Webcurios 22/04/22

Reading Time: 37 minutes

Hi! Hello! Welcome, once again, to Web Curios, your weekly compendium of ‘stuff some bloke you probably don’t know and whose opinion you have no real reason to trust has found online and deemed interesting enough to share with YOU, a small audience of strangers whose masochism I can only imagine’.

Whilst I would love to sit here and regale you with my thoughts on the week’s events, my pithy takes and vibrant analysis of the current state of play of the politics and the culture and the fear and the hate and the occasional sparks of hope, I have to schlep across the city to argue with a pharmacist about medical-grade cannabis oil and so simply can’t spare the time. You may instead want to imagine my analysis – it will almost certainly be superior to what I would have produced, in any case.

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and you are still here, despite me doing everything in my power to force you out of this increasingly-abusive relationship in which we both appear trapped by Forces Stronger Than Us.

By Anthony Gerace



  • Run The French Election: So this weekend the French go to the polls for the final time in this year’s election, and the rest of the world waits to discover whether this is going to be the year in which the country decides to stop flirting with the far right and instead just lubes up and gets it over with (I am aware of the…shaky ground I’m on here as an English person making fun of anyone else’s politics right now, but, well, just this once). If you’d like to get to know the two candidates a little bit better…well, if you’d like to get to know them a little bit better I suggest you go and read some proper, in-depth political analysis, frankly, and you won’t get that linked to from here. What you will get, though, is this cute little webgame which lets you pick either Macron or Le Pen (actually you can go back to the first round and play as all the candidates should you be a real ‘fan’ of Le Vote) and take them through a little endless-runner game, picking up votes and answering questions on each candidate’s policy positions to score points AND learn about politics. On the one hand, this is (self-describedly) not a great thing to base your political decisionmaking on; on the other, it’s a neat way of inducing people to perhaps learn a few things about what the candidates actually think (or, perhaps more accurately, what they are publicly prepared to say they think). This is obviously quite silly, but also briefly-amusing, and I did very much enjoy the opening screen in which you can see all the candidates doing a variety of dance moves as they wait for you to start playing, which were this the only criteria by which candidates are getting judged would see Manu win by a landslide.
  • Infinite Tapestry: Annoyingly I can find no clues as to where I found this or who made it, but, er, still, here! This is a rather lovely application of machine learning and image-generation – the site generates an entirely new, infinitely-scrolling Chinese landscape tapestry every time you load it, with hills and houses and trees and, er, pylons, and there’s something beautifully-soothing about seeing the sepia brushwork glide past (you can open a menu in the top-left and tick the ‘autoscroll’ checkbox and then just stare glazed-eyed as it passes – don’t worry, that’s what I’d be doing too if I weren’t writing this for you BE GRATEFUL DAMN YOU).
  • Are You The A$$hole?: It can, I know, be hard to get a truly objective reading of one’s own behaviour. Who’s to say whether you were right to tell Sandra the harsh truth about her relationship with Alan?  Was Paolo justified in telling your boss about that one thing Carl did on the Accounts night out (especially seeing as it didn’t get infected after all)? WHO KNOWS? Except, thankfully, now it’s possible to get objective analysis of your actions delivered by a SPECIALLY-TRAINED AI – thanks to ‘Are You The A$$hole?’, you can ask any question you like about the rightness or otherwise of your or someone else’s behaviour and get three answers back, all trained on REAL WORLD data from Reddit’s ‘AITA?’ sub. ““Are You The A$$hole? (AYTA for short) is a website that uses 3 real AI models to educate users on the effect of biased data in the decision-making abilities of artificial intelligence. It is inspired by Reddit’s popular community r/AmITheA$$hole, where users post their moral quandaries and ask the commenters whether they were in the wrong—whether they were “the a$$hole.” Are You The A$$hole creates commenters from three AI text-generation models. These are custom text-generation systems trained on three different sets of data: one that has only ever read r/AmITheA$$hole comments that call the poster the a$$hole, one that only read comments absolving the poster, and one that was privy to a mix. These three models reflect the judgmental, understanding, and balanced “users” you see”. This is a LOT of fun – obviously you can start by putting in real world things (this week’s Johnsonian ‘apology’ copy is fun, for example), but I personally think that the real joy in this is in deciding to make it the sole arbiter of any and all workplace or domestic disputes. Why not try that this weekend to resolve arguments with your partners, housemates or children?
  • The Six Bells: This did reasonable numbers when my Twitter friend Kate tweeted about it this week, so there’s a chance you’ll already be familiar with this Brooklyn shop and its website and backstory – if not, though, then ENJOY. The Six Bells is a new shop selling…well, as far as I can tell, selling insanely-overpriced artisanal lifestylecrap to rich New Yorkers, which so far so normal. What’s…curious about it is that the shop is ‘inspired’ by a fictional UK village called Barrow’s Green, which village is depicted in surprising detail on the website, with a map and a cast of ‘characters’, each of which comes with their own watercolour portrait and backstory. Why exactly a shop that sells $300 doilies also needs an elaborate fiction to underpin it, centred around a nonexistent village of (VERY SPECIFICALLY) 640 people (is this some sort of numerology thing? Is this…occult?) is an absolute mystery to me, as is why said village has a synagogue (not, as a rule, a classic feature of the UK’s villages, but pleasingly inclusive I suppose) and a courthouse (there are 640 of you! What crimes are happening? Unless of course it’s there to try people for the murders required to keep that population cap in place) but, apparently, no actual housing stock whatsoever? This is obviously VERY SILLY and VERY TWEE, but there’s something sort-of charming about what it reveals about a particular type of vision that a particular type of American has of the UK and what it is like (seemingly there are two poles of Britishness, one which is Bridgerton and Bake Off and COMEDY SLANG, and the other of which is teeth like mangled tin-cans, and swimming in vats of beans and the ritual murder of transpeople, and there is NOTHING inbetween). Wonderfully, the person behind this shop is also the person behind recent high-profile cautionary tale women’s networking club The Wing, which suggests that if you’re rich enough, white enough, thin enough and pretty enough there really is no limit to the number of chances New York will be prepared to grant you. Still, DOILIES!
