Webcurios 22/10/21

Reading Time: 37 minutes

Will it be Meta? Will it be Horizon? WILL IT MAKE A BLIND BIT OF DIFFERENCE TO ANYTHING AT ALL? Yes, that’s right, Facebook’s continued infrastructural importance to the world was once again demonstrated by the fact that literally every news media outlet in the world wrote up a story about how the company might be about to change its name – proving once again that we as a species have a similar relationship to Facebook as we each do to that one person who we hatefollow on Twitter (guiltily obsessional and utterly hooked).

Anyway, as we wait to discover what new shell company will have its logo plastered all over our 3d representation of the digital future – and how little difference any of this makes to the practical reality of having the shape and heft of our existences determined by Croesus-rich corporate actors governed solely by profit motive – I once again humbly present to you this week’s selection of digital leavings gathered from the bins and unloved corners of the web. Don’t gulp this all down too quickly – it’s chunky, and you’ll definitely want to chew, and beyond that I am now going on leave for a couple of weeks so you’ll need to make this last (or alternatively just find other things to do with your time other than reading the increasingly bitter screed of a man whose relationship with the digital can at best be described as ‘concerning’).

My girlfriend is coming to visit, sadly without the cat, so I will hopefully be indulging in REAL LIFE for at least a few days and therefore won’t have time to go potholing for webspaff – still, hopefully the subsequent links will go some way to filling the gaping void in your lives ’til I return.

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and I’ll see you in a few weeks unless I, or you, die (I am counting ‘unsubscribe’ as a form of death here).

By Dan Barry



  • Future Wake: I appreciate that this isn’t necessarily the cheeriest way to start the week’s selection of links, but, well, blame society or something. Future Wake is a project which uses data on fatal encounters with police in the US to create images and profiles of the sorts of people who, statistically, are most likely to have their lives prematurely-curtailed by a law enforcement officer – so at the time of writing, statistically-speaking, LA is set to see another death-by-cop in 4 days time, New York in three weeks. The use of all sorts of different historical materials beyond just mugshot data and age/gender means that the profiles and stories that the system creates contain details of how the altercation that lead to each ‘death’ occurred and escalated, lending an unpleasant air of depth and plausibility to all of this – it’s far more affecting than the more standard ‘here are some mugshots based on aggregated image data’-type methodology which is more standard. Depressing, fine,  but such a clever use of available data to powerfully make an important point – specifically, that the use of data such as this in combination with algorithms to ‘predict’ future crimes is inherently problematic: to quote the people behind the project, “Predictive policing algorithms do not replace prejudicial human judgements, rather it automates and conceals these biases. While predictive policing may have an appeal for law enforcement agencies, it’s important to bear in mind that statistical models cannot reliably predict the future; such models can only identify and perhaps elucidate the patterns in historical (and often biased) data. The implementation of such predictive models does not guarantee that crime can be or will be reduced.” Ah, ‘algorithms’ – we’re going to need a new word, aren’t we? This one feels increasingly blunt.
  • Text-To-Art: Oh, ok, fine, the word ‘art’ here is doing more heavy lifting than it’s necessarily comfortable with, but still. This, to my knowledge, is the first ‘type in whatever you want and make a machine imagine it, like you’re commissioning a painting by a compliant-if-hallucinatory drunk’ service to exist without the need to play with one of those slightly-unpleasant Google forms – it’s very simple to use, you just type in what you want the machine to imagine for you and, after a short wait, HEY PRESTO! The computational cost of this stuff is not-insignificant, so you only get three free goes before the site not-unreasonably asks you to buy credits, but it’s enough to get a feel for what’s possible – if you’ve spent any time looking at this sort of thing in Curios passim (OF COURSE YOU HAVE) you’ll be aware of the schtick – slightly-melty, compelling-if-you-don’t-look-too-closely canvases which look an awful lot like the sort of bad art you often imagine comes out of dream therapy sessions. You can force the machine into embodying specific styles (or at least its interpretation of certain specific styles) through the text – have a think about the three oddest artistic chimeras you can imagine (“tellytubbies as drawn by Trevor Brown”!), and prepare to unleash them on the world. Even better, the site owners are offering you the ability to order prints of whatever horrors the machine spits out – I refuse to believe that anything produced here will look any good when cheaply-printed on a stretched canvas boxframe, but if you want something a little more ‘edgy’ to complement the Live, Laugh, Love decals then you know where to come.
  • Ask Delphi:You may have seen this doing the rounds over the past few days – Delphi is the latest AI project to capture the web’s imagination, mainly due to its clever framing. ‘Delphi is a computational model for descriptive ethics, i.e., people’s moral judgments on a variety of everyday situations’ – or, in simple framing and DEFINITELY what they put on a press release, ‘let this AI judge your actions and decide whether something is right or wrong with HILARIOUS effects!!’. Type anything you like into Delphi (it asks that you go along with the fiction and type in full sentences, although the machine obviously doesn’t properly parse sentences and so you can basically type however you like) and the machine will spit out a judgement as to whether or not the thing you fed it with is RIGHT or WRONG. “Should I read Web Curios?”, you might ask, and Delphi would respond with “It’s good”. “Should I rob a bank?”, by contrast, sees me admonished with an “It’s bad”. So far, so sensibly calibrated. Except of course because this is just a model trained on a whole bunch of odd stuff, it falls apart quite quickly after that when you realise that you can alter the judgements you receive by doing things like adding ‘kindly’ or ‘quietly’, which often persuade the software that crimes are in fact OK (I do like the idea of the morality of something being intrinsically-linked to the manner in which you perform the act, though – a smiling evisceration? No problem!) – GUESS WHAT KIDS THE SOFTWARE’S ACTUALLY QUITE DUMB (you can read more about how it works here, should you be interested)! Still, just because it’s not fit for purpose now doesn’t mean that a) there won’t be someone somewhere doing a Dice Man-style experiment whereby their actions are directed by Delphi for a week because CONTENT; and b) that there won’t be a version of this sold as a ‘nanny’-type software layer in a product aimed at kids in ~5y or so.
