Webcurios 23/07/21

Reading Time: 31 minutes

It’s been a real week for dreadful cnuts, hasn’t it? Cummings and Johnson and Bezos and Coren and and and and and. Let’s ignore them, shall we, and focus on BETTER things – things such as INTERESTING LINKS FROM THE WEB!

Yes, that’s right, another week’s rolled around and in so doing has managed to pick up all sorts of odd bits and pieces from across the internet, like so much digital lint (there are other analogies one might employ here, but let’s stick to the pleasant ones, eh?). I’m in something of a hurry today, as as soon as I’m done with writing this I have to have a call with another awful human being to discuss with them why, despite their personal opinion, they are not in fact worthy of a Wikipedia entry and why the fact that they have FRIENDS IN GOVERNMENT doesn’t make one iota of difference. Dreadful cnuts, everywhere, I tell you (and all the examples here are men, again. FFS, men!).

Not you though – you’re lovely. Let me look at you, let me stroke your lovely face, let me beg you with increasing desperation to read the words and click the links and validate me through your attention, without which I cease to exist.

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and that client’s going to have to hope I relax slightly otherwise neither of us are going to enjoy this call very much.

By La Paranoia



  • Holly+: I’ve featured Holly Herndon’s music in Curio’s before on a few occasions – for those of you unaware, she’s an American singer, living in Berlin (obvs) whose work has increasingly explored her (and our) relationship with technology, to the extent that her last album was effectively co-created with an AI which she developed and which has been ‘evolving’ ever since. Holly+ is a website/project which builds on that work, letting anyone upload an audio file to the site and receive back a version of your audio sung by ‘Holly+’, the singer’s AI analogue. You can read a detailed breakdown of the project here – look, to be clear, there’s not a lot to see on the original URL, and the listenability of the outputs you’ll get from the audio you upload are…variable (I don’t think anything produced by this version of Holly+ is likely to become a viral TikTok sensation), but reading the explanation you get the very real feeling that there’s something super-interesting being conceived of here. The questions of ownership and identity of the ‘voice’ that you’re playing with here, and how that impacts on licensing and IP and how we think of ‘the artist’ and ‘collaboration’, the idea of collaborative creative control and ownership via a DAO…all fascinating questions that Herndon’s one of the few people I’ve seen thinking about this deeply in the arts. “The Holly+ model creates a virtuous cycle. I release tools to allow for the creative usage of my likeness, the best artworks and license opportunities are approved by DAO members, profit from those works will be shared amongst artists using the tools, DAO members, and a treasury to fund further development of the tools” – I mean, when you put it like that it sounds almost utopian.
  • Classic Nudes: Pronhub’s marketing department does it again. This time, they’ve gone HIGHBROW and are offering a series of guides to some of the world’s greatest museums (the Uffizi, the National Gallery, etc) – or, at least, a guide to some of their SEXIEST PAINTINGS! Users can load up the site on their phones whilst wandering the galleries to get specific, SEXY explainers about some of the most notable SEXY paintings, narrated by a bongo actress who’s also an art aficionado – oh, and each gallery has one painting where there’s even an accompanying clip of a couple of people fcuking in costume, just to really hammer home the fact that SOMETIMES ART IS ABOUT SEX! THAT’S RIGHT, SEX!!!! This, presumably, is what The Louvre took exception to, as the clip associated with the famous Parisian gallery is currently offline due to ‘legal issues’ – and there was me thinking the French were liberal. This is, tbh, not really that good – the audioguides don’t seem to load half the time, the UI is a bit crap, and the text accompaniments are quite often just a couple of lines which effectively say things like ‘huhuhuh, gouache was, like, the Pronhub of its day’ – but if you’d like to watch a couple representing Adam & Eve groping each other for 60 seconds in the name of ‘deepening your artistic appreciation’ then you’ll presumably be satisfied. NB – this links to a Pronhub url, and while there’s no actual nudity on the landing page, just be aware should you work for a company that unaccountably frowns on you checking out bongo inbetween the PPT slides.
  • The Freedom Phone: Not quite sure whether this is funny or depressing. Probably slightly more the latter, on reflection. The FREEDOM PHONE is the latest stupid tech-grift (after GETTR, the free speech-touting social platform which is destined for imminent failure but which you can bet has made a handful of people an awful lot of money, as is always the case) by the grifter’s chasing the post-Trump dollar – ‘what is it?’, you ask… WELL LET ME TELL YOU WHAT IT IS IT IS UNCENSORED. Yes, that’s right – you know how EVERY DAY you have to put up with your phone CENSORING you and telling you what you CAN AND CAN’T TYPE (or say, or think)…well NO MORE. The Freedom Phone (I am going to turn down the caps now, they are giving me a small tension headache) is so committed to being UNCENSORED (sorry, it’s hard to stop once you get into the groove) that it says so all over the website. ‘Completely. Uncensored’, runs the strapline! ‘Uncensorable’, it says again, just above the ‘Buy’ button! How might one describe the app store? Oh, ‘Uncensorable’, of course! What does this mean in practice? Erm, it’s quite hard to tell – as this article points out, there’s something of a lack of actual technical detail anywhere on the site, the ‘UNCENSORABLE’ (seriously, sorry about this) Freedom Store is apparently just a reskinned version of the standard Google app store, and the device costs $500. Oh, and it’s being developed by ‘the world’s youngest Bitcoin billionaire’. There is literally NOTHING about this that screams ‘massive grift’, no siree. As with so much in contemporary life, this is something which on first glance is sort-of funny and then with greater scrutiny just becomes bleakly depressing until you’re left thinking how much better it would be if we all just stopped and let the plants take over.