  • The FT Climate Game: Anyone unfortunate enough to have the experience of working with me will at some point or another have to suffer through an ill-thought-out rant about how games are brilliant communications tools, particularly for topics often thought of as ‘boring’ or ‘hard’, and how they should be used more often as ways of helping people understand Complex Issues And How To Approach Them. I do this one every couple of months, invariably to a bored audience which has heard it all before and which has to deal with the sad-but-inevitable reality that the client has approximately a tenner and just wants some influencer work ffs Matt can you shut up about the games thing please? Anyway, that’s by way of unnecessary preamble to this game about climate change released this week by the FT, which is designed to demonstrate to players how hard it’s going to be to get to net zero by 2050, and how many DIFFICULT CHOICES legislators are going to have to make to achieve the goal. It’s not the most ‘gamey’ game I’ve ever seen – there’s not a great deal of graphical feedback to your decisions, for example – but considering the nature of the subject matter it’s a decent attempt to add a degree of interaction and agency to the issue. Except, of course, this is also quite ideological – this is all laid out really nicely in this Twitter thread by Alex Hern, which explains one or two of the…assumptions the game makes about specific potential solutions and How They Might Work, and how that perhaps relates to the likely audience for the content given this is in fact the FT rather than, say, the Guardian. Alex’s caveats aside, this is a really interesting example of how to do educational/explainer games in a relatively low-cost way.
  • Days of Rage: “Days of Rage is a web exhibition that enlivens historical activist posters from ONE Archives at the USC Libraries through tactile analysis and storytelling. Grounded in the experiences of activists and graphic designers Alan Bell, Daniel Hyo Kim, Chandi Moore, Silas Munro, Judy Ornelas Sisneros, and Jordan Peimer, the exhibition positions LGBTQ+ graphic design as embodied in community realities and histories, producing subjective reflections on the interdependence of design and activism.” This is super-interesting, both from a design and a LGBTQx history point of view – the website collects examples of flyers and leaflets and zines from the 70s, 80s and 90s, and you can get more information on the items in question and the designers who created them as you click through. There’s some great stuff in here – I love this poster from New York in 1971, for example – and it’s worth digging through and having a peruse (and should you want to read a bit more about it, you can do so here).
  • Little Signals: An interesting selection of Google design experiments looking at differing ways in which electronic devices might work to get our attention, aside from flashing and bleeping at us. Why couldn’t we receive email alerts via scent, say? Or a gentle breeze wafting across our faces? “Little Signals explores new patterns for technology in our daily lives. The six objects in this design study make use of different sensorial cues to subtly signal for attention. They keep us in the loop, but softly, moving from the background to the foreground as needed. Each object has its own method of communicating, like through puffs of air or ambient sounds. Additionally, their small movements or simple controls bring the objects to life and make them responsive to changing surroundings and needs. Just as everyday objects might find simple ways to inform us – like the moving hands of a clock or the whistle of a kettle – Little Signals consider how to stay up-to-date with digital information while maintaining moments of calm.” Leaving aside the potential Pavolvian horror of linking emails from a particular source to specific smells (although there’s a wonderfully-dark sort of aversion therapy you could possibly experiment with here – break your addiction to chocolate by associating the smell of it with emails from your least-favourite colleague!), this is all sorts of fun, and the sort of thing it’s worth having a look at if you’re exploring options around any sort of interaction design or physical/digital installation.
  • Find Your Festival: Now that covid is OVER (or so we seem determined to persuade ourselves – if we think it’s true, and if we behave as if it’s true, it…it becomes true, right? Right? Oh) I imagine you’re probably all chomping at the bit to get absolutely batfaced in a field surrounded by several-thousand strangers. BUT WHICH FIELD????? Find Your Festival is basically a layer on top of some Google Sheets but it’s a GREAT layer – this contains details of a frankly staggering number of international festivals, which you can search through by date or artist or ‘type’ of location (beach, field, abandoned military base, etc) or musical genre (everything from metal to psytrance to hardstyle to whatever-the-fcuk ‘island alternative’ is) to find the perfect experience for YOU. Honestly, if I were younger and had Fewer Appalling Responsibilities, I would be bulk-buying amphetamines in preparation for a few days of excess at the frankly-terrifying-sounding ‘Dominator’ festival in Eersel, Netherlands – it is impossible to use this and not start daydreaming about wristbands and overpriced cider and the horror of waking up with comedown mouth in a forty-degree tent and mud and ‘funny’ people walking around a crowded campsite at 6am shouting ‘DAVE!’ and laughing and oh actually no festivals are sh1t aren’t they?
  • Shepherd: Over the past few years I have ended up buying more ebooks than I would have liked, mainly due to not really having any more physical space in which to keep novels – one of the side effects of this (and of my pathetic, lazy failure to explore non-Amazon ebook options, which, I am aware, makes me a pr1ck), and of a concerted effort I have been making for a while now to read more books by women (oh hi! I’m a cliche of middle-class leftwing manhood, nice to meet you!) is that the ‘recommendations’ on my Kindle are utterly banjaxed and will only ever seemingly attempt to flog me post-Sally Rooney or post-Otessa Moshfegh novellas, to the point whereby I now doubt that publishers are doing anything other than signing up every single twentysomething woman in the Western world. I need an algorithmic reset, basically – Christ that would be a useful thing, wouldn’t it? A button on all account-based, algo-determined services which lets you return the algo to factory settings and frees you from whatever datasnare you’ve found yourself trapped in. Anyway, all this is by way of unasked-for and possibly-unwelcome introduction to Shepherd, which is a book recommendation website and newsletter which works by asking authors for their favourite books around specific topics or themes and lets you browse these recommendations or categories and which, look, isn’t revelatory or anything, but is SUCH a nice change from being told for the nth time that I really ought to read more Kate Atkinson.