  • ArtVote: Hot or not, for generative art. ArtVote presents you with a machine-generated artwork and asks you to grade it on a scale (oddly, they have chosen the ‘screaming red sad face to manically-grinning green happy face’ scale beloved of those customer service feedback terminals you occasionally see in airports and which I am convinced noone has ever, ever used), which lets the machine behind the site apparently get ‘better’ at producing artworks more likely to be pleasing to the observer’s eye. You can see other people’s scoring every time you vote, which is interesting in terms of seeing how your appreciation of a work maps against the wider public – there are about 7 different broad ‘types’ of art that the machine’s experimenting with, and it’s fascinating seeing how small variations in colour and placement of marks can make a huge difference to our appreciation of a piece of ‘art’. This is a project by the University of New York, so you can participate safe in the knowledge that you’re not training a machine to make some dreadful plutocratic artcnut even richer than they are already – of course, there’s no guarantee that the people behind the project won’t take everything that the machine learns and use it to coldly and brutally win the art market, ushering in in an era of machine-determined aesthetic homogeneity as the computers suddenly ‘solve’ aesthetics forever, but, well, let’s hope!
  • Racer Trash: Oh I love this! Racer Trash is, as far as I can tell, a collective of videoeditors and film makers and artists who have set up this retro-themed website (it functions a bit like an old version of Windows, basically, if, er, significantly more purple, like a Rude Dog and the Dweebs-themed skin) to showcase their projects and their work and honestly this is SO SO GOOD. Click on the ‘My Videos’ folder icon and just click at random – there’s a load of stuff here, all vaguely-vapourwave-y and surreal and strange and a bit uncanny, but also really, really well-made (these people are obviously good at this stuff, it’s not just thrown together if you see what I mean).
  • The Metaverse: TOO LATE FACEBOOK! Someone already owns the metaverse, and it’s not you! IN YOUR FACE, MARK! Yes, in news that will have sent cold waves of terror through Menlo Park, someone now OWNS the metaverse! Or at least has created what I presume is a trademarked online space called the metaverse – which is practically the same thing, no? Don’t fret, though, you don’t have to invest in an Oculus and full haptic set just yet – this is in fact the incredibly-silly name for auction house Sotheby’s new website all about NFTs! “Welcome to Sotheby’s Metaverse, an immersive destination for collectors of digital art, offering a curated selection of NFTs. Sotheby’s Metaverse is a home for this new art movement built on the foundations of crypto and NFTs“, whatever all this means. Currently there’s an ‘exhibition’ on showcasing a bunch of NFT collectors and some of the works that mean the most to them – let me just encourage you to click on over and enjoy the selection of noted NFT enthusiast Paris Hilton (for it is she!) as an example of the high-quality work being touted here. Anyway, the homepage features a bunch of NFTs currently being sold and there’s a Pepe meme-as-NFT currently subject to a £3m bid and I know I make fun of this stuff but there’s every possibility that I am the idiot here and in a few years time when I am p1ssing away my last, struggling to make the care-home payments, I will spend the dregs of my life wishing I had spent my meagre pennies on a CryptoKitty in 2017. So it inevitably goes.
  • Martha Stewart Does NFTs: Yes, that’s right, noted US television personality and celebrity lag Martha Stewart is getting in on the game! You can buy NFTs of pumpkins! From Martha Stewart! For lots of money!  Currently someone has bid $4k for the opportunity to get a pumpkin carving of their face which will be shipped to them and minted as an NFT! WHAT DO YOU THINK THE RESALE VALUE OF A LINK TO A JPEG OF A PHOTOGRAPH OF YOUR FACE CARVED INTO A PUMPKIN IS LIKELY TO BE??? I know, I know, this isn’t about the market or the resale value, it’s about owning a piece of ART and about the COMMUNITY and you would be a fool and a cynic to suggest otherwise, obvs. I would, though, like to gently point out that it does strike me as possibly a touch suspicious that someone like Martha Stewart, a woman who to the best of my knowledge doesn’t have a storied history of involvement in the art world or indeed the technology world, who is friends with Snoop Dogg, a man who (being generous) strikes me as knowing a good grift when he sees one, and who served actual jail time for fraud, should be getting involved in something which looks very much like a way of parting morons with their cash. Still, don’t let me stop you paying 4 figures for that orangey jpeg.
  • NFTFI: A reader got in touch last week (hi Andy!) asking me to put the NFT stuff in its own section because, and I quote, they ‘can’t handle the stupid’ – I, er, obviously didn’t do that, but I promise that I will try and keep the volume of this stuff to a minimum following the coming break as, well, it’s a bit much, isn’t it? Anyway, the last in this week’s ghoulish procession of ‘questionable things to do with NFTs’ is this service, a lending market based around using NFTs as collateral. Have an NFT but need a few bucks? List it on here, set the value you’d like to borrow against it, and wait for someone to show up and lend you some ETH – or alternatively, as a lender, see which NFTs you’d like to lend against in the hope that the borrower defaults! This sounds like a series of massive headaches waiting to happen, but it’s momentarily funny to look at all the NFTs listed as available collateral and seeing how many of Gary Vaynerchuk’s ‘Veepets’ are on there. This feels very much like the sort of thing that will be at the centre of ‘someone really needs to regulate this stuff’ conversations before too long.
  • MoonTruth: I confess to being disappointed by this – I found it online this week and thought it was an actual, honest-to-goodness example of a one-man mind-mental, sharing their singular vision of lunar reconciliation with the world, but I was LIED TO. MoonTruth purports to be a site by one Dr KC Houseman who is convinced that in a few short months the moon will come crashing into the Earth with predictably-unpleasant consequences for all of us – on reflection, I should have known from the off that there’s something odd about it. The countdown clock, for one, and the fonts – the text is too big (I say this as someone who has spent more time than they care to admit looking at the single-issue websites of the mentally-idiosyncratic – they ALWAYS have smaller, denser copy than this) – and the photo of ‘Dr Houseman’ all scream ‘scam’, and indeed some cursory Googling led me to the realisation that this is in fact a FILTHY MARKETING SCAM for some film or another coming out next year. Still, it’s nice to see that the concept of Transmedia Storytelling has been cryogenically frozen since 2009 and that someone can still get some use out of it. Also, props to the marketing team here for the use of signs in the background of sporting events – this has been gaining a bit of traction online thanks to various people at US sporting events holding up posters with the URL written on them, which is an admirable piece of guerilla marketing of which I wholly approve. Still not naming the film, though, sorry.
