Webcurios 26/01/24

Reading Time: 39 minutes

How is it possible that a company whose last recorded profits were over $5bn needs to sack 10% of its workforce? How is it possible that literally none of the galaxy-brained investors that have taken turns worrying at the increasingly-ripe corpse of media with their private equity spoons have managed to work out how to make the businesses sustainable? HOW DOES ALL THIS WORK?

Is it…is it the case that the version of Modern Capitalism that we have arrived at, the Final Evolution, quite possibly, is one which basically turns every single potential human endeavour into just AN Other asset to be strip-mined by a cadre of investors and VCs, and that the whole idea of value creation was basically a gigantic myth?

Is…is ‘profit’ and ‘the markets’ and ‘economics’ all basically just lies?

I don’t know! I don’t understand any of this! It certainly feels FCUKING TERRIBLE, though!

Still, as the apparently-illusory ground on which we’ve spent the past 150-odd years building our sandcastles continues to fragment and crumble to dust around us, let’s ignore the tearing and rending sound of everything falling apart and instead spend a bit longer staring at some screens. That might make things better.

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and if you believe that then I have some incredibly good value NFTs to sell you.

By Xan Padron



  • Oldavista: We’re only a few weeks into 2024 and the general sense of ‘hang on, this isn’t the transformative improvement I’d expected from a brand new year!’ is almost palpable – so why not instead make a conscious decision to ignore all the now and the new and the novel and instead fix your gaze firmly towards the digital past instead? It does rather feel like you’ve not been able to move over the past year for all the nostalgic takes on the innocent majesty of the old internet, and now YOU TOO can experience the peculiar joy of stumbling across old, personal webpages from yesteryear thanks to the magic of Oldavista, a search engine designed specifically to surface results from the hoary old history of the web, back when it was held together with string and duct tape and was only really properly accessible to people who knew weird, arcane sh1t like what LAN parties were. It is VERY SLOW, but that feels oddly appropriate, and if you are the sort of person who used to while away hours spelunking through odd corners of other people’s minds, click by click (what do you mean ‘that sounds oddly intrusive and not a little creepy, Matt!’? Doesn’t everyone conceive of browsing the web like this?) then this is a powerful hit of nostalgia. If you’re a bit overwhelmed and don’t quite know where to start with this, check out some of the suggested ‘Top Links’ (‘Dinosaur Pictures and Links’ is a personal favourite) or alternatively just type in whatever topic takes your fancy and see where you end up. You know that horrible, cliche phrase ‘dance like noone’s watching’? Well in the past people posted like noone was reading (because, in the main, they weren’t) and in some ways it was better that way – this site is a perfect portal to discover why.
  • Just For Fun: Sometimes you don’t want the fibre – sometimes you just want the sugar and fat and salt, to gorge yourself on things with no nutritional value until your fingers and gaping maw are slick and your senses are vibrating at a new and troubling frequency as a result of all the E numbers. So it is with this site, administered by the indefatigable Neal Agarwal and which collects a bunch of ‘creative coding’ projects from around the web. Many of these are CLASSICS (bongo cat! Medieval City Generator!) but there are SO MANY fun, distracting, silly, creative and generally pleasing webtoys in here that you could reasonably forget about all the bad stuff for, ooh, probably at least 17 minutes or so.
  • The Miko Mini: Do you remember the book The Neverending Story? Yes, fine, there was a film too, with That theme song, but frankly it wasn’t a patch on the novel and honestly if you’ve never read it and you are in the market for a few hours’ escapism then it really is a great read (er, if you’re 9). Anyway, the author of The Neverending Story was a German author called Michael Ende, who also wrote a lesser-known but also excellent book called Momo, all about the importance of imagination in childhood (and time travel, and a tortoise called Cassiopoeia – honestly, it’s great, read that too), and there’s a recurring theme in it about these futuristic, hi-tec dolls, which talk and interact with kids but which leave no space for imagination and which as such are fundamentally empty…anyway, that pointless digression into ‘books which evidently left a significant impression on Young Matt’ is by way of introduction to the Miko Mini, an electronic companion robot-type thing…POWERED BY AI! “Miko Mini might be tiny in stature, but it’s packed with personality, reacting to your actions and moods with fun facial expressions and bite-sized text notes. With its vibrant expressions and vast personality, it becomes a cherished companion, making learning both fun and meaningful.” Yes, that’s right, the first wave of AI-enabled toys are arriving – this is one of half-a-dozen different brands which are coming to market i the next year or so, all of whom offer basically the same sort of thing, to whit ‘a learning and conversation companion that can tell stories and answer questions, all power by THE MAGIC OF AI!’ Miko doesn’t make clear exactly what’s under the hood, but there are others I’ve seen which are explicit about their use of GPT…which, let’s be honest, doesn’t fill me with confidence; if you’ve spent any time interacting with LLMs it should have become emninently clear to you that they are not at present something to which one ought entrust the education and development of young minds and yet, well, here we are! Interestingly the Miko Mini website makes a lot of its ENCRYPTION and SECURITY features, but very little of ‘guardrailing’ and ‘making sure you can’t jailbreak the thing’, but, well, I am sure it will all be fine and that outsourcing the raising of your sticky little progeny to spicy autocomplete will work perfectly for everyone. If you’d like to read more about these things you can do so in this piece – I very much enjoyed the detail about these things getting simple maths wrong, as LLMs are wont to do.