  • Future Tape: One of the big ‘reasons to exist’ for NFTs, often touted by those flogging them, is the degree to which they can let artists get paid fairly and directly for digital work, and maintain control and ownership of that work in perpetuity, with the potential for eventual fractions of resale value to be maintained by the artist each time a work changes hands and which in theory guarantees income all the way down the chain. This has seen all sorts of visual artists trying to get in on the action over the past year or so, but so far the music industry’s not quite been so gung-ho – that said, there are a variety of different on-chain labels around now which let artists sell songs as NFTs, and Future Tape offers you the opportunity to see tracks for sale across three of these platforms in one place. You can listen to a range of tracks here, sort them by sale price (Snoop has made a lot of money flogging a couple of songs – whatever you might think of the man, he’s very good at making cash), and, if you’re me, wonder exactly what the benefit is for the consumer in buying an NFT of a song, or indeed why, if you really wanted to support an artist you loved, you wouldn’t just find some existing way of doing so rather than needing to invent a new, environmentally-ruinous way of doing so.
  • Case Law: Yes, fine, I know that ‘case law’ isn’t the sort of frivolous web-based distraction you were possibly hoping to find here, but, well, it’s really interesting. Honest. Also, I am a sucker for open government projects, and generally firmly believe that making stuff like this accessible and searchable is A Good Thing. Anyway, this is brand new from the National Archives – “The Find Case Law service provides public access to Court Judgments and Tribunal decisions. From April 2022, court judgments from the England and Wales High Court, the Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court and tribunal decisions from the Upper Tribunals are being sent to the National Archives so that they can be preserved and made available to the public.” This is obviously really useful if you’re a lawyer or a student or if you’re curious about specifics around a particular legal issue or judgement – or if you just fancy rootling around in the archives for weird cases that mention the word ‘urethra’ (21 of those on the database, should you be curious).
  • Skeletons in Videogames: A Twitter feed which shares nothing but images of skeletons in videogames, because they are for life and not just for hallowe’en.
  • The Photo Ark: This looks like it’s been going for years, but it’s new to me and therefore I am going to presume it’s new to you too (Web Curios – intensely-solipsistic since 2011!). The Photo Ark is a project by National Geographic which is seeking to photograph all animals currently in ‘human care’ (I didn’t realise that this is now the accepted zoological term for ‘in captivity’, which is an interesting linguistic/semantic shift) – photographer Joel Sartore is going around various zoos photographing the animals they house in portrait fashion, and there are THOUSANDS of images here which you can browse at your leisure and which give a truly fabulous overview of the frankly mind-fcuking diversity of natural life on Earth (which we’ve spent much of the past few hundred years seeking to eat, skin or stuff – well done us!). These are really wonderful photos – and all the better for not being limited to your standard charismatic megafauna! There are photos of whelks ffs! – and the sort of thing that I could imagine animal-obsessed kids (or adults tbh) getting lost in.
  • Just In Colour: One of the weirdest things about Getting Old is seeing stuff that was cursedly-uncool when you were young being reevaluated by subsequent generations. Dungeons and Dragons – used to be a social kiss of death, now not in fact embarrassing! Primark – somewhere you would literally be beaten up for shopping at in Swindon in 1991, now a beacon of morally-questionable fast fashion! To that list you can apparently now add tie-dye clothing – this is a TikTok account which makes AMAZING tie-dye tshirts, and shows you the frankly-astonishing degree of precision and skill involved in creating them. I still refuse to believe that anyone wearing one of these smells of anything other than bongwater and patchouli, but I accept that they look incredible.
  • Rectangles: If you don’t find staring at the ticking hands of a wall-mounted clock a pleasing way of marking the ineluctable passage of time as we inch ever close to death, why not explore this alternative? Rectangles is a way of marking the passage of time by breaking down each day into 144 10-minute blocks – no idea whether this has benefits in terms of productivity, but I personally found there was something slightly terrifying about seeing the sense of pure time passing defined in this way. That said, I would also totally be up for having this as a whole-wall timekeeping installation somewhere, with a modifiable colourscheme, so if someone fancies knocking this up for me then that would be great thanks.
  • Modern Media: “Motern Media is the home for the creative projects of Matt Farley, including collaborations with Charlie Roxburgh, Tom Scalzo, Chris Peterson, Doug Brennan and more! Farley is the best and most prolific songwriter of all time.  He has released more than 22,000 songs, using 80+ pseudonyms, including The Toilet Bowl Cleaners, The Very Nice Interesting Singer Man, Papa Razzi and The Photogs, and The Hungry Food Band.” Ok, we might be able to take issue with the ‘best’ in that sentence, but I don’t think anyone can argue with the ‘most prolific’ line in that bio – this man has written a LOT of songs. I can’t say that I totally recommend listening to any of them, but I strongly advise that you go to the ‘Search’ page and mess around with whatever random keywords you can think of because, honestly, you would be AMAZED at some of the topics Farley has tackled (whilst it’s not what you might term a ‘classic’, I can’t help but love a song entitled “Streaking Naked Is A Noble College Tradition”). This is just PERFECT, and I love the fact that the internet has enabled this uniquely-dedicated individual to find an audience (and, as I discovered when reading around a bit, an income of around $4k a month from streaming services, because it turns out if you record enough music then someone somewhere will end up streaming it, even if by accident).

By Ben Zank



  • Litterati: I have worked on a few projects over the past couple of years (lol ‘worked on’ – let’s not dwell too much on the actual nature or value of my contribution, eh?) which have involved litter, plastics and recycling, and one of the ‘interesting’ (read: borderline-depressing) common themes that comes across whenever looking at this sort of thing is the general sense of impotence felt by people when it comes to How To Make This Stuff Better. Noone has any faith in recycling anymore, noone really even understands how it works or what can be recycled, noone really seems to know what to do to change behaviour patterns, especially in urban areas, around littering and waste disposal…it’s all a bit miserable tbh, but Litterati is a project which seeks to use data to help with problem solving around waste management and disposal, and whose “goal is to empower people to collect Litter Data & to empower people with access to that data so that anyone can help to create a litter-free world.” From crowdsourced datagathering projects to downloadable datasets of litter distribution (based on said publicly-gathered data) to thinking and writing about behaviour-change initiatives suggested by said data, this is a really interesting resource for anyone looking at or thinking about how best to manage the increasingly-urgent issue of what the fcuk to do with all this crap.