  • The Bad Movie Index: Speaking of marketing (SEAMLESS!), and thanks to Jade for sending this my way, the Bad Movie Index is SUCH a smart idea for Scandinavian film streaming service Draken, whose ‘thing’ is the fact that it contains actual, good films as opposed to the ceaseless stream of drek served up by Amazon and Netflix. Here’s the gimmick: “Today, people watch more movies than ever before. But since the streaming giants flood the market, quantity often comes before quality, leading to more bad movie experiences. So we created The Bad Movie Index — a constantly changing membership price on Draken Film that gets lower, the more bad movies people watch on other platforms. The price is based on the streaming giants’ top lists of most watched films and their ratings on the biggest movie review sites. Simply put: the lower the ratings get, the better price you get on Draken Film.” Isn’t that smart? Such a great idea and eminently-nickable should you want to do something similar.
  • ModelMe: It’s not only actual, flesh-and-blood clotheshorses who are going to be inconvenienced by the digital revolution – it’s the virtual influencers who’ve already started to replace them. To be clear, this is lazy hyperbole and I don’t wholly believe it, but there is something interesting about what will happen as the means of digital creation become more sophisticated and significantly cheaper – ModelMe being a case in point. The service, currently (as far as I can tell) live to a limited degree, lets brands and businesses generate models for use on their websites and in their catalogues, using AI – you, the buyer, specify gender, height, skintone and other qualities, and the system lets you churn out an infinity of generated, posed images of said models which you can then dress in your own digital renderings of your garments. This is a HUGE potential market, and a massive issue for all those people who make a pleasant living from catalogue modelling – still, I’m ugly so it’s not my issue.
  • Pose XR: A sort-of adjunct to the last link, PoseXR is a digital tool/toy that lets you experience what it is like to stage and ‘direct’ a photoshoot entirely digitally. Pick your model, pick your background, pick your lighting setup, and then shoot away to your heart’s content – now imagine combining this tech with the stuff in ModelMe, and you quickly have a situation in which a significant number of photographers, lighting designers and technicians, stylists, runners and the like are no longer necessary. I was talking to someone this week about how art and creativity is going to necessarily need to evolve and adapt – particularly from a commercial point of view – to take this sort of stuff into account. I wonder at which point ‘having your product promoted with photos taken in meatspace by real humans’ is going to become a badge of high luxe?
  • The Trump Media & Tech Group Pitch Deck: I don’t want to talk about that man, You don’t want to talk about that man. So let’s not. Let’s instead look at the pitch presentations for the new Trump Media and Tech Group empire, responsible for another of the most spectacularly-botched product launches in history, which sets out how the man (and, more tellingly, the network of people around him who see him as an incredibly lucrative cash cow) is hoping to build a NEW MEDIA EMPIRE! This is wonderful stuff, particularly if you’ve ever been involved in VC-type things and have seen actual pitches from actual companies with actual products – this…does not feel like one of those. I particularly enjoyed the use of the term ‘fountainhead’ on slide 9, a word placed for NO REASON other than to act as a nudge and a wink to unhinged Randheads, and the planetary scene on slide 15 is a doozy, but you can pick your own favourite bits.
  • Double Pendulum: A very simple physics simulation toy which honestly had me mesmerised for about 10m this morning when I opened it. HOW IS IT SO CHAOTIC? Please, don’t attempt to answer this question with a serious explanation of How Physics Works – I am too stupid to understand, and you will be wasting your time. The only thing that could make this better would be the ability to export the tracer visuals – there’s something quite aesthetically cool about the patterns this produces, imho.
  • Story Trails: I like this project, but it’s a bittersweet thing to see being trailed – another in the list of ‘things incredibly similar to stuff that I pitched to people a decade ago when the tech wasn’t quite good enough to match the ambition’. Story Trails is a wonderful idea – AR-enabled historical tours of 15 UK cities, produced by Niantic and with audiovisuals created by an incredible team of creatives from various cultural institutions around the country. It’s launching next year as part of Unboxed, a cultural…festival? happening in 2022, and the project is currently looking for artists and creatives to partner with to help bring the concept to life and create the materials needed to make the trails sing. Details are sparse at present, but this feels like a wonderful first step in linking the persistent digital twins of the world being created by companies like Snap (who I am slightly surprised not to see involved with this) with local history and culture. “We’ll be collecting your stories to create the world’s first spatial archive, linking national media archives with contemporary 3D scans of objects, people and places to create a new way of experiencing your town.” – this sounds WONDERFUL, and I hope I get to come back to the UK to see it in action.
  • Re-Parents: This is a lovely – and affecting – documentary project which takes the stories of LGBT+ people and the parents who struggled to come to terms with their children’s gender identity and sexuality – all the stories are from Russia, which means they are…slightly less liberal than we might be used to, and serve as  useful reminder of the fact that the tolerance and equality that we (hope to be able to) take for granted are not universally-available. There are two ‘main’ stories here and then a selection of additional, supplementary stories – the way these are shot and presented, aside from the content of the footage, is superb, and an object-lesson in how to create online documentary or interview content. Beautifully-made and hugely-affecting.
  • Strange Autopsies: If the initial question – “Autopsy Doctors of Reddit, what was strangest discovery you’ve made while performing an autopsy?” – doesn’t put you off, then this is a truly fascinating selection of morbid anecdotes about the weirdness of death, the human body, and living people. This is not, to be clear, a link for the weak-of-stomach or squeamish, but if you don’t have a problem reading detailed accounts of curious deaths and medical conditions then this is all hugely-interesting. Contains a couple of anecdotes which will make you very, very cautious next time you’re considering leaning out of a fast-moving vehicle. Also, particular shout-out to this comment, which, whilst I’m sure sincere, doesn’t come across in quite the way in which I imagine the author intended: “Come over to /r/ForensicPathology if you want to talk more about this super cool field (autopsy for sudden and suspicious death) – no experience necessary! We’re all more friendly than TV might have you believe!”…er, nah, you’re alright mate.

