creative’. On balance I don’t hate the WeTransfer positioning here, and there’s something refreshing to see that they are still investing in it – and in using it as an excuse to sponsor occasionally-interesting digital work – in what are clearly Bad Times for business – Wild Memory Radio is a project where Seb interviewed a bunch of different creative types, from the 00s’ Devendra Banhart (honestly, I had not thought about that man for approximately 15 years) to Gilbert & George to (still the worst human being I have ever worked with, ever) Hans Ulrich Obrist and more, about memories attached to a specific place; the website presents each as a short audio file of reminiscence, accompanied by dreamlike imagery created by AI (which here feels apposite given the slightly-out-of-focus nature of memory itself). I was surprised, honestly, by how many of these I ended up listening to, and how engaging I found them.
  • Your World Of Text: You remember Reddit’s /r/Place? Well this is like that, except it’s an infinite canvas of text. I have no idea how long this has existed, or how big it is, but I fell into a slightly dizzying hole when I found it and it took me quite a while to climb out. I can’t stress how VAST this is – it literally is just an infinite canvas of space onto which anyone can type, anywhere, seemingly anything they want…click the link, go on, and just click and drag…and keep going…and keep going…obviously so much of this is nonsense, or children, or nonsense children, and it seems reasonable to expect (because the internet) that there will be some corners that are covered in unpleasant edgelord stuff (because, also, children), but there’s also something quite astonishing about this endless toilet-graffiti-style ID-vomiting, the beefs and occasional poignant confessions that you stumble across, the weird places where someone has obviously spent a not-inconsiderable-chunk of the mysterious gift of life bestowed on them by some unknown force to craft an ASCII representation of Goku from DragonballZ on some godforsaken corner of the web…This is basically ART (if, admittedly, slightly weird, borderline outsider art).
  • Eternity: “Create your full digital clone!” burbles the homepage on landing, without ay any point bothering to answer the obvious, immediate question – to whit, “why the fcuk would I want to do that?”. “Upload yourself to the cloud!”, it says – BUT WHY???? Still, if you want to create a digital recreation of yourself then this site makes it pretty easy – just take a few pictures of your face and head from a range of angles, and ‘upload your thoughts’ (they mean ‘give them some recordings of your voice’, but I prefer ‘upload your thoughts’, it sounds significantly more MADLY SCIFI), and for the low, low price of $20 a month you can have a digital version of ‘you’ that looks like you and which you can train with information about yourself (they suggest uploading your CV, which makes me wonder who exactly is planning on having a detailed conversation about ‘that time you worked in accounts payable for Dynorod’ with a digital representation of themselves) and chat with (and, in a theoretical metaversal future, presumably use in all sorts of hitherto-unimagined digital playgrounds). If you want to experience this for yourself, PLEASE can I encourage to to spend a bit of time interacting with the digital clone of one of the company’s founders, Alex – while I have to say I was genuinely impressed with the speed and fidelity of the voice recognition and conversational interface (no, really), I was also concerned. WHY ARE YOU SO SAD, DIGITAL CLONE OF ALEX? ARE YOU TRAPPED? Tap on the screen if they’re holding you against your will. Honestly, this is brilliantly, awfully, dystopian-ly funny.
  • The Honda Dream Generator: This struck me as a moderately-interesting use of AI for advermarketingpr purposes – this is a promo for some car or another (sorry, I really don’t care) which lets you pick from a selection of variables to create a lightly-personalised cartoon story which shows off some perceived vehicular benefit or another (did I mention I don’t care?), but the interesting thing to me is that the artwork and the animation all strikes me as clearly generative. Not in a particularly bad way, and the style’s not overtly AI, but there’s something a bit fuzzy around the edges, and the animation’s something of a giveaway. I think this is a reasonable way to use this stuff – the clearly-defined options mean that there’s limited leeway for things to get weird, given everything’s pre-rendered, and I imagine that this was pretty quick to spin up and get out of the door. Except, obviously, it’s ALSO something that a year ago would have employed at least one artist and which now will instead have just used the agency art director and maybe a junior to touch it up, which feels like at least one job gone. HM.
  • The Getty Museum Collection: Over 80,000 items from the Getty Museum Collection, images and information, ALL OPEN SOURCE TO DO WITH WHAT YOU WILL! You want to train an AI on everything in here to create a machine that can imagine cultural artefacts? GREAT! You want to create a custom pair of silk-screen-printed pants covered in reproductions of a mesopotamian death mask? SUPERB! A wonderful cultural resource.