  • Nightshade: This was trailed in a paper last year but is now LIVE – Nightshade is an interesting idea, purporting to let artists not just stop their works from being scraped for training purposes by AI models but to specifically harm the models doing the scraping: “Nightshade transforms images into “poison” samples, so that models training on them without consent will see their models learn unpredictable behaviors that deviate from expected norms, e.g. a prompt that asks for an image of a cow flying in space might instead get an image of a handbag floating in space. Used responsibly, Nightshade can help deter model trainers who disregard copyrights, opt-out lists, and do-not-scrape/robots.txt directives. It does not rely on the kindness of model trainers, but instead associates a small incremental price on each piece of data scraped and trained without authorization. Nightshade’s goal is not to break models, but to increase the cost of training on unlicensed data, such that licensing images from their creators becomes a viable alternative.” I’ve seen a degree of debate online about the extent to which this actually works, but I am enjoying this current era of ‘scrappy artists attempt to fight back against the Goliath that is machine learning with the slings and ineffectual arrows of homebrew coding’ – if you’re a maker of visual works and want to attempt to join The Resistance then you could do worse than check this out (but it’s also worth remembering that, despite what the Bible might have attempted to convince us, the small kid with the slingshot has an overwhelming tendency to be turned into a thin, lumpy smear of human jam by the giant with the necklace of skulls) (did that metaphor work? I don’t think it did, did it?).
  • Metaphor Dogs: Not, sadly, itself some sort of code – no, this is simply a compendium of all the ways in which dogs and general canine behaviour manifest in idiomatic English usage. The site “explores the ways in which references to dogs are used in vernacular English, especially as they reveal social dynamics in the contemporary United States. Terms, metaphors, and cultural references that evoke dogs are discussed individually, including history, usage, and significance.” I appreciate that not EVERYONE will necessarily find this useful, but I live in the faint and vanishing hope that one of you will be stuck, inspirationless, staring at a Keynote for a new creative direction for Pedigree and THIS is the site that finally unblocks you (all I want is to be useful).
  • Feedle: Another search portal purporting to offer a way into a different corner of the web, and one which briefly cast me back to the halcyon days of Google, when the product still worked and the web wasn’t all machine-generated dreck, and you could do things like ‘search blogs and forums’…anyway, Feedle is GREAT because it basically does just that – rather than returning results from Big Websites, it instead focuses specifically on blogs and podcasts, so all the results are from personal domains or the world of audio; even better you can export your searches as RSS feeds, meaning it’s easy to set up a search for something you’re interested in keeping an eye on and have new content on that topic from small, independent writers and creators and hobbyists show up in your feed like clockwork (JUST LIKE IT USED TO BE). As the web gets ever more fractured and the possibility of ever having any sort of idea of What Is Going On becomes evermore illusory, I think things like this – and small-scale ‘blogger outreach’ and niche community cultivation – will become more and more useful, so bookmark this just in case I’m right (I am rarely, if ever, right about anything at all).
  • Guess The AI Face: You’re really good at spotting AI, right? You wouldn’t get fooled by a Midjourney-spun countenance? Hm, perhaps not – this little quiz pulled together by the NYT unsettled me rather when I misidentified a couple of the pictures, which has NEVER happened before when trying out this sort of thing; the classic tells you might have used to pick an AI image from a lineup six months ago (hair, ears, the collars of garments, background details, etc) simply aren’t as obvious as they used to be, and if you’ve spent any time playing with (or looking at the outputs of) Midjourney6 then you will be aware of how terrifyingly good it now is at producing photos that look…just about sh1t enough to have been taken by a real person on a cameraphone. My big problem with AI aesthetics last year, and something I thought might be a barrier to full believability, was the software’s inability to create imagery that was in any way ‘ugly’ – that seems to be receding which, honestly, is quite odd and a bit scary. I mean, look at this stuff – try telling me that you would doubt any of these images for a second if they scrolled past your field of vision.
  • The Midi Archive: Oh I do like this – a project by Reuben Son which takes a bunch of old MIDI music files from the early days of the web and uses them as training data for a music AI, neatly bridging the gap between old and new technologies. “The MIDI files collected here and used to train the model were once very new. In presenting them here alongside the output of a machine learning model, I hope to bridge epochs of technological transformation. Within each, the possibilties of new aesthetic experiences interact with the technics of producing and distributing new forms of media, producing artifacts that carry hopes and fears about how we ourselves may change.” You can listen to individual tracks from the training data as well as The Machine’s outputs on the Page, and read more about the project here if you’re so inclined.