  • Scent The Metaverse: Yes, fine, we’ve all talked a good game about the metaverse over the past year or so – even those of us who don’t know what the term really means, or indeed what the whole thing’s really about – but we’ve not touched on the big topics, the important matters that will perhaps determine the very direction of travel of the human race and the ways in which we will manifest ourselves in the seemingly-inevitable post-physical reality of the great Fourth Age of humanity. Questions like ‘what should the metaverse smell like?’ Still, thank fcuk for the fact that someone’s finally started asking the important questions. Sadly I am slightly late to this, meaning that the NFTs granting access to this project are all sold (they went for around £600-ish quid, which whilst a lot of money isn’t perhaps an insane amount for a one-of-a-kind new bespoke fragrance and potential rights on its future resale), but you can still read about the project on the site. “We’re bringing together passionate people with expert perfumers and designers to make something unforgettable and unique, with the freshest and finest ingredients”, runs the blurb, promising the lucky participants in the project a series of 4 consultations with the scent master behind the eventual perfume to guide its creation, a bottle of the finished scent, an NFT of the label(!), and most interestingly, collaborative ownership of the scent’s composition which grants them a cut of any eventual sale of the recipe or brand. Or at least it does in theory – the site’s a bit sketchy on how that works, but this feels (my needless snarking aside) like a not-terrible application of DAOs and NFTs and the whole shebang.
  • Hellfest From Home: Hellfest is apparently a metal festival – Hellfest from Home is a metal festival on the internet! Yes, I know that ‘music festivals, but online!’ are no longer an exciting prospect (were they ever?), but I rather like this one. You navigate your little avatar through the streets and stages of the festival, stopping at various points to browse recordings of various artists, check out imagery and video of previous festivals, buy merch…none of this is groundbreaking but it’s all competently done, and there’s something sort-of funny about seeing all the VERY SERIOUS SCREAMING of death/black metal (apologies if I am misgenreing this stuff but, well, it all sounds quite throaty to this untrained ear and it’s hard to distinguish the nuance) on a laptop screen.
  • Jesus Mecha Christ: I think I want one of these more than I have ever wanted anything I have featured in Curios (but not, to be clear, enough to actually pay the asking price). What would Jesus look like if he were a Transformer? What if, when up on the cross, rather than accepting his fate and dying for our sins, Jesus had instead refused to do his Father’s bidding and instead used the final dregs of his divinity (look, I appreciate I am on dodgy theological ground here, but just go with me here) to instead change into a GIANT ROBOT and visit murderous mechanical vengeance on the assembled Roman forces? Well, thanks to Jesus Mecha Christ, you can play out that VERY SCENARIO in the privacy of your own home. Jesus Mecha Christ (so satisfying to type!) is a 3d-printed toy which you can either buy in kit form or ready-assembled and which is a transforming model of crucified Jesus which, with a few deft twists and turns, transforms into a robot warrior. If you have a 3d printer you can even download your own files and print your own – if it weren’t so blasphemous to suggest, I’d say this was God’s work.
  • Clean Creatives: This story has been bubbling around for a few years now – I know that a couple of news outlets have for a while been trying to get agency staff to discuss how they feel about the work they (and their employers) do with some of the world’s biggest polluters, with limited success. Turns out, people working for agencies who work for horrible companies don’t often want to talk about how it makes them feel! Still, now you can sign a PLEDGE! “Clean Creatives is bringing together leading agencies, their employees, and clients to address the ad and PR industry’s work with fossil fuels. Continuing to work for fossil fuel companies poses risks to brands that prioritize sustainability, and their agencies. ”The Clean Creatives pledge is the best way to show you are committed to a future for the creative industry that doesn’t include promoting pollution. As creatives or leaders of agencies, the pledge says that you will decline future contracts with the fossil fuel industry. As clients, it says you will decline work with agencies that retain fossil fuel industry clients.” Which is all well and good, except as far as I can tell there’s no way of seeing who’s signed on the website, and all this amounts to is an opt-in members’ club for ‘the good guys’. I am not sure what the solution to this is, but I do firmly believe that agencies should be made to publish a full and exhaustive list of their clients – I am not a naive person, but when I did a 3m freelance stint for Edelman a few years ago I was horrified to learn they work for both Shell and the Sackler family (to name but two) and wouldn’t have taken the work had I known; it should be easier for clients and staff alike to make these decisions.