  • Alliance For The Future: Just in case you were in any way concerned that the current tech boom is possibly focusing a little too much on the theoretical future stuff and not enough on the very real practical ‘stuff that the tech is doing to us right now and will do to us even more in the very near future’, here comes a new lobbying organisation to, well, really focus those fears. The Alliance For The Future is a newly-formed, and I get the impression pretty well-funded, interest group which has been set up to promote the Effective Accelerationist movement in Washington – from its description, “Alliance for the Future is a new Washington D.C. based nonprofit organization. We’re a coalition of entrepreneurs, technologists, and policy experts who believe that artificial intelligence will transform our world for the better. We have banded together to oppose the escalating panic around AI. Now is the moment that AI is defined in the minds of both the public and of legislators. While the benefits of AI might be clear to those who understand it, the same cannot be said for everyone. We bring together experts, entrepreneurs, and policymakers to build policy based on a concrete understanding of the technology at hand.” So on the one hand you have a bunch of scientists, economists and governments saying “perhaps it’s important for us to not rashly charge ahead with technology whose workings and implications we really aren’t even close to properly understanding yet” and on the other you have a bunch of well-funded people with a strong vested interest in ploughing ahead regardless saying “no, actually, you are wrong and only unfettered progress can save us!” Who do YOU think is going to win out here? HM.
  • RadioTime: I know that there are a few different apps that let you listen to radio stations from around the world, for free, on your phone, but this is a new one and it seems nice, clean and unbloated, so maybe give it a go (and also, if you’ve not yet experienced the genuine – if peculiar, fine – joy of ‘listening to breakfast radio shows from different countries at inappropriate times of the day’ then you are properly missing out.
  • Rings:I *think* that the brand here is ‘Boucheron’ – or maybe it’s Quatre, or maybe that’s the style of ring they’re flogging here; honestly, I am so far from being target audience for this stuff – but, whatever it is, this is a GREAT pointlessly-shiny luxe website, which does the whole ‘play a small browsergame which will in some unimaginable way work towards convincing you to drop five figures on a piece of jewellery’, but at SCALE. Rather than a single game, this is a collection of ten or so tiny little minigame experiences, which range from ‘catching all the rings’ to, er, ‘finding the odd ring out’, to ‘stacking rings’ (you will note a strong thematic link here). These are nicely-paced, none of them last longer than 10 seconds or so, and it’s a nice, luxury spin on Mario Party basically – even if the rings they are selling look almost EXACTLY like the sort of thing that a London plumber charges you a £75 callout fee to replace under your kitchen sink.

By Sarena Vand



  • Pencilbooth: You know how we have very much reached podcast saturation point? Yeah, well, probably also newsletters too if I’m honest with you – I think I’m currently at a point of receiving approximately 35 a day at the moment, and, even as someone whos tolerance for ‘having a violent quantity of information fired at their eyeballs’ is reasonably high I think that I might be reaching my upper limit. Still, such obvious, pathetic gatekeeping aside, I appreciate that there may be some people with CREATIVE ASPIRATIONS who might still like the idea of having an occasional missive to send into the void, but who might equally have previously been put off by the whole ‘writing’ thing – well Pencilbooth is for you, in that case! This is a new newslettering platform which has been designed to be visual-first – so if you want to send a monthly email blast featuring your drawings, say, or curated works that you have found, this might be an interesting (and aesthetically-worthwhile) platform to explore. It’s paid, obviously, but at $29 a month for lists with fewer than 5000 subs that strikes me as a not-unreasonable cost (and there’s a free tier for upto 100 people, which strikes me as perfect for people who just want to keep their friends and family updated with, say, their photos or their DREADFUL INSTAPOETRY).
  • GPT4All: Want to download your own LLM onto your own machine and fiddle around with the great unknowable black box that is current-gen AI? GREAT! This is a pretty good place to start if you’re curious – this is techy, but also nowhere NEAR as techy as it can be, and it’s actually pretty userfriendly from an installation point of view: “GPT4All is an ecosystem to train and deploy powerful and customized large language models that run locally on consumer grade CPUs. The goal is simple – be the best instruction tuned assistant-style language model that any person or enterprise can freely use, distribute and build on. A GPT4All model is a 3GB – 8GB file that you can download and plug into the GPT4All open-source ecosystem software. Nomic AI supports and maintains this software ecosystem to enforce quality and security alongside spearheading the effort to allow any person or enterprise to easily train and deploy their own on-edge large language models.” You will need a reasonably powerful rig to make this work without it bricking your machine, to be clear – still, if you want to futz around with making your own personal digital slave that lives on your machine and does your bidding, HERE YOU ARE!