  • Invisibility Shield: It’s been a while since I’ve featured a blatantly-fraudulent Kickstarter campaign on here, so it was almost a pleasure to stumble across this absolute doozy of a scam this week. Would you like to own your VERY OWN working invisibility shield, for, er, the low low price of £50? Well apparently YOU CAN HAVE IT! This has raised nearly half-a-million quid, from a starting goal of £6k, and as such is GUARANTEED TO HAPPEN – the extent to which you believe that guarantee may well be proportionate to your belief in fairies, or that Boris really is sorry, but, well, if you want to believe then I am not going to stop you! In fairness to the people behind this, the video introducing the project shows a degree of ‘invisibility’ that might charitably described as ‘partial’, and a product which seems like it is designed more for light special effects and stagework rather than, I don’t know, large-scale criminal activities, but I would also be willing to bet money that there is at least one person on the waiting list for this toy who is CONVINCED that it will let them perpetrate the crime of the century. Anyway, look, I may mock, but there’s a small chance that this really is offering you a chance to own a proper invisibility shield for less than the price of a night out and so you might want to ignore me and instead start thinking of all the fun things you can use it for when it shows up on your doorstep come December (if this ships on time I will be AMAZED).
  • Gnod: This is super-useful. Gnod is a search engine aggregator which lets you input your terms and then select which engine’s results it throws up – so you can contrast results from Google, Bing, DuckDuckGo…but also from Reddit, StackOverflow, Yandex, YouTube, Baidu…this isn’t the slickest or fanciest interfaces, fine, but if you want a bit of a differentiated way of seeing how search shows up, or just a quick way of running queries across multiple platforms, this might be useful.
  • Charlie News: Do you remember The Great Chatbot Boom of 2016(ish)? When we were all convinced (or being convinced, or convincing other people) that chatbots were the future of web interfaces and that it was VITALLY IMPORTANT that we all build conversational front-ends for our otherwise-banal nested dialogue trees? GOOD TIMES (they were not good times)! Well let’s pretend that those times never went away and that we didn’t all very quickly get disillusioned with the whole concept of ‘talking to the machines’ as a means of finding out information – meet Charlie! Charlie’s a chatbot news service, which offers you the opportunity to get your headlines from a variety of different sources, distilled into headlines but with the opportunity to go deeper if necessary and, well, it’s a lovely idea but it hasn’t actually fixed any of the longstanding chat interface problems (to whit: you never want to actually type ‘conversationally’, so you’re just clicking through made-up conversational options which is…literally just the same as clicking menu items on a normal website, isn’t it, except less clear and marginally-slower?) – that said, it does some interesting things with source selection and summarisation, which are worth a look if you’re still desperately trying to Make Chatbots Happen (they won’t, stop it).
  • Net Zero Check: Chatbots are not a thing – Twitter bots, though, continue to be an excellent source of fun and an underexploited campaign mechanic. This one builds on the excellent work done by the Gender Paygap Bot earlier this year – rather than highlighting the discrepancies between companies’ support for IWD and their…less than supportive approach to equal pay, this uses companies tweeting about Earth Day (quick pause here – Earth Day has been happening for…how many years now? And, er, how are we doing at saving the planet? Can we maybe agree that these things DON’T DO ANYTHING and that perhaps we might find it a more beneficial use of our time to, I don’t know, CONSUME LESS CRAP than producing graphics to communicate HOW MUCH WE CARE ABOUT EARTH DAY? Eh? Oh) as a jumping off point to share their actual, practical work to address their impact on the environment. So, for example, insurancebastards Aviva recently tweeted about how much they ‘care’ about Earth day – whilst, according to this bot, having insufficient Net Zero plans and inadequate reporting structures around their green plans! Well done, Aviva! This is great, and is the sort of mechanism which it is VERY EASY to replicate for other things – I have a sneaking suspicion that we are going to see something similar applied to agencies who talk up their green credentials whilst at the same time working for oil companies, for example, but I am sure you can think of your own activist options (THINK FFS).
  • Kalmany: I really don’t understand what this is or why it exists, which is sort-of as it should be really. This is…a website devoted to  the electoral commission of the fictional land of Kalmany, complete with wards and demographic information and news about what’s going on in the various districts of the (completely imaginary) land. Elections apparently happen daily – is this procedurally-generated? Surely there isn’t someone writing and typing this all by hand? Can somebody please explain to me what the fcuk is going on here? It feels a little bit like I have stumbled across the side project of a long-running private roleplaying game which was never meant to be seen by anyone outside of the core playing group, and it’s a bit weird and voyeuristic. Honestly, though, do click around, you’ll be surprised by how ‘deep’ this goes (but you will be none the wiser as to why).
  • Realityscan: I know that we’re all terribly bored of all the talk of the fcuking metaverse, and of all the horrible people attempting to persuade us that we simply MUST start creating digital futures (because otherwise we won’t be able to buy the digital goods they ar increasingly keen on selling us), and we’re right to be, but occasionally there’s stuff that crops up that makes me briefly remember what it was like to be excited by technology again. So it is with RealityScan, which is AN Other ‘use your phone’s camera to scan an object into 3d space’ app, but which is SO GOOD and produces scans of such staggeringly high-fidelity that you can start to imagine the potential for being able to drag anything from the real to the digital world in just a few taps – which, come on, is pretty much magic. This isn’t open access yet – there’s a waiting list you can apply to be on – but that doesn’t mean you can’t get briefly and uncharacteristically excited about the future by looking at what might soon be possible.
  • The Alternate History Forum: If the internet has succeeded in anything it has been in helping us understand the incredible variegated tapestry of human interest and experience, and in showing that, no matter how niche and how esoteric-seeming a pursuit, there will be people (significantly more than you could possibly imagine) who make said pursuit a foundational cornerstone of their existence and personality. For instance, I wouldn’t previously have speculated that there were enough people interested in writing deep and VERY IN-DEPTH countrerfactual imaginings of modern and ancient history for an audience of their peers to keep an Alternative History forum going for nearly two decades, but, well, what do I know (rhetorical)? THIS IS AMAZING! There are thousands of threads in here, neatly categorised by date range and theme, and covering everything from ‘what if there had been a nuclear conflict in 1956?’ to ‘let’s imagine that Genghis Khan lost his left hand in a freak yak-related incident when he was just three; how would that have fcuked with the arc of global geopolitics over the coming millennia?’, and these are very much live RIGHT NOW, with all sorts of debates and discussions going on about whether or not the Genoese millinery industry would have had an unexpected mid-20th-Century renaissance had Gavrilo Princip aimed a touch lower on that fateful day in Sarajevo (I mean, not exactly this, but you get the idea). This is amazing and baffling and insanely-geeky, and I can’t quite believe it exists.