  • Mindat: Who doesn’t want an exhaustive and authoritative resource about rocks and minerals, containing all the information you could EVER want about, I don’t know, feldspar? NO FCUKER, that’s who! This is, fine, a slightly dry-looking resource, but if you happen to have a budding geologist in your life, or someone with a peculiar interest in the mineral composition of quartz, then they will love you forever for sharing this with them. Also contains a specific section on ‘the rocks and minerals of Minecraft’, which is such an incredibly-cute attempt to make kids interested in geology that if I think too hard about it I might actually cry.
  • Blink-Changes: This is a very clever idea, adapted from something I first saw in this videogame earlier this year – this website ostensibly presents you with some instructional text about how to use GANs in art, but, by allowing it access to your webcam, it tracks your eye movements and each time you blink alters the copy on the webpage, presenting you with a constantly-shifting Page whose text and layout changes each time you close your eyes. There are SO many ways in which you could use this – my immediate thought was something soporific, which slows or becomes more soothing the more heavy-lidded your eyes become, or even a staring contest game – in fact, I reckon you could probably cause several hundred people worldwide to be blinded by their own stupidity by creating a ‘Staring At The Sun’ mobile game in which users were challenged to stare at a burning-bright point on their screen for as long as possible without blinking to win, I don’t know, 0.00001 bitcoin.
  • Printshop: Printshop was apparently an OLD piece of Apple software which let people design their own cards, etc, on their Mac to then print out – like an incredibly prototypical version of Photoshop, basically (VERY basically). It now exists again as a website, which emulates the original experience and lets you export your incredibly-ugly 80s-style digital images as jpegs to use online wherever you see fit (or indeed to print out, if you want to give your friends and loved ones a really hideous physical token of your esteem). So you can create greetings cards, posters, tshirt designs…if you’ve ever wanted to create some sort of graphical shrine to the 1980s then here’s a good place to start.
  • The iPhone Photography Awards 2021: The latest edition of the long-running photo contest for Apple device owners, this as ever features some stellar shots but, as I’ve opined before here I think, I am slightly over the hyper-edited post-production style of a lot of this stuff. It looks beautiful, no question, and there’s some wonderful composition on display here and all these photographers are undeniably talented, but, well, should we not be talking about skill at editing and colouring and retouching as a separate skill to photography? Or am I being hopelessly outmoded and not really understanding the evolution of the discipline or medium? I am, aren’t I? Sorry. Anyway, my personal favourite is the shot entitled ‘New Clothes for the Pole’ – pick your own.
  • Godly Websites: A website collecting what its editors/curators consider to be examples of ‘godly’ website design – in practice what this seems to mean (to my untrained eye) is an awful lot of stuff that looks very NOW but which will equally look incredibly-dated in approximately two years’ time, but if you want a way of getting an overview of current webdesign zeitgeist then this is a decent place to start (seriously, though, it’s also a GREAT place to get a sense of the insane homogeneity of current digital design thinking; scroll through these for a while and you’ll start to see the whole fcukingh world in terms of flat, block-colour illustrations and grid-based whitespace).
  • Publishing Tea: A Twitter account, sharing gossip about the publishing industry and in particular sharing stories about the multiple ways it is not exactly inclusive. In a week in which videogames once again came under the spotlight for the often-toxic working culture that persists, particularly for women and non-white staff, it’s important to keep remembering how bad the creative industries as a rule are for diversity and representation and for enabling and allowing some staggeringly toxic behaviour. There’s an interesting piece about the account and what it (and similar discussions in other industries) say about how we deal with these sorts of structural problems, written by Friend of Curios Jared Shurin, which you can read here should you be so inclined – this line in particular struck me: “If many in the industry, rightly or wrongly, believe that gossip vigilantism is their only recourse, what does that tell us about their faith in the ‘system’ to do the right thing? By virtue of its anonymity, Publishing Tea cannot truly hold publishing to account. And without real accountability, nothing will change.”
  • Animated Texts: Powerful statements presented as individual Tweets featuring the sort of animated text graphics that you might have seen on a website circa 1998. I have no idea why pulsing, spangly lettering that reads ‘See what I just did? I minded my own business, you should try it some time!” is so powerful, but it really is – seriously, you could probably raise the dead with these if employed as spells or sigils or whatnot.
  • The Most Unforgettable Reddit Posts: It’s often said that all of humanity is on Reddit, which is hyperbolic in the extreme but can also often feel very true, as with this thread with people reminiscing about great posts from the past. WOW THERE IS SOME GOLD IN HERE (and also some really quite disturbing stuff too, you have been warned) – if your cockles are not warmed by the story of the guy working as Goofy at Disneyland (which, fine, is also an INCREDIBLY BLEAK tale in some ways) then you may well be dead.