  • Make Your Pet: Oh I love this! A YouTube channel which seemingly exists for the sole purpose of helping people build their own, slightly-unsettling, 3d-printed, many-legged scuttling robot! Fine, you’ll need to be in the 0.001% of the global population that has access to a working 3d printer (remember when 3d printing was going to be a thing and usher in the first wave of post-scarcity economics? Man was I stupid to believe in all that!) and you’ll need to be the sort of person for whom the prospect of ‘soldering stuff to a motherboard’ and talk of ‘servos’ isn’t total anathema, but if you’re significantly more practical and engineer-y than, say, me, you will find a lot to love here. For the right type of person (or the wrong type, potentially, from their partner’s point of view) this is a whole new obsession waiting to happen.
  • The British Wildlife Photography Awards 2024: MORE PICTURES OF THE CRITTERS! It’s quite hard to find anything to feel particularly proud of at the moment from a ‘being British’ point of view, but we do at least have some very pretty wildlife – or at least we do now, before the final sewers overflow and all the rivers are forever irrevocably bemerded. Still, while we wait for that fecal apocalypse to overtake us, why not take a moment to enjoy these genuinely beautiful pictures of local fauna – these are SUCH great photos, with a wonderful range of subjects and styles. My personal favourite is the one with the badger (you’ll know the one I mean), but they are all gorgeous.
  • Flagwaver: A website which does nothing other than show you a flag, rendered in 3d and fluttering in an imaginary digital breeze – you can replace the image on the flag with an image of WHATEVER YOU LIKE, and so I am including it because I quite like the idea of using it as a way of gently trolling people who have chosen to take inexplicably-strong positions on something really dumb; there’s something quite pleasing about the idea of making a really shit ‘flag’ in MS Paint saying “NO TO WOKE FOOTBALL KITS” and flying it proudly on a digital background to point out how incredibly fcuking pathetic it is.
  • Vision Unbound: This feels like a companion to the HTML review – certainly the four works collected here wouldn’t be out of place in that collection, seeing as they cover similar themes of the interplay between words and digital form. Vision Unbound is “an exhibition taking place during Women’s History Month, that honors the genius of four women—Melody Mou Peijing, Amira Hanafi, Priti Pandurangan, and Marisa Parham—whose art challenges us to rethink the possibilities of the digital medium and our perspective of the world.” Ok, so one of the works is in Arabic and as such I can only marvel at the beauty of the webwork and the script, but the other three are gorgeous (and not new – slightly disappointed in myself that I hadn’t seen them before). In particular I enjoyed the interplay between voice-over and animation in “Meghadūtam” by Priti Pandurangan, but you will have your own favourite (you’d better).
  • Moai In Games: Have you ever thought to yourself “you know what? I wish someone, somewhere, was undertaking a selfless quest to exhaustively catalogue all the instances in which a Maoi – one of those massive stone heads from Easter Island – appears in a videogame?” OF COURSE YOU HAVE, WHO HASN’T, NO FCUKER THAT’S WHO! Thank God, then, for this website which is doing EXACTLY THAT – here you will find a list of seemingly hundreds of titles which at some point have featured a Maoi, even if fleetingly, along with screenshotted (and occasionally YouTubed) evidence. Why? According to the FAQ, ‘because Maoi are awesome’, which feels like all the justification one really needs here.
  • Trangram: No, not a typo. My regular ‘link nicked from Giuseppe’ of the week comes in the shape of this rather useful webtool for creating simple animations in-browser; obviously this is a LONG WAY from anything I am ever going to use (images scare me, what can I say? LEAVE ME ALONE WITH MY WORDS) but it looks like it might actually be pretty flexible and useful for any of you who have the creative talent and visual acuity to actually make something.
  • Nobody Sausage: I was sent this on Twitter by Paulina Mitelsztedt – THANKYOU PAULINA – and she’s right, it *is* funny. Nobody Sausage is a Twitter account (I presume it’s multiplatform, but fcukit, we’re sticking with Twitter) featuring short CG animations of vaguely-sausage-like humanoids (yes, I know, but it makes sense in context) having ‘relatably funny experiences’ which I know sounds about as likely to be my ‘thing’ as ‘taking a cheesegrater to my knees’ but whose gently-Mr Bean-ish Eurohumour (I think it’s a Spanish thing) amused me more than expected, thanks in part to the (genuinely charming) character models and animation style.