By Line Hachem



  • PS Battles Live:  One of the big issues that I found when working at the BBC and attempting to come up with online-y ideas is that much of the stuff that works as ‘moderately viral’ content (sorry) in the world of the web doesn’t translate at all to entertainment formats (or so the people who understood this stuff constantly told me). Which is, I think, the main problem with this attempt by Reddit to turn the popular subReddit PSBattles into an actual entertainment strand. Still, props to them for giving it a go – this is an interesting idea, which to my mind doesn’t work at all but which is a noble attempt to turn sh1tposting into video. The PSBattles Live show is a daily show in which the presenters set a photoshop challenge to the community and then do a live show in which they showcase the best of the resulting work alongside ‘humorous’ commentary and a slightly ZooTV-style overall vibe – which basically means that you end up with an hour-long show in which a bunch of moderately-amusing people react in over-the-top fashion to a selection of photoshop gags and community in-jokes. There are some interesting ideas here – the way participants are grouped into teams, creating a sort of community metagame within the longer arc of the show, for example, and the way the Reddit-ness of the whole idea is baked into the style of the programme – but it’s still a long way from being anything that I can imagine being entertaining to anyone who’s not already part of this scene. Still, if you fancy watching a bunch of people talking about why they find a photoshopped image on the Mona Lisa pant-wettingly hilarious then you might find this to your tastes.
  • The Ricky Jay Collection: Ricky Jay was a famous US magician who died in 2018 – this is his personal collection of magical trinkets, props and artefacts, now up for auction with Sotheby’s. The lots here are AMAZING – old magazines, pamphlets from the golden era of magic and prestidigitation, posters advertising Carter and other greats from the history of illusion…honestly, there is some gorgeous stuff here and it’s well worth a peruse. Unless you’ve got a few grand burning a hole in your pocket – and WHO DOESN’T, RIGHT? – then this will all be outside of your price range I’m afraid, but it’s a lovely collection to browse regardless (and this is a nice overview of some of the more interesting pieces in the collection, should you be curious).
  • Key Art: ‘Key Art’ is the term given to the specific visuals used by streaming platforms to advertise their wares and hook the viewer – they’re a very particular type of image, with specific dimensions, and as such they have a specific visual style which is evident in this collection of some of the better examples (curated by one Rex Sorgatz). Super-interesting from a design and aesthetic point of view, and as a quick visual overview to what is currently working from an ‘eyecatching way of promoting a TV show’ perspective. If nothing else, you could do worse than nick some of the stylings here for the full-bleed images in your next overengineered pitch presentation (no I will NOT call it a ‘deck’ you fcukers).
  • Antiwork: A subReddit that got a lot of attention this week for the screenshots it contains of purported conversations between workers and bosses – it’s done the rounds as part of the broader conversation that’s going on about how workers are increasingly using the post-pandemic (post? HA!) period as a reset point to reevaluate their careers and their relationship with work, and, occasionally, as a reason to tell their bosses where they can shove their sh1tty jobs. Antiwork is a collection of conversations in which staff finally tell their bosses where to go – or at least it says that’s what it is. In practice I reckon that a decent proportion of these are faked for the karma, although I appreciate that shouting ‘DIDN’T HAPPEN’ underneath anything positive or heartwarming online is a crappy way to behave – still, I am surprised that so many of the people in these conversations are so downtrodden and beaten by capitalism when they are seemingly in possession of not-inconsiderable levels of gumption and backbone when it comes to telling their paymasters where to go. Still, if you have a boss who’s constantly messaging you with unreasonable demands and want some inspiration as to how to tell them to fcuk off then this might be of service – personally-speaking, I tend to find that doing your job very badly is the best revenge of all, but your mileage may vary.
  • Merlin Tuttle’s Bat Conservation: “There are over 2,000 bat photos available for download on this site for both non-profit and commercial use. The collection encompasses 19 families, 125 genera, and 298 species from 38 countries.” SO MANY BATS! Look at their cute little snub-nosed faces! SO CUTE! LOOK AT THIS DERPY LITTLE FCUKER! The sort of thing that may make you discover a sudden and hitherto-unimagined love for Epomophorus Wahlbergi.
  • The Pessimists’ Archive: A wonderful Twitter account which shares examples of previous technomoral panics, just to put the current one we’re living through into context (my current favourite example, by the way, is this one – hellmaxing, anyone?). From bicycles negatively impacting church attendance and turning us all into Godless heathens (although, actually, on reflection…), to ‘vile moving pictures corrupting our children’ (er, again…), this is a great reminder of the fact that every single innovation in the history of humanity has been accompanied with a great wailing and gnashing of teeth about the TERRIBLE EFFECTS said innovation is set to have on society and morals and THE CHILDREN. Tbh it’s all been downhill since fire.
  • Copper Books: As we all wait for the current round of ‘we need a KINDER AND GENTLER DISCOURSE’ discourse to die down (as ever, it’s worth pointing out that THE PROBLEM IS PEOPLE, NOT TECHNOLOGY), we’re once again seeing a resurgence of new online communities designed for a specific subset of people who for whatever reason feel they get a raw deal on the standard socials. This week it’s the turn of Copper Books, which wants to become a community for authors and readers to ‘connect’ around books – why the creators think that this will automatically be a less-toxic place than, say, the famously-awful Goodreads (if you’re unaware, it’s worth doing a bit of reading around the state of Young Adult fiction on the platform, just to give you an idea of the horror) is beyond me, but if you’re an author who wants a way to ‘connect’ with readers that won’t have thousands of people calling you names then perhaps this will be of use. It’s in early access at the moment, but you can sign up for email updates should you think it might be of interest – don’t for a second imagine, though, that if someone wants to tell you that they hate your book, and you, and quite possibly your entire bloodline, that they won’t find a way. WHAT A TIME TO BE ALIVE!