By Zander Bice



  • Hallo: It feels like there’s a minor boom in the development of new social networks again at present – possibly people have realised, post-Substack/Patreon, etc – that you don’t need to scale to Facebook levels to be able to have a product you can still consider a ‘success’. Hallo is a seemingly-standard-ish social proposition, the gimmick being that connections are made through the people in your phonebook because they’re the people you’re mates with, right? Er, no, not necessarily – they could be my dealer, the windowcleaner, the person in the flat below who’s number it’s convenient for me to have but who I have no desire to know anything more about because their skin makes mine crawl…Oh, and it completely fails to take into account all the many reasons people might have numbers in their phone that they very much don’t want to ever hear from but which it’s important to be aware of. Considering this is by a couple of former Whatsapp people, you’d think they might have thought of that – still, if you’re in the market for a non-FB social platform and think you could convince all your friends and family to download ANOTHER app to have ANOTHER presence on, just to talk to you, then, well, good luck to you.
  • Quest: Speaking of new social networks – seamless transition there, so proud! – this is another in the seemingly-infinite line of apps which mistakenly believe that ‘audio’ is a standalone feature rather than something that will be baked in to all the existing apps by the end of the year and which isn’t on its own an attractive or interesting enough proposition. So, Quest – imagine voicenotes from strangers about work – IN AN APP! The gimmick is that users can ask questions to the community and others can respond with their thoughts and opinions via voicenote – you earn recognition (I presume there’s a ‘like’ economy) through posting good answers as voted by the community, etc etc etc. Look, as someone who only uses LinkedIn to post links to this crap and call people ‘businessmongs’ I am probably not the right demographic to evaluate this – I will say, to its credit, that the app seems to have some decent pedigree (ex-Google and Hyves devs) and there are some real people with real job titles on there which lends it an air of legitimacy. I will also say that the idea of listening to 50 voicemessages from type-A North American business mavens (oh god that word makes me so sad) about how I can become a better leader in the workplace makes me want to stop breathing forever. Your mileage, of course, may vary.
  • Half-Remembered Sonic: I don’t feel that this quite warrants one of the BIG MUSIC SLOTS in Curios, given its potentially-niche appeal, but there’s something amazing about this project in which a person calling themselves ‘morl’, a musician from Sheffield in the UK, has attempted to recreate the entire soundtrack to the Sonic the Hedgehog game (Megadrive version) from memory, and has come up with some sort of amazing chimerical audio…thing, which if you ever spent time playing Sonic as a kid will be simultaneously very familiar and very eerie. If you’re not someone who remembers the original music, this is still a pleasing piece of chiptune composition, but if you have the originals somewhere inside your skull then this becomes quite a trippy experience.
  • Yoni Circle: This is an interesting app, which I confess to not fully understanding (but which, equally, as a cishet white man I appreciate shouldn’t necessarily surprise me): Yoni Circle is an app which connects users across the world (80 countries, 1000 cities apparently) through ‘storytelling circles’ –  “Storytelling circles are hour-long, live, moderated video chat experiences (capped at 6 women) that leave members feeling lighter and more connected to themselves and the world around them. Think a slumber party meets a mindfulness class. Members sign up for their circles in advance and are expected to show up and be present.” Not one for me, but should you be in possession of a yoni (and be able to use that word without some sort of internal snigger) then you might get something out of this.
  • Flip-Display Water Simulations: Via Andy Baio, these are quite amazing. Honestly, if I had access to a train station (and said train station still had the old flip display boards up rather than the new-fangled electronic ones which are NOT AS GOOD) I would 100% programme sort of beautiful fluid dynamics ballet onto them. These are absolutely gorgeous and I would love to see them on a larger scale – it’s worth turning the volume up as the sound is part of the appeal. I realise that I’ve not really explained what these are – so, er, it’s simulated liquid on old-style flip display boards. That…that doesn’t really help, does it? Look, just click the link and TRUST ME.
  • This Beach Does Not Exist: Yes, I know, we’re all BORED with the whole ‘this X does not exist’ gimmick of machine-imagined things, but seeing as this is the closest many of us will get to a sunshiney beach-type environment this year I thought we could all do with the nonexistent pick-me-ups.
  • Product Dump: You know how animals when distressed and in captivity will often begin to exhibit bizarre behaviours, indicative of stress? I wonder whether stuff like this is our species-level distress indicator. I mean, what other explanation can there be for this particular TikTok trend in which ‘creators’ (WE ARE ALL CREATORS NOW! I DEFECATE THEREFORE I CREATE!) pour large quantities of cleaning products down their toilets and film themselves doing it? Other than a potentially-oblique deathwish that they are chasing by huffing the fumes from these chemical cocktails – seriously, I hope whoever’s filming this is wearing some sort of breathing apparatus and ensuring their bathroom is well-ventilated. Or actually, maybe on reflection I don’t. Still, if you rep Toilet Duck then a) you have the best job!; and b) there’s got to be something you can do with this, even if it is just a PSA of the Duck telling everyone to MIX CHEMICALS CAREFULLY.