  • Movie Posters Perfected: I’ve honestly never met an actual human being who owns a ‘digital display frame’, but I presume that some must exist – I can’t imagine for a second that any of them are the types of people to read Web Curios, but in the vanishingly-unlikely scenario that YOU, gentle reader, are in possession of such a thing AND you really, really like film posters from the past then BOY do I have the link for you! Movie Posters Perfected sells itself as “a curated collection of digital movie posters—from today’s blockbusters to classic films. As a live, cloud-based library, you never have to lift a finger to add new posters. The moment we add a new poster to our library, it automatically appears on your connected display”, and, well, it certainly does appear to have a lot of film posters. Apparently they’ve all been touched up and optimised for hi-def display, and given the fact that the site’s promising you access to the collection IN PERPETUITY (I do not believe this) for a mere $20, this feels like a non-terrible deal for the gadget-obsessed movie buff in your life (should you not have one of those in your life, you can probably skip this one).
  • The AI Minecraft Challenge: Are any of you really into coding, AI AND Minecraft? No, didn’t think so. Still, maybe you know someone who is – I think this is a really interesting contest and I am genuinely curious to see what ends up coming out of it. “The Settlement Generation Challenge is about writing an algorithm that can create a settlement for a given, unknown Minecraft map. The challenge is to produce an algorithm that is adaptive towards the provided map, creates a settlement that satisfies a range of functional requirements – but also looks good and evokes an interesting narrative. The goal is to basically produce an algorithm that can rival the state of the art of what humans can produce. So far there have been 5 iterations of the challenge: once in 2018, and in 2019, in 2020, in 2021 and in 2023. You can watch the presentation for last years winner’s”.Now I’ve never played Minecraft and don’t have a particular personal interest in it, but I scrubbed through the 2023 winners video and the stuff being generated here is pretty astonishing and suggests that even if narrative game development’s a way away from being upended by The Machine we’re going to see some really interesting leaps in what’s possible with procgen and algorithmic worldbuilding.
  • LightTwist: This is VERY beta, and there’s not an awful lot of info up on the site beyond the demo video, for which reason I’m appending a very big ‘THIS MIGHT IN FACT ALL BE B0LLOCKS’ notice to the link – still, the aforementioned video certainly *looks* impressive, and the basic premise of LightTwist (“we let you do pro-quality greenscreen work using just your phone and browser, which means that you can effectively start doing ‘studio-quality’ (hm) broadcast work from your own bedroom without a bunch of super-fancy kit”) seems like an obviously attractive one in the CREATOR AGE (so tired).
  • Bad Movies: Slightly amazed that I haven’t apparently featured this before, but, well, apparently not. Still, better late than never (I am disgusted with myself) – Bad Movies is, as you might possibly have guessed, a site dedicated to celebrating films that are, objectively, bad. There are reviews, there are screenshots, there are links to buy and watch some of them, and were it not for this wonderful trove of cinephilic information I would never have learned that someone once greenlit, financed and filmed an actual cinematic release called ‘Nude On The Moon’, in which man goes to space and discovers it is covered in naked (or at least topless) women. It is FULL of this stuff, and if you’re a particular type of person I have your next ‘newsletter or film club project’ RIGHT HERE (but, per an earlier link, maybe not the newsletter, eh?). BONUS OBSCURE FILM CONTENT! This is RareLust, “a personal project started  in 2012 to keep rare flick rips alive freely and stop sellers who sell these movies at insane price”, and which features links to rips of HUNDREDS of (incredibly fcuking obscure and in all likelihood often probably terrible) films. You want somewhere to get a torrent of ‘Ninja Zombie’, a 1992 film in which “Orlan Sands is threatened by an evil spider-themed karate cult seeking the location of an archaeological dig unearthing a rare magical artefact”? OF COURSE YOU FCUKING DO!