  • Shed of the Year: In years past I have often featured the annual Shed of the Year contest – but only when they publish the winners. This year, though, for some reason I feel it’s possible I’ve crossed some sort of audience age event horizon whereby the readership of Web Curios, all nineteen of you, are in fact now likely to be of the sort of vintage that means you’re all actually reasonably likely to *own* sheds of your own which you might want to submit to this year’s search for THE BEST SHED IN BRITAIN. So, er, if you’re a middle-aged man with a shed then HERE YOU GO. A note for the non-English: a ‘shed’ is what middle-aged English men do instead of therapy.
  • The Video Game History Foundation: This is a great project, and a necessary one – I know that ‘preserving the history of videogames’ doesn’t SOUND like a hugely-culturally-significant endeavour, fine, but considering the number of people that play the things it’s interesting that there isn’t an archival scene around it like there is film or television (though in fairness the relative age of the various media might play a part there). Anyway, the Video Game History Foundation is a US initiative that seeks to archive and preserve original code, design documentation, audio, files…basically if you’re someone who’s interested in games, their development and the history thereof then there’s a lot to keep you occupied in here (specifically the ‘blog’ section which details some of the specific projects they’ve undertaken and which really is particularly good if you’re a special type of obsessive).
  • Daft: This bills itself as ‘the social network for minimalists’, and it certainly lives up to the title – the interface is literally just ‘send an email with your post as the subject line and it will go live’, and posts are limited to words and links. That’s it. You can’t delete posts, you can’t edit them, and the whole thing’s consumed through an app that’s brutal in its black-and-white simplicity, and…actually I quite like this, on reflection; I was going to whinge about how literally noone needs or wants a new social network here in 2024 (I think, collectively, the novelty of this whole ‘being hyperconnected’ and ‘seeing the exact grain of fluff inside a stranger’s bellybutton’ has somewhat palled), but while I still believe that to be true I think this is rather cute (if pointless and destined to end up only being used by the founder and their seven achingly-cool friends).
  • PI: Actually, seeing as we’re doing NEW SOCIAL NETWORKS (seamless!)…this is PI, which stands for ‘Perfectly Imperfect’ and which has spun out of the newsletter of the same name, and which I think is currently being used by approximately 30 kids in New York but which might appeal if you want something that looks like it was designed by, and for, 19 year olds (it has an aesthetic that I really want to describe as RudeDogCore, which I appreciate is unlikely to mean anything to any of you but, well, IT’S MY NEWSLETTER).
  • Call Centre AI: It’s been a bad start to the year for jobs, and, realistically, it’s not going to get any better anytime soon. 2024 is the year in which we’re going to see the first real effects of the generative AI wave on the labour market – not the jobpocalypse, not quite, but the edges of certain industries beginning to be eroded by technology which isn’t perfect, or even very good, but which is cheap and JUST EFFECTIVE ENOUGH to make it worth swapping out your meaty wageslaves for at the margins of your operation. Witness this – a company called Qlary which offers ‘AI Call Centre Assistants’ for as little as $50, and which whilst almost certainly a terrible product that barely works is self-evidently going to be an attractive option as soon as it becomes JUST capable enough not to actively lose you business if you use it. Oh, and here’s ‘Holly’, a company presenting a friendly. human-sounding brand for a business that wants to replace your HR department (yes, I know, but they are people too, just) and probably will do in ~24m or so. Will any of these things be better for customers? Almost certainly not! Will they make a near-immediate impact on the bottom line? Definitely! Which of those two factors do YOU believe is likely to be the greatest determinant of corporate activity?
  • From-To: This doesn’t really work, if I’m honest, but it’s a cute idea and will automatically resonate with anyone who’s ever been asked ‘so, you’ve lived in city X and city Y; what’s the closest equivalent to neighbourhood A?’ (seriously, you try coming up with a Roman equivalent of ‘Bounds Green’, it’s simply not possible). Plug in two cities (and your email address, annoyingly ,but I don’t *think* this is nefarious dataharvesting) and the site will spit out a list of areas that roughly compare to each other – I have NO IDEA where this is being pulled from, and I have the sneaking suspicion that there’s some AI under the hood somewhere (mainly because, well, a lot of the resulting copy is slightly fanciful b0llocks), but I enjoyed it quite a lot. You can see recent comparisons on the homepage without having to share your details, if you’re curious – apparently someone’s just run a comparison between London and Warrington which, having visited both places, seems…fanciful.
  • London Toy Fair 2024: A selection of photographs taken at this year’s London Toy Fair which recently took place – these are, to be clear, not patricularly amazing photos, but I find there’s something slightly appealing about the juxtaposition of the colours and the plastic and the packaging here and the incredibly bleak, slightly-liminal lights and carpeting and modularity of the conference centre…anyway, if you want a sneak preview of the plastic tat that’s going to be forming 2024’s Christmas Detritus Strata around the planet then, well, here you go!
  • The Crown Auction: It is, probably, vanishingly-unlikely that you will ever own a genuine article once touched by a member of the UK Royal Family – BUT, thanks to this forthcoming auction at Bonham’s, you can TOTALLY own something touched by a cast member of the long-running TV show *about* the UK Royal Family, which is probably the same thing, more or less. I haven’t been through all of the lots so I can neither confirm nor deny that ‘Diana’s Actual Ghost’ is up for grabs but, well, it probably is. If nothing else there are some FABULOUS frocks in here which you might enjoy perusing (or bidding on! But, honestly, if you have a few grand spare to spend on taffeta then, well, I’m right here is all I’m saying).