  • Judging the Skateboarding: The ‘lympics! The ‘lympics are here! Despite all the obvious questions about the wisdom of doing this in the middle of a global pandemic and with seemingly the entire Japanese population being not-exactly-thrilled by the idea, it’s equally such a wonderful experience for all the athletes involved and the culmination of so much hard work and sacrifice that it’s hard to begrudge them their fortnight in the sun. None will be more excited than the skateboarders, who fort the first time see their favoured pursuit of ‘gravity+wood+wheels=fun!’ afforded Olympic status. If you’re interested in seeing how the events will be judged, this is a nice little interactive by FiveThirtyEight, which shows you a variety of clips of skaters doing their thing and asks you to judge them – you can then see how your assessment compared to the professionals. How the fcuk these people make these assessments is beyond me, is my technical takeaway here.
  • The Oasis: NOT the metaverse, despite the ‘Ready Player One’-adjacent name – instead, this is videocalling solution that basically lets you create a digital mask of your own face that maps to your real face and which you can use as your ‘on videocall’ face when your actual face is maybe not videocall-ready. Make sense? No, I thought not, which is why it’s helpful that one of the founders has chosen to illustrate it on the website by showing himself having a call on his phone in the shower – whilst he’s all wet and dishevelled, his in-call avatar presents him as dry and coiffed. This is, as far as I can tell, like those cartoon animal emoji facetracking things that came out with an iOS update a few years ago – except it uses your own face. Welcome, then, to an era in which you will be able to roll out of bed without fixing your hair or putting your face on and STILL go straight into the pitch using your magical self-avatar – isn’t the future amazing?
  • Orlog: Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is a videogame about vikings and assassins and stuff that came out last year – it features a dice game, apparently, called Orlog, which is now available to back on Kickstarter as a REAL PHYSICAL THING. There are 4 days left to fund the project which is backed to nearly 750k – 750K FOR A DICE GAME! This is interesting less because of the game itself – which I would imagine unless you’re an ACV aficionado you probably don’t need to play – but more because of the size of the spinoff market. Once again, if you ever needed to convince someone that GAMES ARE A BIG THING NOW (I know, I know, but it’s astonishing how many people of middle-age and above can’t quite get their heads around the fact that IT IS BIGGER THAN FILMS NOW) then the fact that you can raise three quarters of a million quid (and rising) to make real-life version of a dice game which is a throwaway element in a videogame should be something of a wakeup call.
  • Abandoned Rails: There’s a certain romanticism to the idea of the American railroad, and this site mines that wonderfully – if I ever had the opportunity to do a journey across the US, the idea of following major freight routes is oddly-compelling. Here you can find details of all of the bits of the US rail system that are abandoned or broken or in disrepair, along with photography and history and stories about them… such rich history, if you’re into that sort of thing.
  • Lost Tables: This is very niche – Lost Tables is a website which exists to commemorate the vanished restaurants of the dining scene in St Louis, Missouri, archiving the culinary memories from restaurants and diners and cafes throughout the city – but I am including it because I would love to know if a similar project exists for restaurants in London and if not to beg someone more dedicated than me to start one. I reckon the people behind Vittles could do something magical with this concept, for example. Anyway, if you happen to be from St Louis then there will be a lot of food nostalgia in here for you – if not, then, er, you may find it less compelling. Sorry.
  • Real Time Banner: An interesting idea, this – it looks shonky in the examples, fine, but the concept – Twitter banner images that react to realtime events, such as new followers or emoji that people reply to the account with – is an interesting one, and I imagine the developer, one Tony Dinh, would be open to exploring custom options if you were interested.
  • Music For Programming: You want some grey noise to accompany your coding? YOU GOT IT! A reworking of the existing ‘Music for Programming’ series, this has been warped as follows: “Episodes 1 to 61 of Music For Programming (the first ten years of the series) were edited to equal lengths and played simultaneously. The resulting cacophony was passed multiple times through an array of analogue and virtual signal processing devices until the centre-of-gravity between antagonism and attractiveness was found. During the process, multiple layers of infrasonic modulation were introduced at varying timescales, from 0.001Hz to around 24Hz. Each modulation frequency being a 1.618 (golden ratio) factor of the slowest, most noticeable root modulation, which in this case is a ‘spectral contrast’ processor that gradually plunges the soundscape into a watery abyss every 110 seconds before slowly bobbing up to the surface again to gasp for air.” I wouldn’t necessarily say this is easy listening, but it’s surprisingly listenable and does contribute to a sort of flow state if you give it 5m.
  • CMD FM: Internet radio, controlled via the command line – there are 100-odd genres to choose from here, and I was very much enjoying the Moobahton station for the first hour or so of Curios this morning. Fill your boots, this is GREAT.