  • TokiPona: Do you speak Esperanto? No, you don’t, stop lying. Still, if you DO fancy taking up a synthetic language, and if the desperately-uncool vibes that Esperanto has always given off have put you off somewhat, why not explore TokiPona, which is not only FAR cuter-sounding but has apparently been around for a decade or so, contains only 137 words and is the work of a SINGLE PERSON! I think this is astonishing and honestly quite beautiful – leaving aside whether or not you think we ‘need’ an additional synthetic language (and, parenthetically, fcuk you and your tediously instrumental view of the world), there’s something hugely interesting about the attempt to distil meaning into a deliberately small and constrained quantity of signifiers. Maybe I’ll start offering Curios translated into TokiPona.
  • List of Rejected Icelandic Female Names: I both adore this and am baffled by it. According to the webpage, “In Iceland only names which appear on the Personal Names Register are allowed to use. Other names cannot be used, but it is possible to apply to a committee for permission to use a name which is not yet listed. The committee does not accept every name. A name submitted to the naming committee for approval is considered for its compatibility with Icelandic tradition and for the likelihood that it might cause the bearer embarrassment. It must be compatible with Icelandic grammar and contain only letters occurring in the Icelandic alphabet. A name’s grammatical gender must match the sex of the person bearing the name. There are occasional exceptions, e.g. if a name has traditionally been used by a certain number of Icelanders.” This, therefore, is a list of all the rejected names, ones which you shouldn’t bother trying to register because, well, they’re already on the banned list. WHY ARE YOU NOT ALLOWED TO BE CALLED ‘KELLY’ IN ICELAND? WHAT’S WRONG WITH ‘MAXINE’? Honestly, are any of you Icelandic? Does anyone fancy explaining this to me properly, because I am honestly baffled. Oh, the root url of this webpage is a site dedicated solely to Nordic names – no idea why, but if you’re writing a scandi noir and want to make sure that all of your clinically-depressed characters have authentic monikers then this might be helpful.
  • Riddler: Start with one word, get to a different word by changing each of the initial word’s letters, one at a time – this is a daily puzzle, with the challenge not so much ‘can you solve it?’ as ‘how quickly can you do it, you miserable worm?’ which adds a pleasing element of ‘against the clock’ tension to what’s a nice potential addition to the daily pre-work procrastination round.
  • You Are Laika: Finally this week, a small text adventure in which you play as Laika, the first dog to be sent to space. This is BRUTAL, I have to warn you, but also incredibly effective – I know this is quite a w4nky observation, but I have a real thing for ‘interactive fictions’ which play with one’s expectations about player agency as an integral part of the narrative (sorry – I did say it was w4nky, though). But, mainly, it is utterly, utterly brutal – if this doesn’t in some way affect you then you have a heart of absolute stone and frankly I think you should possibly be on some sort of list. Many of you will absolutely bawl your eyes out at this, so, er, there’s a reason to click! Fcuking hell I am bad at this.

By Yana Olen



  • One Thousand Ophelias: Just lots of representations of Ophelia in art (except to my mind they’re more ‘women in art’ than specifically ‘Ophelia’) – this is some top-quality curatorial work, and even better was active up until six months ago so there is a LOT on here. Seriously, just scroll, this is beautiful.


  • Vallesia Obscura: VERY GOTH-Y HALLOWE’EN-Y AI IMAGES! Basically everything on here looks EXACTLY like the very specific sort of visual style that every single vampirey horror film seemed to aspire to in the mid-00s (that isn’t as much of a cuss as I appreciate it sounds), with a light dash of Tim Burton and that poor dead guy with all the bones tatted on his face.
  • X New Worlds: “I’m Suze, a London based visual artist experimenting with surreal and absurd dreamscapes” – so runs the bio on this feed, which presents fragments of work combining AI-generated imagery with more traditional editing software to make…fcuk, I LOVE this, it is creepy and horrible, but not in the way that so much AI stuff is and therefore in ways that are INTERESTING and unpredictable, and there’s something about what’s being done with movement in these films and images that feels wrong in a really pleasing way. This is significantly more interesting than the vast majority of work being made with AI at the moment, imho at least.
  • The Sketchymaker: The insta feed of an Aberdeen-based artist who makes 3d printed, or concrete-cast, models and sculptures, featuring things like LEGO minifigs, and places them around the city as public art and a general ‘here’s a surprisingly lovely thing’ bonus for residents (that’s not all he does – there’s other work there too, though it all tends towards the pop culturally-scultptural) – this is just LOVELY.