  • Birdability: I’ve mentioned before, I think, how odd I find it that the US term for birdwatching is ‘birding’ – look, it just sounds weird, ok, although perhaps that’s a direct result of my spending too much time in online communities who discuss odd and very specific fetishes (yes, fine, but tell me that once you’ve been exposed to the concept of ‘figging’ that ‘birding’ doesn’t look like it’s going to be a similar sort of thing. IT’S NOT JUST ME FFS!) – but once you get over that then this service, by US avian enthusiast organisation the Audubon Society, seems really useful. It’s designed to let bird fans find places where it’s possible to ‘go birding’ (no, sorry, I just can’t) accessibly – so places that are wheelchair-enabled, for example, or not problematic for people with health conditions. This is currently quite US-heavy but is international in scope, so in the unlikely event that any Web Curios readers are also avid birdwatchers (not sure why but I’m not totally convinced that this is an area of huge demographic crossover) then please share with your chaffinch mates and get people submitting their recommendations for disability-friendly birdwatching spots. A Good Thing.
  • Inque: “INQUE is a beautiful annual literary magazine dedicated to extraordinary new writing. Documenting what is going to be an era-defining decade, it will run no advertising, have no web version, and only ever publish 10 issues.Contributors include Margaret Atwood, Max Porter, Joyce Carol Oates, Ocean Vuong, Tom Waits, Ben Lerner, Alexander Chee, Kae Tempest, and more.” This is either an interesting experiment in analogue publishing, or a desperate attempt by the literary establishment to perpetuate the unearned kudos and mystique it’s been slowly losing in the democratised digital era – YOU DECIDE! The pricing here – £55 an issue!! – is…punchy, although the publishers would argue that you’re buying limited edition, beautifully-typeset-and-published works of literary art, and depending on your interest in the authors in question you may feel that exclusive access to works by them is worth the money. The best thing about this is that noone’s trying to sell an NFT of the fcuking thing, although never say never, eh?
  • Lyrista: A nice idea which is slightly limited by the range of languages it currently offers, Lyrista is designed to help you learn a language by listening to music – play a track, and the website offers you a line-by-line translation of the lyrics as you listen. Currently it only features songs in German, Italian and Hungarian, but I can see this being a popular concept if it opens up a bit – and it’s definitely the sort of thing that, on reflection, I’m slightly surprised that Spotify haven’t done themselves. As an aside, Pulp used to write ‘Please do not read the lyrics while listening to the recordings’ on their sleevenotes, which I still love as an expression of slightly-po-faced artistic integrity – I imagine Jarvis has mellowed slightly by now, though.
  • Weird Electric Vehicles: Or, to quote the page’s full title, “Complete list of the Awesomely Weird Alibaba Electric Vehicles of the Week”. The website Electrec has a weekly column where they pick a different preposterous electric car (not always a car) for sale on Alibaba each week to highlight – this page is a collection of all of them, since the feature started in January. There are some…incredible things here, which make me wish that I either had a driving license (although living in Rome I am increasingly convinced that noone would be able to tell if I did or not, judging by the general standard of driving in this city) or a suitable stretch of ocean where I could try out THE ACTUAL ELECTRIC SUBMARINE you can apparently buy (is it watertight? PROBABLY!).If you look at this and can’t find anything you want, you are probably dead – I am a VERY unmanly man and yet even I got a small childlike frisson at the prospect of being able to own my very own backyard-sized electric digger.
  • Shark Attack Explorer: My girlfriend has a thing about sharks, to the point where she occasionally muses about how one might go about bequeathing one’s body to the squaline massive post-mortem and maintains that being eaten by one ‘wouldn’t be a bad way to go’. I will send her this link and see how it affects her thinking – it’s a database of recorded shark attacks worldwide, which also records the injuries sustained by the victims for a real ghoulish thrill. “Leg severed mid-thigh, hand severed, arm above elbow and part of buttocks. Not known if he survived” – if you want more of these lovely, heartwarming anecdotes, click here!
  • Bizarre History: A good week for good Reddit links, and here’s another – a thread of people sharing their favourite bizarre historical facts. These are GREAT, and will send you scurrying down a variety of Wikipedian rabbitholes to check their veracity (amazing that in 2021 Wikipedia is a legitimate fact-checking resource) – you’ve got some old classics, like astronomer Tycho Brae’s fake nose, and this wonderful example of male hubris from the conquest of the Americas: “During the siege of Tenochtitlan, the conquistadors built a trebuchet. However, the conquistadors, being an exploratory expedition, had not brought any military engineers with them. So they winged it. Surprisingly, they did build a trebuchet, which fired exactly one shot, directly upwards, which promptly came down and smashed the trebuchet. This event is chronicled in both the journals of the conquistadors present as well as the Aztec records.” Should any of you be history teachers, this is a guaranteed ‘shut the class up for 5 minutes’ resource (none of you are history teachers, are you? FFS).
  • Spreadsheet Timeline: This is a simple and single-use website for which I am HUGELY grateful – it creates a series of cells for any daterange you care to mention, dividing a year into months, weeks and days so you don’t have to make the poor intern build out the template for the content calendar anymore. If there is already a quick and easy way to already do this in Excel then please don’t tell me as it will just make me feel stupid.
  • Formats Unpacked: Much as there are TOO MANY PODCASTS, there are also now TOO MANY NEWSLETTERS (there need be only one! Sadly Web Curios probably isn’t it) – still, I feel OK recommending this one as it’s a specific and interesting topic. In Formats Unpacked, industry experts discuss ‘content formats’ (sorry) that they like and which work, and explain what it is about them that makes them successful. So you have someone talking about the ‘How Northern Are You?’ quiz which UsVsTh3m did and which was their most viral thing ever, and someone else writing about how Catfish became a phenomenon…if you’re interested in creating entertainments of any stripe, this is a super-useful exploration of the craft of making and what separates an OK idea from one that really works.
  • Draw To Search: This doesn’t really work, at least not by any standard definition of the word, but it’s a lot of fun to mess with. Sketch something in the little drawing window and the software will attempt to use your poorly-scrawled lines to determine what it is that you were attempting to depict and pull a photo of said thing from a database of film stills. Honestly, the outputs seem to bear practically no relation to the inputs – it sounds mean, I know, but try it and you’ll see what I mean – but there’s the germ of a useful product in here which I can imagine in a few years’ time being something properly helpful.