  • Emoji Wallpaper Maker: I have no idea what you might use this for, but should you be desperate for some wallpaper with, I don’t know, stop signs and question marks and sweaty yellow faces all over it then ENJOY!
  • The Artists’ Grief Deck: I think this is beautiful. “A response to the COVID-19 pandemic, The ARTISTS’ GRIEF DECK is a set of 60 medium format ‘flashcards’ that are individually designed by artists, sometimes in collaboration with grief workers. One side displays an original artwork, created by artists from around the world responding to our open call, and on the reverse is a ‘grieving prompt.’  These are memorial and processual actions that give the individual something to do – a gesture, a tiny performance, a movement, an act of mindfulness – in memoriam for someone or something whose loss they are grieving. As a toolkit, the decks have been disbursed for free to grief workers and community organizations, and can be purchased here. In addition to serving as an archive of the printed deck, this project website also serves as an expanding repository for grief-inspired artwork and healing, transformative action.” Some of the work here is gorgeous – it’s worth taking 5 minutes to explore the cards and the words that accompany them.
  • The History Timeline: Select periods or events in history and watch as this website displays them on a timeline and gives you a real and very, very deep sense of your own transience and insignificance in the grand scheme of things. Seriously, I can’t speak for you but I am bookmarking this as a cure-all for professional anxiety – it’s very hard to even pretend to give a fcuk about the communications strategy for a pitch about a new brand of whiskey when you realise that you and everything around is like a mayfly when compared to, say, the empire of the Hittites…and noone remembers them, so why the fcuk should you bother with the pointless pantomime of advermarketingpr? As you can imagine, this internal voice serves me incredibly well, professionally-speaking.
  • Chakrubs: There is nothing funny whatsoever about sex toys, in the main, but I can’t help but snigger slightly at Chakrubs – dildos, but MADE OF SPECIAL POWERFUL CRYSTALS (sorry to all those of you who are more spiritual than I am – literally all of you, I would imagine – but I honestly can’t deal with this stuff). The testimonials suggest a lot of people are enjoying these, and I was pleasantly surprised at how reasonable they are – this is no Goop, basically – but, equally, I can’t read lines like ‘My Chakrub has assisted me in reaching a higher awareness’ without a) sniggering; and b) feeling like I’m currently being short-changed by my w4nking habits.
  • Is It Prime?: Well, IS IT??? A game in which you simply have to say whether a number is a prime or not – I am terrible at maths, and still found this oddly-compelling.
  • Can You Guess This Movie: Can you guess the film, based on the GAN-generated image that a machine has imagined for it? “Two artificial neural networks painted the poster below while thinking of a famous movie. Can you guess which movie it is?” This is a bit too easy to be properly fun, but it’s interesting in terms of how much specific visual elements are associated in our minds (culture) with specific films, and also how our brains work – it’s astonishing how quickly you get these, even with nothing that could truly be described as a ‘real image’ on display.

By Shawna X



  • Unofficial Rotring: Not in fact a Tumblr! Still, it ought to be one – this is devoted to Rotring-brand pens and their history, exactly the sort of DEEPLY NICHE interest I think we can all agree is worth celebrating.
  • Linguistic Maps: Maps detailing commonalities of language around the world. LINGUISTS REJOICE!


  • Never Miss a Collab: I read this piece about baking Instagram over the weekend, and it alerted me to the concept of baking collabs in which bakers from around the world agree to make cakes on a certain theme or with certain ingredients, etc, and then all flood the ‘gram with them on the same day – this account is dedicated to helping you keep up with said collabs, so if you fancy participating then keep an eye on this and get involved.
  • Hoe Cakes: Also a baking account, but a slightly different style. I feel the aesthetic here displayed has a name, but I don’t know what that might be – suffice it to say that they all make me slightly uncomfortable, which is very much the intention.
  • Vintage Covers: Pulp novels, with reimagined titles based on what the covers look like they should be called. Genuinely LOL’d at the ‘What baby?’ one.
  • Everyday Eastern Europe: I don’t want to make any sweeping claims about how representative this is in fact is of Eastern Europe, or indeed of how accurately the account defines ‘Eastern’ (I remember once being thanked profusely by someone from Poland for referring to them as Central European – they were apparently sick of being lumped in with the Russians), but this account, part of the Everyday Project, shares some rather beautiful pictures of life in countries East of Croatia by a variety of photographers. This is more interesting than your standard ‘In Russia, X ys YOU!’ content, I promise.
  • Now You See Me Moria: An Instagram account sharing photographs of the refugee camp Moria on the Greek island of Lesbos; the camp has been active since August of last year, with thousands of people and families housed in predictably-imperfect conditions. The original camp burned down and so they are now being housed in a rebuilt shanty town – as Summer hots up and the migrant flows from Africa and the Middle-East pick up pace again, it’s worth reminding oneself of the reality of what it means for these people to come to Europe and what their experience is when they arrive, and the fact that this hasn’t stopped just because of a pandemic.