  • Snd: A library of free US sounds. “With the spread of smart speakers and wireless earphones, the importance of sound in interaction design is increasing day by day. However, compared to many researches and practices in the fields of visual design and animation in interaction design, it seems that not enough knowledge has been shared about interaction design with sound, except in some fields such as games. Interaction should not be limited to text and visuals, but should be richer than that. In order to make the intensity of interaction richer and stronger, we should have more discussion about sound.  However, in the area of interaction design, there are fewer sound designers than visual designers and programmers, and there are certainly barriers to creating sound. To encourage UX developers to further explore discussions in the area of interaction design with sound, we have developed UI sound assets that can be used for free without worrying about licensing.” If you work in an agency you will at some point over the past decade have had That Conversation about soundmarks and how important they are – here’s a chance to have it again, with someone different! Also, though, making stuff sound good really does make a difference (SURPRISE AND DELIGHT! Dear God).
  • Thesaurus Transformed: Based on an idea by Dan Hon, who wrote in a newsletter a few weeks back: “Here’s an idea: if I had more time and energy and honestly, possibly if I were not a parent and exhausted yet also indescribably full of love and yelling, I would take the top, I don’t know, 10,000 English words, take the top 50 words closest in vector space to them, programatically format them and then squirt them into an ebook, call it the World’s First AI Thesaurus, sell it, and then maybe take the family out for dinner on the meagre proceeds. So, someone should do that. Or someone should get in touch with me and then do, like, 85% of the work while I nod on in the background and make encouraging sounds.” Because Dan’s readers are better than mine (I am not judging you – I love you very much, but I am also aware of your limitations), someone actually did make it. Thesaurus Transformed is indeed the world’s first AI thesaurus, which spits out word alternatives based on the perceived ‘fit’ of terms determined by a semantic AI. Which is nice!
  • The iPhone Macro Challenge: I think we need new words for ‘photography’, or at least the version of photography that we get when we use phones. I have long railed against the fact that it’s now impossible to take ‘bad’ pictures on a phone anymore, but recent iterations of mobile image processing software, seemingly enabled by default on every new device, take this to whole new levels by producing imagery that bears no relation whatsoever to what’s seen by the naked eye. Look, can we all agree that if we’re going to make all the outputs from our phone cameras so preposterously, unrealistically life-enhanced that we should be able to do the same for our actual eyes as well? I see no reason why I should be forced to endure the continual aesthetic disappointments foisted on me by Eyes1.0. Anyway, this is by way of introduction to this year’s iPhone Macro Challenge Photo Challenge, which saw Apple pick a bunch of stellar examples of macro photography using its latest kit. My Cnut-ish kvetching aside, the quality of the images here is astonishing.
  • NY Songlines:I appreciate that what I am about to say will be accompanied in the heads of all those reading by the sound of approximately no violins whatsoever, but, honestly, Rome isn’t that fun a city to walk around. I mean, it’s obviously jaw-dropping but it’s also not, outside of the centre, that interesting to stroll around. Sorry, Rome. Or at least it’s not compared to London, which is legendarily-brilliant for strolling, or New York, which is equally fascinating to explore on foot and which inspired this site, which I now want versions of for every capital in the world. “The Aboriginal Australians are able to navigate across their harsh and unforgiving land by memorizing and following the Songlines—an intricate series of song cycles that identify the landmarks that one needs to pass to get where one needed to go…New York has its own giants, heroes and monsters who left their marks and their names on the land around us. If we learn their stories which are written on our streets and avenues, we’ll have a much better chance of knowing where we’ve been, and where we’re going. To this end I offer these as the New York Songlines. An oral culture uses song as the most efficient way to remember and transmit large amounts of information; the Web is our technological society’s closest equivalent. Each Songline will follow a single pathway, whether it goes by one name or several; the streets go from river to river, while the avenues stop at 59th Street, which is my upper limit for the time being.” I LOVE THIS! I now want to spend the weekend following these routes and my feet, but I am several thousand miles away and so I will go for a stroll around the Forum instead.
  • Miscellaneous Punk Zines: Literally what it says on the description, hoest on The Internet Archive. These are from all over the place, temporally and geographically, and are a wonderful treasure trove of old interviews and art and design and the changing nature of the punk ‘aesthetic’ over the past 5 decades. Stuff like this is as fascinating for its ‘scene-ness’ as it is for its status as a rolling barometer of ‘vibe’ (which, and I appreciate that there’s some stiff competition, may well be the worst sentence I’ve written all year – well done, Matt! Well done!).
  • Redactle: As far as I’m concerned this is literally impossible, but you may have better luck. Redactle is a game which presents you with a single Wikipedia entry, with a significant proportion of the words blocked out. Your goal is to identify the title of the entry – to do this, you can make guesses as to the words contained in the copy which are blanked out. Guess correctly and the words get unblanked, making it (in theory) easier to work out the overall topic you’re reading about. Except, honestly, I have not been able to get ONE of these all week and it has left me feeling slightly bitter and thick, so I can’t quite bring myself to recommend this too wholeheartedly.
  • The Qubit Game: I don’t understand quantum computing. Sorry, but I really don’t, and I don’t think I’m likely to, however long I spend staring at explanations of what the fcuk a cubit is when it’s at home. Still, credit to Google for attempting to teach me via the medium of this EXCELLENT clicker game, which is theoretically intended to teach you all about the magical (not magic! Science!) world of QUANTA and how it can help us compute faster than ever before, but which in practice is in fact just an excellent, minimally-designed way of wasting any afternoon watching Numbers Go Up. This is really good, even if it left me only marginally-less-clueless than I was when I started playing it on Monday.