By Malika Favre



  • Powerpoint Karaoke: This link feels almost too powerfully ‘London 2010/11’ – it is redolent to me of Silicon Roundabout (LOL!) and the startup scene and the social events and the overwhelming sense (if you were me, anyway) that despite appearances there was in fact no ‘there’ there and the whole thing was eventually going to evaporate and leave very little trace…AND LO! IT CAME TO PASS! Anyway, you don’t need my reminiscing – PowerPoint Karaoke, for the uninitiated, is a parlour game in which someone has to stand and improvise a presentation based on a bunch of slides that will autoadvance behind them, with the gimmick being that the people presenting have no idea what will be on each slide and therefore what the fcuk they are going to say next. Whilst obviously that sounds about as fun as having unanesthetised bone spur surgery it’s actually surprisingly enjoyable (oh, ok, if you are VERY DRUNK or everyone’s on certain types of drug), and this site lets you play along; I have no idea where it’s pulling the slides from, but there seem to be a LOT. This is, to be boringly serious for a moment, a non-terrible way of helping people get better at presenting, or of doing those awful ‘icebreaker’ things at the beginning of big meetings, should you be in the awful, miserable position of needing either of those two things.
  • London Crime: I appreciate that there are at least six of you who don’t in fact live in London – still, I think quite a few of you do and therefore might be interested in this excellent, interesting data dashboard pulled together by Naresh Suglani (and found by Giuseppe) which presents London crime data, broken down by crime type and sortable by individual Borough; it’s one of those nice, simple bits of data work that makes you immediately think ‘hang on, why wasn’t this already available in this really convenient format’, and feels like a simple object lesson in ‘ways we might want to consider making useful, important data visible and available to the public’. For those interested, crime is slightly up year-on-year – but, in general, London remains a remarkably safe city considering its size.
  • Useful Spaces: Apologies for the second London-centric link in a row, but this really is useful – it is “A collectively maintained list of welcoming and low-cost spaces…There’s a huge demand for meeting and event spaces in London, particularly those that are fully accessible, low cost or free, and welcoming to a wide range of activists and organisers.” It’s only partial, and needs people to add venues to it to continue to be useful, but it’s a good start and worth bookmarking if you’re ever in the market for ‘a place to hold my ecstatic dance workshop’ or something.
  • Artificial Skies: I was largely underwhelmed by all the futureTech coming out of CES this year – there wasn’t even anything that creepy, ffs, and the only genuinely weird-looking tech had been in Curios a whole year ago (once again, while the internet is not a race it also most definitely IS a race and I WON IN YOUR FACE CES. Ahem) – but my desire for ‘technological innovations that cause a deep sadness in the very core of my being, a sadness which may never be fully healed’ has been sated by the website for ‘Artificial Skies’, a company which offers the ability for you to buy a digital skylight or window so that you can stare at an unbroken field of azure blue and make believe that your dwelling or cubicle affords an external view whereas in fact you’re packed into one of several hundred windowless battery pods and the sky outside is the colour of death. This is so astonishingly bleak that I think we’re just going to move on and try to forget (but we may never be able to).
  • Slime Or Goo?: Is it slime? Is it goo? What, exactly, is the difference between the two substances and how exactly would you define each? IT DOESN’T MATTER FFS IS IT SLIME OR IS IT GOO PICK ONE PICK ONE NOW.
  • Graveyard: I’m not quite sure where I found this, and it’s very…personal, but it’s also really rather sad and lovely and hopefully the person who made it doesn’t mind me presenting it to a few dozen webmongs like this. Graveyard is a little webpage which commemorates dead relationships – leave flowers by the gravestones to learn more. I think there’s something genuinely poignant about this and I think it’s rather beautiful.
  • Global Threat: I do rather like the slightly-grandiose way in which this site self-describes; “Welcome to the forefront of security innovation with our cutting-edge AI-driven platform for Real-Time Global Threat Assessment. Our solution harnesses the power of artificial intelligence to continuously monitor and analyze a vast array of data sources across the globe. From geopolitical shifts and emerging cyber threats to natural disasters and public health emergencies, our system provides instant, actionable intelligence to keep you one step ahead of potential risks.” Lads, you are a website that maps news stories as they break and uses rudimentary AI to gauge their relative ‘threat’ level (threat to who, anyway? I have to say I don’t personally feel *that* threatened by the prospect of wildfires in LA right now). Still, I think there’s something halfway interesting about this as a way of presenting and topline-assessing the news, and I wonder whether we’re going to see a resurgence of sentiment analysis as a metric (except this time it won’t be total bullsh1t, maybe).
  • What If Asian Countries Were Videogames?: A few caveats here – a) this is just a bunch of images hosted on Imgur, meaning I have no idea who made them or why; I am assuming that it’s all in good faith and there’s no horrible racist subtext happening behind any of the prompting here; b) it’s AI art, which I know we’re all TERRIBLY bored of (but I promise this is funny); c) there are no details on what tool was used or what the prompts were (but I’m guessing Dall-E3, personally). Now, with all that out of the way, enjoy this selection of WONDERFUL imagined oldschool videogame box art for “PAKISTAN: The NES Videogame” or “Cambodia (A SEGA Master System Exclusive” – this is basically one of those ‘oh look at all the stereotypes and prejudices built into the model!’ gags, but with the benefit of using a selection of countries that tend to feature less often (at least in the content I see). This is SO interesting – the number of countries featuring evident war and gunfire, the genuinely bleak tragedy of the Maldivian example, the sense of intense anger the Kazakh people must feel towards Sacha Barron-Cohen…, honestly, even if you’re heartily sick of AI art and anything adjacent to it, this is a great selection.
  • The Threshold: A READER SUBMISSION! Jeremy Shapiro (an incredibly-suave-sounding name, now I come to think of it, one that speaks of luxuriant chest hair and possibly the ability to grow an impressively-Selleckish moustache) writes: “my oldest mate Sam is rereading all the fantasy novels he’s read that he still has a copy of in chronological order and blogging about it. And amazingly it’s good and he’s now probably got about as far with it as Sufjan did with his US states albums.” Jeremy is not wrong – if you are Of A Certain Age and spent more time than was perhaps healthy reading fantasy books as a kid then so much of this will be a powerful hit of nostalgia. The Dark is Rising! Some of the Fighting Fantasy Books! All I need is for Sam to reveal that he too had a long-running and in retrospect probably a *bit* sexual obsession with the Dragonlance Chronicles (look, it was a long time ago and I don’t have to be ashamed anymore) and this will be basically perfect.
  • Practical Typography: Are YOU into letters and kerning and all that sort of stuff? In which case I would like to genuinely apologise for the appalling mess that is the Web Curios layout and pagination, one day I will fix it. But! Also, have this link! This is an ONLINE BOOK – an actual whole book, all online, and all in lovely HTML, and it’s been online for just over a decade, and if you have ANY QUESTIONS AT ALL about, er, stuff pertaining to typography then they will probably be found here. This is amazing, honestly, I fcuking LOVE the fact that someone has made this and just left it here for people to find and use, and that they have made it USEFUL and HELPFUL and FUNCTIONAL and, look, more of this please.