  •  The NFT Canon: I was slightly snarky about Andreesen Horowitz’s publishing platform when it launched a few weeks ago but have now linked to three separate pieces from it so, basically, insanely rich VCs 1, webmong writing in his pants 0.  This is a really interesting overview of the NFT space, with effectively all the information you could ever need about what they are, how they work, and what they could be used for – obviously this is a VC firm and so OBVIOUSLY they are GREAT and EXCITING and THE FUTURE, but if you ignore the somewhat…uncritical gaze with which this is presented, there’s a lot of really useful information here for anyone wanting to get a better handle on the whole thing than you’re liable to get from my ill-informed criticisms.
  • Dancing with Systems: I am not a strategist – I mean, that’s what one might laughably describe what I do at work but frankly that’s bullsh1t; from what I can tell, strategists are people who think DEEP and HARD about PROBLEMS and like FRAMEWORKS and PROCESSES, whereas I am lazy and arrogant and think about things for exactly as long as it takes me to come up with some crappy ‘solution’ and then basically refuse to do anything else (HIRE ME!). Still, for those of you who are strategists, this piece about systems thinking and design might be of interest – I found it fascinating as a series of observations about how complex systems work and can be observed and changed, which is at least adjacent to all the sorts of things that I am sure many of you spend time preparing 100-slide presentations about and which you might find interesting or useful.
  • The Big Bang: I think I mentioned up there that I am very bad at maths – I am also pretty bad at science, to the point that my brain stops being able to think past a certain point when it comes to physics. I once had an actual rocket scientist attempt to explain things like Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle to me, and I could literally feel the information sliding off my brain like fried eggs off Teflon. That’s all by way of preamble to my saying that I loved this short piece about the Big Bang and what we know about it, which made me feel both smart and awed within the space of a thousand or so words. Also, I adore this bit: “We understand, in principle, how matter can come from “nothing”. This is sometimes presented as the most mysterious part of the Big Bang, the idea that matter could spontaneously emerge from an “empty” universe. But to a physicist, this isn’t very mysterious. Matter isn’t actually conserved, mass is just energy you haven’t met yet.” That last line is SO GOOD.
  • Garden Cities: I got up at 7am on Sunday to walk to Corviale, which is an estate on the South Western edge of Rome and which is honestly one of the most Judge Dredd-esque places I have ever been – it’s 1km of housing designed in the 70s and built in the 80s, which had the utopian ideal of creating a self-sufficient community in which all of the prerequisites for urban life and human flourishing would exist. You can read more about it here – short story is that the utopian ideal, as is often the case with such things, didn’t quite work out as planned and it’s long been considered a blight on the city. Anyway, this piece – about garden cities as a model of urban planning, and how they worked, and what they were intended to do – was an interesting counterpoint to the brutalism I’d seen over there; a utopian ideal taken in a different direction, with rather more success.
  • Drawing Cities: Seeing as we’re doing urban design, this is a fascinating piece which can be read as a sort-of companion to the previous one, and discusses why illustrative visualisations of the idealised urban environments of the future can be instrumental in making them a reality. Again, made me think of Corviale – the idea that that place could ever have looked good, even in the sketches, is boggling to me.
  • The Sounds of Technology: To give the piece its complete title, the sounds of technology are making us unhappy. This is a really interesting article about the extend to which the sounds of tech – the pings and beeps and alerts we all receive from our laptops and mobile devices and home assistants and and and – are not in fact that soothing aural soul-balm that we perhaps need, and that we need to move from an idea of sound design to one of ‘sensory’ design; that is, design which takes sound as one component in the multisensory human experience and seeks to create sounds which complement that experience rather than cutting across or through it. There is DEFINITELY a pitch idea in this for the right client.
  • What Happened to IBM Watson?: AHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Oh it’s nice to occasionally be proved right (it happens once a decade, seemingly) – I remember ten years ago when Watson was EVERYWHERE having ‘discussions’ with colleagues about how great IBM were doing and being slightly more skeptical about the quantity and quality of clothes that the Emperor was wearing at the time; turns out, with the benefit of hindsight, that Watson was largely bunkum and that IBM massively oversold its capabilities and indeed generally failed to understand that AI is quite hard, especially when you try and move beyond ‘brute force computation’ towards something morelike ‘understanding and acting’. This is a decent account of where it all went wrong for Watson – although tbh IBM got loads of good PR out of it and looked like a FORWARD-THINKING COMPANY for years, so perhaps their comms people would argue it was all worthwhile (comms people, let me remind you, are largely morons).
  • Gaming X Fashion: Another one for the ‘no, games are big business actually’ folder, this is all about the increasingly-common high fashion x gaming crossovers, from the Mario watch announced byTAG recently to the 100 Thieves x Gucci collab from the other week. This piece provides a decent enough overview of the market as it stands, and will likely feature at least one piece where you will think ‘Hm, I’d probably wear that if I didn’t know if was inspired by a videogame’ (the Death Stranding industrial-chic outerwear, for example, is something that at least two people I know would wear the sh1t out of).