  • Infinite Mac: Finally in this week’s miscellaneous links, a 90s Mac you can access and run through your browser! Which, fine, doesn’t sound hugely exciting, but LOOK! There’s a folder on the desktop called ‘GAMES’ and OH ME OH MY! Battlechess! Sim City 2000! Another World! If you’re 40-ish then this is everything you will need to transport you back 30 years to a better time (it wasn’t better) in which stuff made sense (it didn’t make sense; you were just stupid and couldn’t see how messy and complicated everything was) and you could be satisfied with 32-bit graphics and chiptune sounds. Honestly, this is a whole YEAR’S worth of timewasting and I promise you won’t regret the click.

By Jon Krause




  • Tom Hegen: Aerial landscape photography isn’t quite the jawdropping novelty of old, thanks to the increasing-ubiquity of drones, but when they are done well they are still an arresting site – Tom Hegen is a particularly-talented photographer ploughing this particular furrow.
  • Popular Pandemics Magazine: This is…weird. A bit like Scarfolk, except if instead of the grim kitchen sickness of the UK’s 1970s information films you took 1950s Americana as inspiration. Sinister, creepy, surreal and pleasingly-baffling, you can investigate further here should you be tempted.
  • Self Care With Wall: Inspirational and self-care bromides photoshopped onto various settings – walls, coffeecups, posters – and presented as candid photos as part of this instafeed/artproject. Take from this what you will – I personally find that this neatly skewers the empty horror of so much motivational thinking and how it’s repackaged to us as a facet of the Modern Capitalist Experience, but you will I’m sure find your own angle to enjoy / despair at.


  • AI & Language: I sometimes feel a bit guilty about the fact that so much of what I include in Curios, particularly in this longreads section, comes from the US – the simple fact is, though, that the sheer volume of journalism produced in English by North Americans dwarfs what comes out of the UK, and, for reasons I still haven’t quite understood, you’re far more likely to come across in-depth pieces about esoteric topics from somewhere like the New York Times than you are from, say, The Times. So it is with this excellent article which takes a look at the current state of play in terms of textual AI,. specifically GPT-3 (and the coming GPT-4) and asks a variety of questions about What It All Means about the potential development of Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) and how we should treat copy generated by machines (and the machines that generate them). This won’t offer you anything hugely-new if you’re already reasonably au fait with the GPT-3 chat, but if you’re interested in reading a good overview of some of the main tech players and the main BIG QUESTIONS currently being discussed around What It Means When Machines Appear To Write then this is a superb primer. It’s not without its flaws, though, not least its acceptance of quite a few PR lines from OpenAI as uncontested gospel truths – this counterpiece, by Emily Bender, highlights some of the reasons as to why it’s important to be more rather than less sceptical of GPT-3 and what it can do, and to ask harder questions about why we are seeking to move towards AGI and whether in fact we ought to not be doing this at all. There are few more interesting questions in language and philosophy than those being asked by tech like this, imho.
  • Social Media, Democracy and Trust: Again, a US-centric piece, this time from The Atlantic, about What The Past Decade Of Social Media Has Done To Us. You might, fine, be a bit tired of reading about the Democrats and Republicans and That Awful Man And His Awful Tweets, and you might, like me, rail slightly at the equivalence here made between ‘people who are using the internet to attempt to redress years of systemic and institutional inequality’ and ‘people who are using it to undermine and destroy the very possibility of meaningful discourse’, but as an overview of what has been happening to everyone – because you can transpose this to the UK, or, frankly, pretty much any democracy, and it would still read largely-true – over the past 10 years or so it’s a good read.
  • Inside The New Right: Sorry sorry sorry ANOTHER US-centric piece, sorry! Still, presuming that you still think that ‘the way in which political discourse moves in the US is a reasonable bellwether for the way in which it is likely to move in the UK and elsewhere, because the same money interested in moving in over there is also interested in moving it over here too’, this is very much worth a read. Vanity Fair profiles ‘the new right’, a loose collection of ‘disparate intellectuals’ attracting the interest and cash of such stellar individuals as Peter Thiel as they seek to shape the next wave of the post-left/right political landscape. Lots to unpack in here – from the…not exactly critical lens through which the author of this piece appears to be gazing at stuff that, at heart, sounds an awful lot like actual fascism, the way in which this appears to be little more than a repackaging of the same tropes we saw being discussed around 2015/6 as commentators yukked along with the Fashion Fash of the Proud Boys and the like, to the way in which this is all being presented as some sort of a lifestyle choice rather than, you know, a meaningful step towards some moderately-scary political realities…anyway, have a read and remember this one when the US media is doing one of its regular retrospective ‘but how DID we end up here at the gates of fascism? I literally have NO idea!’ bits.
  • Elon Musk and Moderation: You know that Musk hasn’t really thought hard enough about the moderation thing; I know that Musk hasn’t really thought hard enough about the moderation thing. Still, here’s a good explainer as to exactly why that’s the case – it covers loads of things, from ‘what free speech actually, practically means’ to ‘why open sourcing the algorithm is not in fact the magic bullet Elon seems to think it is’ (“the biggest beneficiaries of open sourcing the ranking algorithm will be spammers (which is doubly amusing because in just a few moments Musk is going to whine about spammers). Open sourcing the algorithm will be most interesting to those looking to abuse and game the system to promote their own stuff. We know this. We’ve seen it. There’s a reason why Google’s search algorithm has become more and more opaque over the years. Not because it’s trying to suppress people, but because the people who were most interested in understanding how it all worked were search engine spammers. Open sourcing the Twitter algorithm would do the same thing.”), and is generally a really good read about Why Moderation Is A Super-Hard and Super-Important Project.