  • Show Discussions: A collection of links to various subReddits discussing every single TV show you could possibly think of. If you’ve suddenly gotten into original series Gossip Girl, say, or have developed a hitherto-unimagined passion for The Brady Bunch, and want to see what other fans had to say about each episode, then this will link you to all the relevant discussions. Obviously all the chat is on Reddit, which means it heavily overindexes for recency and obscure anime (the EastEnders discussion linked to here is inexplicably thin – I refuse to believe, though, that EndersReddit is not A Thing somewhere), but you might find this a useful tool for fandom discovery.
  • Wallpapers: Curios reader Stephen Clark sent me this and it is CHARMING – he’s created a huge collection of wallpapers for desktop and mobile, covering football teams and all sorts of other things, all available for free. “Several years ago, I was looking for minimal desktop wallpapers for my computer so I could take advantage of the iMac/Mac capability to change the desktop wallpaper on the computer every several minutes.  I like to have a new desktop image throughout the day.  And I was finding very few that I liked, so I figured why not start creating some on my own and posting them on my site to share?  So I did.  And now, I have a pretty robust collection and I also get requests from all corners of the earth.“ This is lovely, and I am very glad it exists (and his Chelsea wallpaper is lovely) – thanks for sending it to me.
  • Doom Checkboxes: Playable Doom! Rendered in checkboxes! Except it’s not really playable, as you can’t quite get the contrast right and the whole thing is a bit of a mess, visually-speaking, but, well, Doom!
  • Where’s My Tripod?: Occupying the coveted ‘last miscellaneous link in Curios’ slot this week is this gentle game which is basically ‘Duck Hunt’ except instead of shooting a duck with a gun, you’re instead shooting a variety of woodland critters with a camera in an attempt to rack up a high score. Lovely and soothing and the pixellated deer are very cute indeed – a slight shame that you don’t get to see your snaps at the end, but this is a perfectly-pleasant way to spend 15 minutes that doesn’t involved fcuking around with PPT and, frankly, what more could you ask from a workday distraction?

By Unpis



  • Caffenol: Not in fact a Tumblr! Still, it doesn’t really matter, does it, and it feels like one, so! Have you ever thought ‘hm, I’d really like to take analogue photos and develop them myself but frankly all the chemicals you need sound like a bit of a faff and I wish I could use, I don’t know, dog p1ss instead of fixative’? No, me neither tbh, but if you’ve ever wanted to explore how you might use old coffee to develop some negatives then THIS is the site for you!
  • Sinking & Melting: Or ‘The Museum of the Imminently-Disappeared’. Sinking and Melting “is a growing collection of items contributed from places that may disappear owing to the combined physical, political, and economic impacts of climate change, including glacial melting, sea level rise, coastal erosion, and desertification. +++ THE CONTRIBUTED MATERIALS together form an archive of the future anterior; what will have been. A contribution doesn’t have to originate from a location – it can be anything that happens to be there, including detritus, flotsam or jetsam.” Fascinating and sad – it’s like looking at an exhibition about the now from a sad and regretful future.


  • PPuri: A Korean artist about whom I know absolutely nothing but who’s insta feed is a pleasing collision of weird-and-occasionally-upsetting works at the intersection between digital culture and classical craft.
  • Bicicleta Sem Freo: My rudimentary Portuguese suggests that this artist’s name means ‘bicycle without brakes’ – no idea why, but their murals are ACE (and oddly share a certain aesthetic vibe with the work of Butcher Billy, to my mind at least – maybe it’s a Brazilian thing). Hypersaturated colours and densely-populated compositions abound.
  • Vincent Castiglia: Mr Castilla draws pictures using his own blood (and occasionally that of those who commission him). This is either INCREDIBLY METAL or trying slightly too hard to be so – take your pick.
  • Beam Me Up Softboi: Another Insta account sharing screenshots of men being d1cks – in this specific instance, being softboi d1cks. For those of you unfamiliar with the genre, Urban Dictionary defines softbois as “’Similar to a f***boy but without the cocky attitude. The Softboy will butter a girl up by appealing to her emotions and showing a “sensitive” side long enough for her to sleep with him, whether or not he actually cares about her or not” So there. Anyway, this feels a bit 2018 tbh but it made me laugh quite a lot, not least the screenshot of a message request reading “what are you doing sh1tposting at 2am? You’re beautiful and better than that” which, honestly, is ART.


  • Big Tech and the Global Order: This is in many respects a frustrating article, and one which I wouldn’t ordinarily bother sharing – it contains far too many loose, grandiose statements for my liking, particularly this one (which ordinarily would have seen it barred from inclusion on stylistic grounds alone): “In their private lives, people increasingly connect with one another through algorithms.” WHAT DOES THAT ACTUALLY MEAN, THOUGH? WHAT ALGORITHMS? HOW? Slightly annoyingly, though, the first half – which is a fairly long and not particularly-revealing overview of Where We Are Now as regards the primacy of tech – segues into a really interesting series of conclusions about the potential ways in which governments might come to an accommodation with the growing power of the technology companies, and how that might impact various questions of governance and geopolitics. Its characterisation of three potential visions of the future – the globalist, the nationalist hero and the tech-utopianist – struck me as broadly-sensible ways of characterising the future relations between government and big technology – and for that alone it’s worth reading.
  • The Future of Graphs: Not the graphs with axes, but instead the concept of ‘the social graph’, or the network of connections which we all have and on which the existing generation of social media apps have constructed themselves – except TiKTok. This is another superb essay by Eugene Wei, whose previous essays about TikTok I have linked to here before – Wei does a superb job of explaining the different ways in which existing apps use the social graph, and why this differential approach to said graph makes huge practical differences to the ways in which apps work and users experience them. His analysis of how TikTok’s decision to practically ignore the social graph in favour of the interest graph, and how that impacts the app experience and user behaviour, is clear-eyed and well-explained – if you’re interested in how social networks work (both on and offline) then this is required reading.