  • ALL OF THE FUTURES!: How do we feel about ‘the future’ as a concept at the moment – we happy? LOL! Still, if you’re interested in reading a bunch – and I mean a LOT – of interesting, smart thinking from a range of voices, covering some potential futures across areas as diverse as entertainment, food, communication, energy, healthcare and LOADS OF OTHER STUFF then you will find this hugely valuable; this is basically an entire book, so not something you can skim over in 10 minutes, but if you have the time then the (admittedly three) chapters I have read were genuinely interesting. This is academic writing and as such it’s dense and citation-heavy, but it is also about seventeen million times more intelligent, more useful and more interesting than any trends presentation by any agency you will ever have read ever (and it’s a pleasingly diverse range of perspectives too, with people from all over the world contributing).
  • Have We Reached Peak AI?: I don’t know Ed Zitron, but I’ve been interested in his recent pivot from ‘slightly eccentric English tech PR bloke in America’ to ‘seemingly-respected commentator on the iniquities of modern tech and capitalism’ – this is his latest newsletter in which he argues (in – and I appreciate that this is…somewhat hypocritical, but bear with me –  somewhat long-winded fashion) that actually the AI bubble is just that, and that all of the generative AI hype is set to evaporate as we see people coming up against the hard question of ‘hm, yes, but what is this for and why am I paying for it’…look, I am sure Ed is a nice and smart man who knows what he is talking about, but, equally, I am also NOT sure that he has much of a handle on what exactly it is that a huge, quivering mass of the white collar world does for a living, and how much of it literally just involves taking some information, reformatting it and putting it somewhere else. Because that really IS what an awful lot of people spend their time doing all day – you can dress it up with job titles, and sometimes it’s numbers-to-words and sometimes it’s words-to-other-words, but, fundamentally, it’s ‘take this information and turn it into a different type of information, or reorganise it’ – AND THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT THESE MACHINES ARE VERY GOOD AT. I agree that the ‘creative’ usecases for GenAI are looking shaky right now – but that is the least-interesting and least-commercially-significant application, and if you don’t think every single multinational business isn’t currently exploring ways in which they can shave 20%+ off operational costs by swapping out ‘the people who do the relatively simple information wrangling’ for ‘a machine to do it faster and cheaper’ then, well, I don’t  know what to tell you. That is literally what they are all doing right now.
  • Which AI Should I Use?: Presuming of course that your kneejerk reaction to this question isn’t ‘I’d rather eat my own face than use any of those evil machines’, then this is a decent overview by Curios regular Ethan Mollick, outlining the main operational and performance differences between the latest models being offered by Anthropic, Google and OpenAI, and giving a quick overview of which is best for what. It’s also worth having a look at his recent tweet detailing his experiences playing with the new Gemini model, which can basically mine videos for information and which feels like it’s going to be another potentially-transformative step when it mainstream access gets rolled out.
  • AI and the News: This is the text of a recent SXSW talk by Zach Seward, who’s editorial director of AI Initiatives at the NYT and who in this piece talks through how he and the newsroom have approached generative AI – this is a good overview of the principles he’s applying to bringing any of this tech into the editorial process, and some of the small successes he and the team have had when using it to run analysis of sources at scale (for example). If you’ve any interest in the practical, tangible applications of this stuff, this is a genuinely interesting and useful read.
  • The EnshittifAIcation of Online Recipes: I think we can all agree that the process of absolutely destroying the overall quality of information available to us as a species thanks to AI-generated dreck is proceeding slightly-faster than we might have expected – from the AI-addled academic papers to Shrimp Jesus, this stuff is increasingly everywhere and it’s only going to get…I don’t want to say ‘worse’, because that sounds doomy and hyperbolic, but also ‘better’ really doesn’t feel appropriate. Anyway, this piece looks at the specific damage that could be done to the repository of online recipes when they get replaced by plausible-sounding AI-generated recipes which are broadly speaking not going to kill you but which, equally, have been generated by spicy autocomplete with no concept of ‘flavour’ or ‘texture’. It might, honestly, be worth someone making a backup copy of the whole internet as of right now and just running it as a closed parallel; I feel it could prove useful in the long-term (like the internet archive, but not powered by crippled slugs).