  • People and Blogs: A part of the ongoing ‘2024 is the year of the small and personal web, you see if it fcuking isn’t’ movement, here’s a lovely newsletter which you might want to subscribe to: “People and Blogs is a weekly newsletter, delivered every Friday, where I ask interesting people to talk about themselves and their blogs. The goal is to both highlight wonderful human beings and their blogs, and also to promote a healthier way to inhabit the web and show that traditional social media is not the be all and end all when it comes to having an internet presence.” If you’re the sort of person who publishes into the void online then you might like to read about other people who plough the same furrow; if not, this is an excellent way of finding new voices and topics and themes and interests and connections in a stubbornly non-algorithmically-determined way.
  • Vintage Patterns: I genuinely hope that if any of you sew it’s because you enjoy it and find it therapeutic rather than because you’re having to darn holes in your pants to keep them viable – presuming that that is in fact the case, you will almost certainly find something to love here: “We are a collaborative Wikia dedicated to documenting Vintage Sewing Patterns (25 years old or older) that anyone can edit! Browse vintage dress patterns and completed vintage sewing projects, explore amusing illustrations and ogle classic movie stars. Search patterns available from our vintage pattern vendors or add your name to a wishlist.” Beyond that, this is part of a seemingly VAST network of different wikis on different topics, all of which can be explored via the left-hand sidebar and which seem to focus on fandoms of different types – basically if you’re a fan of ANYTHING (probably) you can find an appropriately-themed wiki linked from here via which to indulge said fandom in hopefully-healthy and un-obsessional ways.
  • The Apple Parer Museum: Have you ever thought “wow, my life is pretty good but there is a gaping whole at the centre of it which can only be filled by photographs and information of antique devices invented for the sole and specific purpose of peeling apples”? WHAT ARE THE FCUKING ODDS! At this link you will find the Apple Parer Museum, which soberly introduces itself as being ‘dedicated to the exhibition and educational study of antique apple parers, which have both historic and artistic value’, and, well, who are we to argue? NO FCUKER, etc. Aside from anything else I am genuinely puzzled by the amount of ingenuity and endeavour that seems to have been devoted over the course of humanity’s existence to the question of how best to automate apple peeling – look, I don’t mean to cast any ancestral shade here, but, honestly, IT’S NOT THAT FCUKING HARD TO PEEL APPLES BY HAND.
  • Headphone Commute: It’s no Pitchfork – but maybe that’s a good thing. If you’re in the market for a new online destination where you can read intelligent writing about new music, you could do worse than bookmarking this site which features reviews and features about all sorts of music and artists I’d personally never heard of, but all with a specific curatorial…ear? Yeah, let’s go with curatorial ear. The site’s anonymous, but self-describes as “an independent online resource of candid words on electronic, experimental and instrumental music. The range of covered genres includes ambient, modern classical, shoegaze, downtempo, experimental, minimal, IDM, film music and everything in between. Headphone Commute is not associated with any artist, band, record label, promoter, distributor or retailer covered by the reviews. There is no hidden agenda behind these words. What you see is what you get. All that means is that we share our love for music because we want to, not because we have to. Created entirely by humans, with no artificial intelligence.” I like this a lot.
  • Modern Illustration: SO GOOD. “An archive of illustration from c.1950-1975, shining a spotlight on pioneering illustrators and their work, Modern Illustration is a project by illustrator Zara Picken, featuring print artefacts from her extensive personal collection. Her aim to is preserve and document outstanding examples of mid-20th century commercial art, creating a valuable and accessible resource to build a better understanding of illustration history.” Honestly, as a source of visual/design inspiration this really is wonderful.
  • Rambalac: I appreciate that the genre of ‘slow internet vids of people walking around Japan’ is not per se that new or innovative, but I found this particular example of the genre to be particularly pleasing; whoever the person behind Ramblamac is, they have a very pleasing walking style (yes, I know, but I promise you’ll see what I mean) and the selection of walks is interesting and a bit more varied than your standard ‘Shinjuku/Shibuya/etc’ routes round Tokyo. I came to this via Frank Lantz, who wrote this excellent essay on the qualities that make the channel and its videos ‘work’, and I think he’s 100% right about the whole ‘vague sense of liminality’ thing.
  • The Ocean Art Photo Awards: Piscine pics! Oh, ok, fine, it’s not JUST fish – there are crustacea and molluscs and the occasional swimming bird or mammal, but none of those were as pleasingly-alliterative. Anyway, here’s the annual selection of ‘amazing photos of stuff underwater’ as selected by the Underwater Photography Guide – some of these are good, but there are also a few that caused my eyebrows to shoot up rather (I am talking specifically about YOU, “Water Sprite”) and the whole ‘underwater fashion’ category in general) and it’s actually quite nice to see a photo contest where there is some stuff that I think is actually a bit aesthetically ugly (I NEED MORE GRIT IN MY VISUAL OYSTER). Oh, and while we’re here, BONUS PHOTO AWARD CONTENT: this is the 2023 selection for ‘Travel Photographer of the Year’ (genuinely curious as to how exactly you define ‘travel’ photography to any meaningful degree, but wevs I guess) and if the photo of the guy with the pangolin (don’t worry, in the wild) doesn’t melt your heart then, well, fcuk you.
  • Neon Knives: This is VERY CLEVER, and a nice example of a multiplayer website which I am increasingly convinced are going to become A Thing this year – play with a friend, with each of you tasked with first identifying who YOU are onscreen, then who your opponent is, and then assassinating them before they assassinate you. Honestly, it makes perfect sense when you click – this is an afternoon’s worth of distracting, work-free fun with your office best friend (or, er, actual friends – I forget people have those sometimes).
  • Horse Master: This is, honestly, one of the best little browsergames I have ever played – the writing is BRILLIANT, odd and weird and creepy and *visceral* in the most literal of ways (you will get what I mean) and the ability of Tom McHenry to create genuinely-unsettling equine body horror out of what is a VERY SIMPLE basic interface and platform is remarkable. I really don’t want to spoil too much for you here, but I will give you this much: “Horse Master: The Game of Horse Mastery challenges players to grow, train, and nurture their own horse from birth in the hopes of earning the most coveted tenured position in the world: Horse Master.” Please don’t do any more research, just click and ENJOY.
  • Haxball: Our last game of the week is this fun little 2d football-type game; teams of players are thrown together to pass and score in what is basically a simplified 5-a-side (wall passes and all); what I enjoyed about this is that there is obviously a small but dedicated community of people (almost certainly 9 year old kids, on reflection, but hey ho) who play this regularly and are…quite good, but they were SO tolerant of my ineptitude and malcoordination that it I spent a fun 20 minutes or so playing a dozen or so matches and they STILL PASSED TO ME, which, honestly, didn’t even happen at school. I really enjoyed this, and figured some of you might quite enjoy it too.