  • Going to Venus: This is SO interesting – on efforts to persuade Earth’s scientists that Venus is worth exploring some more, despite the fact that it’s had significantly worse PR than Mars over the past 50 years.  This is a great read, capturing early sci-fi ideas of what Venus might be like, the disillusionment when scientists discovered that it was mainly murderously hot, and said scientists’ attempts to persuade NASA and others that it might be worth maybe studying it a bit more closely. I imagine that there’s a version of the ‘distracted boyfriend’ meme featuring Mars and Venus that absolutely slays on astrophysicist Twitter.
  • An Oral History of Black Twitter: Part one of a three-part series on WIRED looking at the history of what is colloquially termed ‘black Twitter’ – itself a weird and unsatisfactory label – and how the platform came to embody a particular version of black culture, how it works as a community, the constant flow of culture from the platform to the mainstream, and its importance as a space for the black community worldwide.
  • Miniature Canada: In a week in which the latest billionaire has chosen to wave their metaphorical dick at the world from space, it’s nice to read a story about a super-rich person with more modest ambitions. Jean-Louis Brenninkmeijer was born into the family who own the C&A fortune, estimated at around £29bn. He has not used that money to go into space. Instead, after turning down a cushy and lucrative family-office-type job in finance (“It was basically sitting behind a computer all day and looking at reports,” he says. “I didn’t like the work. I didn’t like the people.”) he discovered a passion for miniature railways and has devoted his time (and a LOT of money) to creating a miniature replica of Canada which will open to the public later this year. Look, billionaires are all obviously scum (sorry, but – if you want to be that rich, if you can’t see a reason to give 90% of that money away, then there is something wrong with you), but this is lovely and I cannot hate on old Jean-Louis. Reminded me slightly of The Music of Chance by Paul Auster, in which one of the two similarly-rich poker-playing antagonists has their own model universe in which their sinister world views are brought to life in microcosm (a great novel btw, if you’ve not read it).
  • Meet The Peiwans: In China, being a female in-game companion to players is a job – these women earn approximately $3 per hour to act as sidekicks and in some cases therapists to male players who want the company. Whether you think of this as sinister or simply The Market In Action, it’s another example of the fundamental truth that any power dynamics currently present IRL will replicate at scale in virtual environments before you can say “the emergence of the digital serf is a sad-but-inevitable consequence of the growth of the metaverse”.
  • Climbing: Adam Ondra is by all accounts the best rock climber in the world right now. This is one of the best bits of shiny scrolly digital interactive webwork I have seen in ages, which explains why he is so good, why what he does is so hard, and how climbing will work at the Olympics – seriously, this is amazing and it properly taught me stuff.
  • Robot Sculptors: Marble is now being sculpted by robot – this was news to me, and I found this whole piece fascinating, partly from the point of view of the modernisation of ultra-traditional industries and partly because of the question at the heart of this around who the ‘artist’ is here. It will not surprise you to learn that Koons has availed himself of the tech.
  • No Caul For Them: The increasingly-essential Vittles returns to Curios with this essay about faggots (I worry that this will get firewalled but, well, what can you do?), their history and their place in the culinary pantheon of English food. It’s unlikely anyone of my generation will have pleasant memories of this foodstuff – from the unpleasant associations with school dinners to the fact that, however you cast it, ‘Mr Brain’s Faggots’ does not sound like something you want to eat – but by the end I was genuinely tempted to pop to the market and pick up some offal and caul and make my own (but not quite – Romans like their offal, it’s true, but caul’s a bit tricky even here). Wonderful writing about food and place and history, this.
  • A Quiet Life on the Edge of Manchester: I found this impossibly affecting. Joshi Herrmann writes about Martin, who lives alone in a flat on a Manchester estate. It’s a spare, unsentimental portrait of someone on the margins of society, but if you’ve ever known anyone old and alone, or mentally ill and on the fringes, this will resonate with you strongly. I would read a book full of these accounts quite…well, happily isn’t quite the word, but you know what I mean.
  • Whitney Houston, American Girl: In the wake of all the Britney conservatorship stuff, it’s timely to look back at Whitney Houston and see how many of the same sorts of considerations about control and image around a female artist were present in her story, and how her status as a black woman was always problematic for the packaging she was forced into. Looking back at this now it’s quite shocking to see the headlines and commentary – fcuking hell the 90s/00s were in many respects a vile time to be a woman.
  • Sex Fantasy 4: This is a very short comic and I don’t quite know how to describe it other than by telling you that I found it almost impossibly affecting. So, er, please read it, it will take you 2 minutes at most but it will stay with you far longer than that.
  • The Richest Babysitter in the World: Finally this week, a short story about the richest man in the world which is not quite about the richest man in the world. Curtis Sittenfeld writes beautifully – this is a lovely ‘pour a glass and enjoy it’ read.

By Zoe Ghertner