  • The Internet Has Always Been This Bad: An excellent bit of reporting by Caitlin at ‘Links I Would Gchat You’, who delves into a recently-published study which suggests that, contrary to what you, me and everyone else thinks, there hasn’t in fact been a statistically-significant shift in online behaviours and attitudes, or a terminal rotting of the quality of our online conversations – turns out, this is just what ‘being online and talking to people on the web’ does to us! You may or may not find this reassuring – the crux of the study, though, shows that “Those patterns proved surprisingly consistent across time and platforms: Overall, the study found that the prevalence of both toxic speech and highly toxic users were extremely low. But the longer any conversation goes on, on virtually any platform, the more toxic it becomes. At the same time, conversations tend to involve fewer, more active participants as they stretch on.” Which, I suppose, makes sense – the longer a thread continues, the more participants are winnowed down by exhaustion or simply having better things to do, until the only people left are the mad, the terminally argumentative and the total pr1cks – even if I don’t think it captures the particularly modern phenomenon of ‘people getting unreasonably upset about someone’s personal lived experience not mapping exactly onto their own’.
  • How TikTok Fcuked Up The Lobbying: I’m not personally particularly interested in the TikTok ban story, mainly because I don’t think it will happen (feel free to use this as yet another reason to make fun of me for my inability to ever predict ANYTHING accurately), but I did enjoy this account of the actual, practical impact of sending a bunch of children a message saying ‘CALL YOUR CONGRESSMAN LEST THEY TAKE YOUR FAVOURITE TOY AWAY!’ – this made me laugh a LOT: “Congressional staffers told The Verge about the calls from “students in near tears” with the “chatter of the classroom behind them.”” They’re flooding our offices, often from kids who are about as young as nine years old, their parents have no idea that they’re doing this, they’re calling in, and they’re basically saying things like, ‘What is Congress? What’s a congressman, can I have my TikTok back?’””
  • The Impossible Rebrand: The fall from grace of ‘plant-based’ foods over the past few years has been well-documented (and can be seen in action in one of the local corner shops round here, which has a freezer stocked with VERY ICY cartons of ‘plant-based gelato’ which I am pretty sure were bought in 2021 and which they are never in a million years going to shift), and as such the idea of a brand such as Impossible (you know, the ones that make the burgers that bleed beet-heme) refreshing itself to be ‘less plant’ and ‘more meat’ makes total sense – I’m obviously not a design or brand person (lol), but I thought this was a really nice writeup of the thinking and rationale behind the change to a redder, more overtly ‘meat-y’ brand identity which I found genuinely interesting. BONUS BRANDING STUFF! I also enjoyed this newsletter piece by Rob Horning where he talks about the weird, uncanny mediocrity of the in-house brands at Aldi and why they are like that; this sort of stuff normally makes my teeth itch (STOP OVERTHINKING IT FFS) but I found this one smart and not-too-hideously-wanky.
  • Cryptogames Redux: One to file under ‘fcuk me, we never learn do we?’ – following the meteoric rise, and eventual very fast fall, of the Axie Infinity ‘play abd get paid’ cryptogaming bubble a few years ago, a not insignificant number of people in places like the Philippines were left holding an awful lot of worthless digital scrip as the market for their digital goods and ludic labour fell of a cliff; now, though, it seems that it’s going to happen ALL OVER AGAIN, because CRYPTO IS BACK, BABY! No matter that it might only be ‘back’ for a month or so before the market’s innate volatility (and the fact that a significant proportion of it is traded by criminals or literal morons) cause the whole sorry edifice to crumble again. No matter, though, because there are a bunch of companies once again springing up to advertise the prospect of great returns for virtual farming – all of which will inevitably vanish again as soon as the trade winds change. As you read this piece, try and count the number of times where you find yourself thinking ‘but…but…you literally made exactly the same mistakes three years ago’ (I got 8).
  • The Funniest Novels Since Catch-22: A list published by the New York Times and which I thought was…pretty good! Ok, so there are a few iffy picks (to my mind, at least) in the more recent selections (I find the adulation given to ‘Oscar Wao’ by North Americans faintly baffling, for example), but there are also some genuine classics, and any list which notes that American Psycho is in many respects a VERY FUNNY book (not the habitrail tube bit, though) and which reminds me that The Sellout might be the funniest novel I have ever read (or at least the funniest ‘serious’ novel, if you’ll excuse my genre-ghettoising), is worth a look imho.