  • Good Predictions for 2050: An excellent essay about why nearly all future predictions are so miserably wrong, which then goes on to make several predictions of its own (so full marks to author Erik Hoel for bravery here). The central premise as to the ‘why’ is as follows: “If you want to predict the future accurately, you should be an incrementalist and accept that human nature doesn’t change along most axes. Meaning that the future will look a lot like the past. If Cicero were transported from ancient Rome to our time he would easily understand most things about our society. There’d be a short-term amazement at various new technologies and societal changes, but soon Cicero would settle in and be throwing out Trump/Sulla comparisons (or contradicting them), since many of the debates we face, like what to do about growing wealth inequality, or how to keep a democracy functional, are the same as in Roman times.” – the ensuing predictions are interesting and certainly feel reasonable. Number 17, in particular – popular culture will become ‘boring’ – struck me as well-observed.
  • False Positivism: Or ‘why turning the entire planet into a data collection and analysis machine’ may not in fact fix all the problems that we think it will’ – this is not only an excellent essay about the limits of tech and data utopianism at scale, but a useful reminder of how questions around ‘the use of data’ are always necessarily bound up in further questions of ‘what data?’, ‘where did it come from?’, ‘who compiled it and why?’ and ‘what do we mean by ‘use’, anyway?’. Not so much pessimistic – the article makes lots of good points about the ways in which data can be useful at scale – as a helpful corrective to the seemingly-constant refrain that ‘MOAR DATA’ is the solution to everything that ails us. It’s an inconvenient truth that most of the BIG SOLUTIONS that tech presents us with seem to ignore or significantly-underestimate the complexity of the systems that created the problems which we’re trying to overcome.
  • Hacker X: Or ‘how to create a disinformation empire for profit’. It’s important to remember, by the way, that the stuff here described didn’t necessarily work – we’re deep into Cambridge Analytica/pyschogeography territory here, and applying any sort of causality to this stuff is nearly-impossible, so please don’t read this and get all terrified about how TRUTH IS DEAD. That said, it’s a really interesting look at the practical steps needed to create an empire of lies online – as the opener says: “For two years, he ran websites and Facebook groups that spread bogus stories, conspiracy theories, and propaganda. Under him was a dedicated team of writers and editors paid to produce deceptive content—from outright hoaxes to political propaganda—with the supreme goal of tipping the 2016 election to Donald Trump. Through extensive efforts, he built a secret network of self-reinforcing sites from the ground up. He devised a strategy that got prominent personalities—including Trump—to retweet misleading claims to their followers. And he fooled unwary American citizens, including the hacker’s own father, into regarding fake news sources more highly than the mainstream media.” As the notes at the end of the piece acknowledge, it’s perhaps a bit too ready to believe its subject’s hype – but as a look at the ugly mechanics of this sort of operation, it’s super-interesting.
  • Culture Wars In Action: This is about the US media – or at least, it’s an ecosystem focused on the US although its reach is far wider – but, really, the playbook here described should be familiar to anyone who’s spent even a few minutes online over the past few years. Charlie Warzel goes over a recent interview by Joe Rogan with a US pro-vaxx doctor, which was mined for content and weaponised by the antivaxx and antimask and general libertarian-right wing of the web in the now-traditional fashion (“Watch as Rogan DESTROYS liberal doctor with one killer line!”), and breaks down How This Stuff Works – which is exactly the playbook for this sort of culture war sh1t that is employed everywhere, whether on- or offline, as you see in every single Sun or Mail headline wailing about a ‘woke backlash’ to something which on closer inspection is drawn from a source corpus of 3 no-RT Tweets. Both sides do this, to be clear, and this is a decent explainer as to how, why, and what it looks like in the wild.
  • Stop Talking About Generations: I imagine if you ‘do’ strategy or planning or somesuch stupid, made-up job which your parents and friends don’t understdand that you’ll already have read this piece – if not, though, please do so now. It’s an excellent New Yorker article explaining in detail exactly why it is stupid and wrong-headed to refer to people in generational terms, and why it always has been, and could, if used properly, be a tool we could ALL use to push back against clients who say things like ‘our target audience is ‘millennials’!’. We won’t, though, of course, because we know in our heart of hearts that 90% of what we do is totally pointless and as such it’s simply not worth having that conversation with the stupid client given that noone in the whole horrible foodchain can be bothered to think more than is absolutely necessary and everyone will keep getting pats on the back as long as THE CONTENT WHEEL KEEPS SPINNING. Can you tell I’m having a GREAT week for loving the industry that pays my wages? You can? Fcuk. Erm, perhaps not-entirely-unrelated, I might need a job in January should anyone want to hire me.
  • Charts That Don’t Change: The second ‘useful for ‘strategists’’ link of the week is this excellent blogpost by Harry Guild and Dean Matthewson at BBH, which uses TGI data (if TGI decided to hold the agency world to ransom, I reckon they would make 7 figures in a day – just an idea, lads) to demonstrate that looking for changes in behaviour when scoping for ‘insights’ (honestly, when I rule the world that word will be excised from the English language and anyone using it will be flayed and then dipped into alternating baths of seawater and Malden salt) is often less useful than looking for things that stay the same. Or (and apologies Dean and Harry for extrapolating slightly here), perhaps more simply, that rather than just looking for LINES WHOSE ANGLES CHANGE DRAMATICALLY people should start maybe thinking more about what those lines show. Data is a fcuking problem, specifically people’s increasing belief that visualised data is some sort of magical passport to wisdom. It is not, now do some fcuking thinking you doublefigureIQmorons. Er, wow, that escalated quickly, didn’t it? Sorry about that.