By Jean Aubertin



  • Forgotten Stories: Not in fact a Tumblr! Sorry, I didn’t see any good ones this week so instead I am including this Old School Blog (it’s on a WordPress url, just like in the past!) which is honestly WONDERFUL; per the description, “the purpose of this site is to discuss/reminisce about old children’s books” and, well, that is EXACTLY what you get; think if it as a companion to The The Threshold, but more sincere and North American – if you’re into this you can subscribe to updates so you need never again miss an in-depth bit of reminiscent analysis of The Nancy Drew Mysteries.


  • Rate My Chives: I really enjoy cooking (something people who meet me often find surprising, given my increasingly-hollow-cheeked countenance and general air of someone who survives almost entirely on fags, white wine and cheap speed (lol like you can get speed ANYWHERE these days (seriously if anyone knows anywhere then please do let me know)), and specifically find the act of very finely chopping things (brunoising, if I am feeling like a real cnut) INCREDIBLY therapeutic – which perhaps is why I fell in love with this Insta account at first sight. It shares photos of finely-chopped chives, with a bit of associated commentary about the quality of the chop. IT IS PERFECT NO NOTES WHATSOEVER.
  • Monster Track NYC: I am slightly amazed that I haven’t ever heard of the Monster Track cycle race in New York – but then again, looking into it, I suppose the people involved have reasonable reason to keep it quiet. Monster Track is an annual cycle race that takes place around Manhattan and as far as I can tell seems to involve cycling at frankly insane speeds, against the traffic, on fixed-gear (so no brake) bikes. The Insta feed features photos and footage from last year and will doubtless ramp up activity as the 2024 event approaches, but if you want to get a feel for the general vibe here then you might want to check out this video of 2023 (and yes, the ‘most replayed’ bit of that video is EXACTLY as brutal as you think it’s going to be).
  • Scaleful: ‘Urban oddities, some real and some AI’ runs the bio to this feed, apparently run by Danny Murphy-lookalike Kyle Branchesi. The AI stuff is interesting and the non-AI stuff is just WEIRD – this is, overall, an aesthetic I like a lot.