  • Teaching Kids Crypto: What’s the most important lesson you might want to teach the world’s progeny? To care for each other and the planet? To remember their own personal worth? To BE KIND (ahahahahalol SO 2020!!!)? No! It is TO GET INTO CRYPTO! Welcoe to the world of kids crypto camps, set up to help indoctrinate the very youngest generations into the importance of HODLing and everything being ON THE BLOCKCHAIN! “This summer in Los Angeles, dozens of children ages 5 to 17 will attend the third-ever session of Crypto Kids Camp, where they’ll learn about everything from artificial intelligence to virtual reality using hands-on games and activities.It’s part of a burgeoning cottage industry made up of camps, startups, and video content devoted to educating the next generation about Web3, sometimes even before they can read. According to founder Najah Roberts, the camp is a way to lessen the wealth gap between privileged kids and underserved communities. “It’s important to catch our kids when they’re young to help them open their minds to what the possibilities are,” she says. “You can tell them that there are jobs in tech, but when they actually know that they can create those jobs, those platforms, those games, you see their minds open.”” This sounds like a great idea that is definitely going to inculcate the best possible values into these young hearts and minds!
  • NFT Feminism: Or ‘Girlboss3.0’, maybe. This piece looks at the various female-fronted projects being launched into the NFT space, and asks whether there is any ‘there’ there in terms of the feminist principles many of them seem to espouse or whether they are in fact just girlbossing for 2022 (I will give you ONE GUESS). It is full of good snippets, but this is a personal favourite and one which I believe gives a representative flavour of the piece: “Other founders talk about “Web3”—the proposal of a future in which online life is tied to the blockchain—as an opportunity to level the playing field. Although it was mostly men who got rich off of the previous iteration of the social internet, and mostly men who have historically gotten rich in general, maybe it’s not too late to create a different outcome for this one. “What do we have to lose by being on the front lines of this new innovation where women can go directly to their audience?” asked Randi Zuckerberg, a co-founder of a Web3 platform called The Hug and the sister of Mark Zuckerberg. “I think anyone who’s sitting and being skeptical is sitting in a massive place of privilege, which means that the old system works for them.” (Asked if her significant personal wealth might affect her ability to comment on systems of inequality, Zuckerberg said she has surrounded herself with “a diverse team and advisory board.”)”
  • ContraChrome: It’s almost hard to believe now that a couple of decades ago Google was the scrappy upstart in the search space with its pleasingly-simple mantra of ‘don’t be evil’ and its no-frills, industry-beating search project, and its magical free email service with infinite storage. In the intervening twenty or so years, it’s fair to say that the company’s image has…changed slightly, due in no small part to a series of product decisions which, yes, fine, have made it one of the richest organisations in the history of human endeavour but which have also made it an intensely-creepy data vampire. In 2008, Google commissioned a comic by artist Scott McCloud to explain how awesome its new Chrome browser was – it’s been updated for 2022 by Leah Elliott as a guide to all the ways in which Chrome now tracks you and all the reasons why you might want to consider using a different browser with a slightly-less-invasive data collection and sharing policy. This is really well-done – clear and informative and well-argued – although it still hasn’t quite motivated me to move away from Chrome because, well, I am lazy.
  • Equipment Supply Shocks: A short article about the concept of Equipment Supply Shocks – changes in supply of a particular piece of equipment that are so huge that they have immense, disproportionate impacts on all sorts of other unexpected factors. There are some GREAT examples in here – from hiphop seeing an explosion in the late 70s as a result of a whole load of pilfered stereo equipment doing the rounds of New York, to how Steve Jobs’ donation of computers to California’s school system played a significant role in the development of the modern Silicon Valley. Super-interesting and will briefly make you excited for all the amazing things you might achieve by, I don’t know, flooding South London’s schools with Kabaddi pitches or something.
  • Webcam Mentors: One of the most interesting things to me about The Now is the ways in which the digitisation of traditionally-analogue industries is creating new, hitherto=unimagined employment categories where previously none existed. So it is with Colombia’s camgirl industry, which has in the past few years spawned a whole new class of job – the webcam ‘mentor’, people who effectively act as floor managers for camgirls, helping them run their streams, set up their shows, come up with creative, manage their community and generally keep it together whilst w4nking down the lens. Fascinating, both in terms of the role and the economics and fairness of the relationship – per the article, “Monitors like Zapata and Farias earn a monthly base salary of approximately $320, as well as a 2% commission from their models. That nets them between $455 and almost $650 per month. Monitors work on permanent contracts that pay for their social security and health care, unlike models who work as contractors and whose wages vary, depending on the success of their shows.” Whatever your thoughts on this, I give it about 3 years before work like this is all machine-automated.
  • UK Papers and Climate Change: This is a brilliant piece, looking at how the UK’s newspapers have changed their attitudes to climate change over the past decade or so, and how language around the climate crisis has shifted as the Overton Window around the health of our planet has shifted. Fascinating not only as a record of shifting attitudes, but also as a way of seeing how the rhetoric employed by Certain Sections Of The Press is moving to match the times. The Telegraph is still very much on the side of big business and is still very much punting the line of ‘we can’t afford to fcuk the economy by saving the planet’, but it can’t really be seen to be pretending that climate change isn’t very much happening – so you will notice that the focus of its attacks has moved from the scientists warning us we’re in peril, to the protestors complaining we’re not doing enough to sort things out. The message is the same – “We simply can’t afford this sort of disruption! Won’t someone think of the shareholders!” – it’s just the focus that’s shifted. So interesting, this stuff.
  • The Long-Term Relationship Aesthetic: I should preface this piece by saying that of course I know that as a middle-aged man I am meant to neither understand nor empathise with it, and that there would be something wrong with me if I didn’t find this ridiculous – that said, I don’t think I have ever read something that has made me so happy not to be young or single. I honestly don’t think I could cope with the twin stress of not only worrying about how a new relationship is going but also of whether we are performing the roles of ‘people in a new relationship’ with sufficient vigour for the socials. Honestly, there were parts of this article that made me age like the Nazi at the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: ““Having a boyfriend is kind of part of my aesthetic…When I’m with someone, I just want everyone to know I’m in love with them…I want to make sure my next soft launch is fashionable, and that it’s clear they’re adding to my life,”” All of a sudden I have a deep and clear understanding of the mental health crisis afflicting the young.