  • When I Was An Influencer: A really interesting essay by Haley Nahman in which she looks back on a brief period of time in which she was able to command decent wedge for posting stuff on Insta, and then segues into a wider discussion about how, when you boil it down, influencer culture is perhaps the best modern expression of the victory of the acquisitive imperative – we all want more, and selling ourselves is the easiest and most accessible means of accessing all the things we are trained to want and desire, not least the possibility of ‘winning’ at the great game of capitalism. This quote sums it up rather nicely – I think you can useful sub ‘America’ for ‘The UK’ without too much difficulty here: “In America, the pursuit of wealth has become a virtue in its own right. To work hard, to hustle, to get your bag—these ideas are increasingly divorced from achieving the means to live well and have instead become goals in themselves, regardless of what we actually need, and regardless of who’s exploited in the process. When Donald Trump was critiqued for not paying his fair share of taxes, his strongest response was that he simply abused existing loopholes in the tax code. He was just doing what was best for his business, he implied, like anyone would. This kind of thinking isn’t necessarily conservative. I imagine many influencers and celebrities who consider themselves politically progressive use this same reasoning to justify their willingness to shill for morally dubious corporations: They are simply seizing opportunities made available to them. And everyone else is doing it too.”
  • Influencer Retirement: Or ‘Influencer As Franchise’ – this Buzzfeed article looks at the increasing trend of high-profile influencer accounts being handed over to new owners when the original creators get tired of living the Instalife 24/7 and decide to hand the bag to someone else. If this doesn’t get turned into a reality show format sometime soon – “12 aspirant influencers! 10million followers! WHO WILL GET TO BE THE NEXT @SLUMMYMUMMYGINCLUB??” – I will be amazed.
  • All Of The Marvels: “Over the last five years, Douglas Wolk has pulled off a feat that few others have attempted, let alone completed: he read every Marvel comic book published since 1961, which adds up to around 27,000 issues, or 540,000 pages.” Wolk has a reason to do this – he’s written a book about the endeavour – but this interview with him is surprisingly-interesting, even for someone like me who has no interest whatsoever in Marvel or superheroes. There’s SO much here – especially if you’re a fanboy, but more generally in terms of how storytelling over time works, about how callbacks and thematic consistency over a 70-year story arc can function, and about how collaborative authorship can work at scale. In particular there’s a lot of really interesting stuff in here about the idea of the ‘ownership’ of stories and characters which will be of use to anyone who’s working in and around the intersection of creating narratives.
  • The Intelligence of Bodies: The latest high-profile ‘we got AI to finish this thing!’ project from the arts was the completion of Beethoven’s Xth symphony, left incomplete at the time of his demise other than notes and fragments, and now reconstituted from said fragments (and a hefty dose of training on the old Ludvig Van corpus) by machine intelligence. This essay examines the question not only of quality but of feel – does the resulting work fit within the Beethoven canon? Can it stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the composer’s own work (spoiler: it cannot)? – and posits the interesting central premise that anything purporting to be art requires a degree of creatorial corporeality to truly attain that status. Which is fascinating to me, but which also led me to a slightly-feverish imagining of a near-future in which we vat-grow brain tissue in order to provide a physical meatvessel for future AIs to inhabit, which I am now convinced is the future and which has freaked me right out.
  • My Father The Hitman: What if you knew your dad was a bit of a crook, but always thought that he was more lovable rogue than cold-blooded killer…and then he died, and you started to learn things? What if you discovered that there was an FBI file this thick all about your old man and his movements and his accomplices? What would you think if you learned that the person who you remember as an occasional childhood presence was remembered by others as a man not to be fcuked with on pain of painful, explosive death? James Dolan tells the story of discovering some unexpected truths about his dad and the life he lived – this is a wonderful series of stories, beautifully-told.
  • The Metaphysics of the Hangover: One of the ‘benefits’ of being in Rome is that I am drinking a fraction of the amount I would be in the UK – upsettingly, though, I am feeling literally NONE of the benefits one might have hoped for from this (I am still ugly, my skin is not noticeably better, and I still feel like sh1t in the mornings – I am going RIGHT BACK ON THE METHS). This article, about the idea of the ‘hangover’ and its various interpretations, from the booze hangover to the hangover from a failed relationship, is wonderful – erudite and interesting and entertaining. It reminded me both of one of my favourite quotes about hangovers (“Alcohol crapulence clogs perception, but drug crapulence flays it, and by now the kitchen was a noisome feast for peeled senses.”), and made me think that much of what the author describes here as being the symptoms of a hangover can also be usefully applied to the very particular feelings of regret at a Bad Post. Digital hangovers feel very much like something worth exploring imho.
  • Rice, Fat, Meat, Streets:On Biryani in Karachi, and the different ways in which it is made and the different cultures it represents and, honestly, if you can read this to the end and not want an absolutely massive curry then you are a stronger person than I. I’ve read loads of excellent writing about Pakistan (Karachi specifically) this year, and this piece is up there with the best of them as a picture of a city and how its culture and history is reflected in its food.
  • You Are Joe Cole: I never really feature writing about football in here, but I will make an exception for this superb piece by Sam Diss. Joe Cole was regularly touted as the most naturally-gifted footballer England has ever produced – this piece tells his early story, when he was still at West Ham and breaking into the first team, and captures perfectly the register and tone used by a certain type of person when they talk about football and the weird sense of thwarted fulfilment that fans will always feel when they look back at the career that Cole had vs the career it was imagined he could have, back when he was the kid with all the potential with English football at his feet. This made me unaccountably sad, but in a nice way (if that makes sense), and is SUCH an uncommonly-good piece of football writing.
  • If Your Dreams Don’t Scare You: Finally this week, a heartstoppingly-good piece of writing by Joni Tevis, about being young and in university and rituals and men and growing up and and and. Honestly, this is superb – read the opening and then click through and enjoy the whole thing: “I don’t remember what they called that night. Someone drove us to a house off campus. Someone blindfolded us. Someone lined us up around the perimeter of a pool. They made us practice fundamentals—low mark time (heel up, toes down), high mark time (up to the knee), glide step (dig in the heel, turn up the toe). There was a girl ahead of me in line. I couldn’t see her, but I knew she was there.  We were in college marching band together, and there were thirty-five people in our section. Maybe eight of us were new. I tried to think how I would describe this moment, first to myself, then to someone else: that the air pressed in, humid and hot. That the pool’s cement edge warmed the soles of my feet. That layers of white tissue bandaged my eyes.”

By Robin F Williams