  • So That’s Media Fcuked, Then: I found myself having conversations around the death of mass media a lot last year, but I didn’t expect the collapse to happen quite as quickly as it appears to have done; you will probably have noticed that there have been ONE OR TWO job losses in media this week (and videogames! And loads of other places! Although if it’s any consolation, know that people at Big Oil are also getting canned – does that help? No, thought not) and it seems likely that this is going to continue. This is a brilliant – and sad, and bitter, and angry – piece by Jack Crosbie which basically gets to the heart of a lot of this by pointing the finger at what he terms ‘private equity strip-mining’ and reaches a conclusion that it’s quite hard to argue with, namely “This sh1t is all dying. It’s all fcuked. There is like one place you can work right now with any kind of job security and it is The New York Times and that’s only because they have a shitload of recipes on a nicely coded little cooking app that you can subscribe to and also because your parents are hooked on Wordle and the myriad other “put letter or number in little box” games that they put on their reading glasses and log on to the big family Dell PC together each morning to play. Who knows how long that business model will last.” I can’t, honestly, see a way out of this written word deathspiral right now, and I don’t think enough people are focusing on why this is a problem and what we might be about to lose. I know that linking to oneself on Twitter in one’s own newsletter is unpleasantly gauche but, well, I hope you will forgive me. As Ryan has pointed out, and as I think people are perhaps just starting to begin to realise, “we are losing the ability to understand our own lives and noone seems to care”.
  • Death of the Critic: I include this not because it is good or well-written but because it is emblematic of exactly the sort of ‘price of everything, value of nothing’ Silicon Valley thinking that has taken us to the precipice of fcukedness over the past two decades. Long-standing SV grandee Om Malik reflects on the demise of Pitchfork and concludes…suck it up, critics! We don’t need you any more! We have ALGORITHMIC RECOMMENDATIONS! I don’t, I hope, need to explain to you all the ways in which this assessment of the role of the critic is reductive and lazy and, honestly, deeply stupid, or indeed what one’s cultural life would look like were it to consist only of things that one ‘likes’ in certain specific ways. No? Good. This made me genuinely upset.
  • AI & Copyright: I appreciate your current degree of interest in the ongoing, knotty and insanely-complex battle around generative AI models, training, output and copyright may well be ‘next to zero’, but I promise you that this overview (written by the reliably-smart people at AI Snake Oil) is a decent look at the main arguments and why it is entirely possible that the lawsuits simply aren’t going to do what the people bringing them hope that they will (should any of you care: my position on this stuff is that it is incredibly hard to make a cogent argument for ‘models using large amounts of copy as training data so that they can then produce materials based on and inspired by that training data’ as ‘theft’ in the same way that it would be hard to make that argument for, say, a human being ingesting all sorts of copy during their lifetime and using that information to base their actions, work, etc on); you may or may not be convinced, but I think it’s a far better rundown of the ins and outs of How This Stuff Works than I’ve seen in most mainstream journalism. Not everyone agrees with this position and analysis, of course – here’s a counterargument by Gary Marcus (who I personally think is far too bullish on legal challenges to AI, but we shall see).
  • Government Framework for Generative AI: No! Wait! COME BACK! I promise this is interesting – or at least it is if you’re the sort of person who likes to / has to (delete as applicable, unless you’re in the fortunate position of ticking BOTH BOXES) think about ‘how can we implement generative AI in our workflows and processes in a way that is actually useful and doesn’t fcuk things up?’ Honestly, this is a really good, clear set of principles and guardrails to inform thinking about when, how and where to consider deploying generative AI, and if you’re someone who’s got to worry about how to use this sh1t to gain 3% of competitive advantage before The Market inevitably comes for you too then you could do worse than cast an eye over this document.
  • Writing At The Speed Of Thought: I thought this was a really interesting bit of writing / thinking around how one might go about using LLMs to map and use a corpus of information more effectively, specifically as a way of doing the sorts of things that people traditionally tried and generally failed to make Evernote do back in the day. The author, Steven Johnson, is part of the team that has been working on software called NotebookLM for Google, which launched in the US recently, and this essay takes you through what it’s designed to do and how it works; yes, ok, fine, it’s a bit of a puff-piece for new Google tech, but equally it’s a smart explanation of how we might useful approach information and knowledge work when we have LLMs and these immense pattern analysis and matching tools at our disposal.
  • Chrome Gets Generative AI Too: Another Google update – sorry, but I promise it’s interesting – this time about new AI features coming to Chrome soonish; the big one here (to my mind at least) is AI attached to the browser – meaning you’ll be able to do Spicy Autocomplete stuff on any webpage you navigate to, with autowriting and composition available directly on-page so that you can use it to fill in forms, etc, faster…I can’t be the only person to see this and think ‘dear God this is going to unleash some sort of appalling AI-generated spam tsunami’, right?
  • Here Come The AI Boyfriends: The perennial teenage boy horniness of much of the internet has meant that the initial wave of articles about the ‘AI Companion’ phenomenon inevitably focused on the waifu end of the spectrum; turns out, though, that there’s a market for this sort of ‘relationship’ amongst women too, as this genuinely fascinating piece explores. There’s a LOT to unpack in here, about teen girl culture and fandoms and the creation of fabricated relationships, and parasociality, and it’s interesting (to me at least) that a lot of the themes in this essay are half-reflected in Eliza Clark’s novel ‘Penance’ from last year (specifically crime fandom and the desire to create romantic narratives around these spaces).
  • The M&S Ad: It must be EXHAUSTING to be an active and performative participant in advermarketing DISCOURSE on LinkedIn and Twitter – how many times can you pretend to care about ‘it’s really important that creatives and account people get out of London and meet some real working class people ACTUALLY’ or ‘a good brand campaign continues to be undervalued, but ACTUALLY if you study your Binet and Field…’ – guys guys guys STOP OVERINTELLECTUALISING THIS SH1T! Also, how the fcuk do you all have time to write all these fcuking thinkpieces? And why are they all…so BAD? Anyway, ordinarily I ignore this stuff because, well, none of it is my problem, thank God, but occasionally I see a take that isn’t totally awful – so it is with this one by Nick Asbury which does a decent job of unpacking the reflexive ad person reaction to THAT M&S ad (honestly , if this means nothing to you then KEEP SCROLLING AND SAVE YOURSELVES) and working through the thinking that means that ACTUALLY maybe it’s quite good ACTUALLY. To be clear – this doesn’t matter at all, but if you’re the sort of person who has to have OPINIONS about this sort of sh1t then this is a reasonable one to pass off as your own.
  • Dan Wang’s 2023 Letter: Part of the regular content cadence of the year, as familiar and reassuring to me as the passing of the seasons, is the annual appearance of Dan Wang’s summary dispatches from China, in which he shares his thoughts on the direction of travel for the country and What It All Means (to the extent to which that’s in any meaningful way possible, which I concede it really might not be); this year’s starts with some reflections on walking with Craig Mod but goes on to explore emigration trends among young Chinese people, prospects for the economy, likely geopolitical trends in US/China relations…I find Dan’s writing engaging and accessible, and this year’s edition contains a pleasing quantity of personal anecdotes and observations from his having returned to the West after six years away – this is a lovely and informative read.