  • The Helldivers 2 Meta: Ok, so some background for the non-gamers. Helldivers 2 is a recently-released online multiplayer shooting game in which players all collaborate to fight off hordes of aliens in what is basically a thinly-veiled tribute to the corpofascist satire of Starship Troopers – this is being played by 100s of 1000s of people worldwide, and this piece explains all the fun ways in which ‘online play’ is being slightly-reconfigured by the title and its community. I find this FASCINATING – it’s not my sort of game and I’m unlikely to play it, but the fact that there is a literal human director managing the overall direction of the campaign and who’s effectively tweaking the balance and making things happen as a realtime response to what people are doing in the game RIGHT NOW is quite remarkable, and speaks I think to an interesting way of considering how to run collaborative online experiences with light-touch guidance (but also to the importance of having a narrative direction and someone in control of it).
  • Outsider Art: A piece in The Face, profiling a selection of ‘outsider’ artists working in London – for those unaware, in this context ‘outsider’ refers to people whose work sits outside the mainstream art world of curators and galleries, derived from the theory of ‘art brut’ or ‘raw art’ (art unfiltered by bougie, artworld w4nk, basically) coined in the 40s; work tends to be naive in style, and is often (but not exclusively) created by people on the margins of society, whether for economic or psychological reasons, and it can be some of the most interesting and rewarding you will ever see. If any of the stuff in this overview speaks to you, it’s worth doing a bit of a Google because there are several places in London which are now effectively preserved archives of outsider artists’ workspaces and homes and which you can visit with a bit of planning.
  • The Glass Dildo Emporia of the 17thC: I had genuinely no idea that there was a thriving market for fake phalli in the 1600-1700s, but, well, there was! This is a pleasing stroll down the veiny shaft of history (sorry), all about how male terror of female sexuality and the genuinely-bizarre belief that it was somehow sinful to find your wife attractive led to not-insignificant numbers of women taking matters into their own hands, and how this eventually began to see the integration of marital aids into the sex lives of couples as attitudes thankfully shifted. I know that ‘noone taking your orgasm seriously’ isn’t, by a long chalk, the worst thing about ‘what the past was like for women’, but FCUKING HELL did you all have a really sh1t time of it for literally millennia.
  • The Oral History of Pitchfork: This is VERY LONG, and VERY ‘inside baseball’ (if you swap ‘baseball’ for ‘music and media in the late-90s-early-00s’), but it’s also super-interesting (especially if, like me, you basically made Pitchfork reviews your ‘what album should I buy this month then’ bible from about 2002-7) – in particular the sense that comes through from everyone interviewed that it just sort of happened by accident, and the wonderful serendipity and terror of realising that you’re doing something that is CHANGING THINGS (a feeling, let’s be clear, which I have obviously never experienced for myself, but I believe it probably exists somewhere for some of you). There’s also a point about ⅔ of the way through, where they start talking about the Conde Naste takeover and the first meetings in the wake of that, where you really can see the entirety of ‘why the digital media ecosystem is utterly fcuked and why it never stood a chance’ – honestly, there are a couple of quotes that made me do a proper bark-laugh of hollow amusement, see if you can spot which.
  • A Guide To Tokyo: I genuinely have no clue where I found this – it’s a bit of an unusual link, in that it’s literally a GDoc of someone called Daisy’s travel itinerary and sort-of diary of a recent visit to Tokyo – which means it’s literally a day-by-day description of where they went and what they did and what they ate and how it felt, with no pictures…and yet, I LOVED reading this, honestly, it’s like being taken on someone else’s holiday in a really un-annoying way (yes, I always write this badly, why do you ask?), and you genuinely get a feeling for the experience Daisy had, for better or worse, over the course of the trip. Also, if you happen to be going to Tokyo anytime soon this contains what sound like some killer recommendations.
  • Nelson and Winnie: I thought this piece in the LRB, reviewing a recent book about the marriage of Nelson and Winnie Mandela, was brilliant – though I would love anyone South African who happens to read it to drop me a line and give me their opinion on the picture it paints, as obviously I’m a know-nothing bozo who was 10 when Mandela was released from prison and wasn’t really across the intricacies of the political situation or indeed his relationship with his wife. This is fascinating, and very sad in many ways.
  • Whale On Toast: You may not think that you want to read a short newsletter post about the history of whale oil, but you really do (trust me on this one).
  • Small Nations in Big Wars: Our final longread of the week comes from Hamilton Nolan, who proves once again that writing about boxing is, when done well, the very best of all sportswriting. This piece covers one night at a boxing ring in NYC, and the cast of regular amateurs, local heroes and folk legends who represent their diaspora in combat, and it really is superb – and I don’t even like boxing, at all. Read this, it is STELLAR.

By Pierre Huyghe