  • TikTok Analysis: The latest TikTok trend (not really latest tbh, this has been around for a while now) is IN-DEPTH ANALYSIS of seemingly-trivial stuff, all delivered in that now-classic ‘my face overlaid over some captions and video, like a powerpoint presentation delivered by a MASSIVE FLOATING FIZZOG, overusing terms like ‘aesthetic’ and ‘counterfactual’ and ‘the spectacle’ in a desperate scrabble for unearned profundity’ style (basically like Web Curios, but in video) – this Vox explainer gives you an overview of the what, and some vague stabs at a ‘why’, but I think fails to nail the real reason behind this which is (and this is a malformed theory but one which I think has legs, so bear with me) that we are all consuming so much STUFF that we are almost-by-accident developing very specialised and specific readings and understandings of said stuff which we have NO use for, and which instead we externalise through these sorts of videos or substacks or YouTube channels as some sort of potentially-futile attempt to add meaning or import to what is otherwise just a lot of time spent watching underwhelming telly. What do you reckon, plausible?
  • Meet Br Beast: Can you think of a profile of a megafamous streamer or YouTuber or TikTok person from the past 5 years or so in which the subject of said profile has seemed…happy? Well-adjusted? Socially ept? If you can can you please share it with me, as I am starting to believe that they don’t exist. This is the latest in the long line of ‘profiles of people who are by all objective standards very rich and very famous and who make being very rich and very famous sound, honestly, like a horrible state that noone in their right mind would ever pursue’, this time all about YouTube sensation Mr Beast, the man who even if you don’t know your children or nephews or nieces certainly will (he’s the one who did the Squid Game knockoff show thing last year, if that rings bells). This ticks a lot of the classic boxes – vaguely-obsessional tendencies, a non-traditional approach to social interactions, single-minded devotion to WINNING THE GAME (where ‘the game’ in this case is ‘the battle for YT subscribers’), the sense that noone here is having any fun at all apart from the kid’s mum who, you get the impression, can’t quite believe her luck. If you have kids who want to be YouTubers, I suggest you send them this and hope that it makes them realise that it sounds like a miserable life.
  • Mad Realities: You know how lots of crypto projects have ROADMAPS for CONTENT that will enable NFT holders and the COMMUNITY to DETERMIN THE DIRECTION OF THE ARTISTIC OUTPUT? Ever wondered what that might look like in practice? Meet ‘Mad Realities’, an NFT collective which is currently using its ETH bankroll to fund a, er, dating show on YouTube which is all loosely themed around crypto and where the NFT holders get to vote on who will be on the next edition and vitally important artistic decisions like that. It’s…it’s not wholly clear, as per usual with these things, exactly what the ‘crypto’ element of this is adding to anything other than the ability for a few peope to maybe make a lot of cash out of this, or indeed how exactly anyone here thinks that making a YouTube dating show with approximately 6k views per episode is going to help the community get TO THE MOON, but it’s nice to see one of these projects actually doing something, even if that something is as silly as this.
  • Slime: Liam Shaw writes in the London Review of Books, reviewing a book about slime by Susanne Wedlich. Slime is GREAT, and this is a great piece of writing, instructive and discursive and fun: “A huge variety of slimy things could trigger our revulsion, but only some do. Sartre claimed in Being and Nothingness that ‘observation’ of young children proved they were instinctively repulsed by all that is slimy. It seems more likely he was universalising his own particular phobias. As Wedlich points out, young children will quite happily eat worms; only if they grow up in a culture in which worms are taboo will they learn to stop. ‘We are born to be disgusted’ by slime, but must be taught which slime ought to disgust us. Human bodies are never slimier than during sex, but most of us don’t experience this as a difficulty. To describe humanity as slimy is true (if misanthropic); to single out certain practices or bodies as ‘slimy’ is to reveal one’s prejudices. The misogyny of Sartre’s warning against the ‘sweet and feminine’ visqueux is one of the slimiest moments in his writing.” Superb.
  • Play and Devotion with Oliver Sacks: From the intro to the piece: “In the early 1980s, New Yorker staff writer Lawrence Weschler spent four years hanging around the neurologist Oliver Sacks, gathering material for an extended profile. The story, at Sacks’s request, was ultimately never published, but a few decades later, in the final months of his life, Sacks implored Weschler to return to the project. The following is an excerpt from that work. We pick up the story here with the unlikely pair on a visit to some of the doctor’s original home stomping grounds in London.” This is DELIGHTFUL – interesting, funny, playful and unexpected, particular when it comes to the brief-but-memorable detour into sex with hippos (I have just tried to look up what the term might be for ‘hippo fetish’ and failed miserably, but by way of compensation have just learned that you could make quite a filthy limerick about hippofcuking whilst rhyming ‘hippopotamous’ with ‘bottom pus’ and ‘monotonous’, so, well, I still win).
  • Sinners List: I found this short story, about the limits of forgiveness and what ‘forgiving’ means, and crime and punishment and rehabilitation, quite quite beautiful, maybe you will too. Classic opening line, also.
  • The Wave: Short fiction about a coming wave, by Rawi Hage. “Let me introduce myself. My name is Ghassan El-Hajjar and I am a geologist and ex-university professor. I graduated with a PhD in geoscience from the University of Calgary. My dissertation was on earthquakes and their aftermaths. I studied the relationships between mountain thrust faults, plate tectonics, sea floor landslides, and tsunamis. I have spent most of my life in pursuit of historical occurrences of massive waves following, to use the Latin word, brasmatia, which literally means the shaking of the earth. Nor do I exclude from my vocabulary the more current term: tsunami. As I already mentioned, I am an ex-professor and, for the last fifteen years, I’ve been waiting, with anticipation, for this big event: the wave.” This is very good indeed.
  • Serra’s Verbs: Finally in this week’s longreads, this excerpt from a forthcoming book by Nina Maclaughlin. This is something of a formal exercise – to quote the author, “In 1967, the sculptor Richard Serra made a list of 84 verbs (to roll, to smear, to open, to hide, to split, to lift), and 24 concepts (of nature, of friction, of layering, of tides) that served as both guide and manifesto for his work. I’m moving through his list and distilling each action and concept in a series of short fictions. The following is an excerpt from that project” – but it stands alone as a piece of writing, a selection of story fragments, a series of mood pieces. Wonderful, wonderful writing – enjoy slowly with a cup of tea or glass of wine or a spliff or something.

By Steph Wilson