  • Modi’s Datagathering Empire: It’s quite hard not to read this piece – about the datagathering tactics being used by Narendra Modi’s BJP to ensure that it maintains its grip on power in the forthcoming Indian elections – and not repeatedly stop and say to yourself ‘hang on, that probably shouldn’t be happening’, or ‘hm, it’s not hard to see a number of ways in which this information might end up being used in ways that aren’t necessarily totally legitimate’…but then you remember that India is very much in one man’s grip at the moment, and that man is VERY KEEN on granular control. “In the run-up to India’s national elections in 2024, in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi is seeking a third term, the Saral app — which has more than 2.9 million Google Play store downloads — has emerged as a key piece of technology in the BJP’s campaigning operations. The party’s head of information technology and social media, Amit Malviya, reportedly referred to Saral as an election-winning machine at a 2023 tech conference in Delhi. The BJP, which has claimed to have at least 180 million members, told The Times of India that the app’s aim is to digitize some of the party’s operations and better communicate with its workers across India by “conveying the policies and the programmes of the party.”…When registering, Saral asks for details including the user’s mobile number, address, age, gender, religion, caste, social categories such as scheduled tribes and castes, parliamentary constituency, voter identity number, and professional and educational details. Users can also upload their photograph.”  It’s not INCREDIBLY hard to look at that data list and conceive of at least one or two ways that that might all be used which might not be wholly ethical. Still, I’m sure Uncle Narendra wouldn’t dream of doing anything nefarious. Especially not to the Muslims.
  • The USB Club: I featured the USB Club project in Curios last year, and now Kris at Naive has interviewed Yatú Espinosa all about the project and the ethos behind it, and why the intersection of the physical and the digital is an interesting place to play: “The point that USBs create is intentionality; it makes you think about what you’re putting on it. There’s an intentional curatorial layer that goes into it all. USBs are simple hardware, and we just create great experiences with simple hardware.” AMEN! BONUS LINK!: On the ephemerality of digital media and how perhaps it might be nice to imbue it with more permanence, this is about why It’s Too Easy To Delete Things.
  • The Qai Qai Album Is Coming: If you ever find yourself thinking ‘hang on, maybe the intersection between corporate greed and artistic endeavour isn’t always a definitionally-awful place to be’ then make sure you’ve bookmarked this article so you can come back to it and remind yourself of why that is in fact wrong. I think all that you need to get the gist here is this quote from the opening of the piece – honestly, read these words and try not to feel like a tiny part of you has died and is now rotting malodorously within you: “Qai Qai — the social media sensation inspired by the favorite doll of Serena Williams‘ daughter, Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr. — has signed a deal with Republic Records: Kids & Family through a new partnership with internet-first animation studio Invisible Universe.The companies have joined forces to create original music starring Qai Qai, who has amassed more than five million fans across social media. To celebrate the news, Qai Qai released the song “Dancing on the Moon” on Friday. It features 12-year-old Broadway sensation Sydney Elise Russell, who performed in The Lion King and Frozen, as the voice of Qai Qai. The track was produced by Grammy-nominated hitmaker Johnny Goldstein, who has worked with David Guetta, the Black Eyed Peas and Coi Leray.” ISN’T THAT POETRY?!?!? In case you’re curious you can hear the ‘song’ on YouTube – it has 800-odd plays at the time of writing, suggesting that perhaps the moneymen won’t get back the fee they paid to ‘Grammy-nominated hitmaker Johnny Goldstein’ – and you will, I promise, wish very specific, sharp retribution on everyone involved (apart from the Williams kid, who let’s presume is blameless here).
  • How AI Is Changing Gymnastics: Via Caitlin, this is SO interesting – the introduction of machine vision to help assess the performance of gymnasts in events is leading to changes in the way in which athletes perform routines, and leading to increased focus on technical precision over emotion on the floor – and the sort of thing we are going to see more and more and more of as we continue to feed vast amounts of data to the pattern recognisers and they in turn scry shapes that we can’t even conceive of in amongst the maths.
  • AI-Powered NPS Are Inevitable: To be clear, I don’t think that what’s on display here is ‘good’ – equally, though, given ‘capitalism’ and ‘everything we saw Activision do this week despite the fact it makes a genuinely massive amount of profit’, it feels very inevitable. This is an article about new AI tech that effectively brings generative AI dialogue to videogame NPCs with low latency and hence minimal delays – you can see a video of the tech in action, and the writeup is reasonably detailed on how the whole experience ‘felt’…but, obviously, the problem is that without scripting and direction and some sort of overarching idea of plot and pacing and player agency and all the stuff that make games, you know, GOOD, it’s just words. An infinite number of words, sure, but just words – it’s like going to see improv and seeing people onstage who, yes, fine, can talk, but who don’t know the first thing about creating emergent comedy. Anyway, none of this matters because as soon as a studio feels they can fill 60% of a game’s incidental dialogue with this rather than lines scripted by actual people whose labour you have to pay for then, well, SAY HELLO TO THIS SH1T.
  • Palworld: I can’t imagine that many of you bothered to watch the trailer for Palworld that I included in Curios when it first appeared – my attention was piqued, though, by a premise that basically seemed to be ‘what if Pokemon, but not glossing over the practical realities of what it would actually be like to effectively enslave a whole menagerie of cute animals and bend them to your will?’ and looked kind of interestingly-horrible. Anyway, the game has now launched into early access and has rapidly become a sensation – it is doing INSANE numbers – in part because of decent hype and a good pre-release promo machine, but also because of the fact that, well, it looks like Pokemon except you can kill the creatures! Anyway, the game itself has turned out to be the sort of thing that I am not personally particularly interested in, but I am very much enjoying the discourse around this – the essay here linked is a genuinely interesting one, in which the writer/reviewer explores how deeply, unpleasantly *icky* the game makes them feel, and I thought it asks some genuinely interesting questions about games whose mechanics actively make the player feel ‘bad’, and whether or not that’s in any way intentional on the part of the designers in this case. As I wrote to someone else earlier this week, “I might question what the popularity of this among young/majority gamers says about a) critical thinking; b) the way in which entertainment media reflects prevailing cultural attitudes (specifically re hustle/grind/the basic fungibility of everyone else when one has ‘goals’ and ‘dreams’; c) the continued hollowness of all the ‘young people are so left-wing these days!’ rhetoric; d) the slow slide towards all entertainment media being a series of dopamine-receptor-tickling exercises in formula ploughing a series of increasingly-worn pop culture furroughs”.
  • Rats: When I was a little kid and I used to visit my dad and his wife in London, I would sleep in a spare room that also doubled as ‘the place where my dad’s wife kept all the horror novels she apparently really enjoyed’ – this, coupled with my insatiable appetite to read literally ANYTHING, saw me picking up a copy of ‘Rats’ by James Herbert at the age of about 8, when I was DEFINITELY FAR TOO YOUNG. It caused me no shortage of nightmares, and several years of intensely-troubling sexual confusion over one particularly explicit fellatio scene which left me utterly baffled and convinced for several years that adult lovemaking was significantly more deviant than in the main it in fact turned out to be. Anyway, this is an enjoyable look back the whole trilogy which made James Herbert’s name as an author and which, having reread one recently, are a genuinely ‘of their time’ cocktail of social commentary and nuclear fear and anger.
  • Can Game Design Help You Win The Traitors?: As seemingly the only person in Britain not to have been watching the show, I personally neither know nor care – still, I found this piece to be surprisingly interesting, looking at the tactics employed by one particular contestant in the last series. “Could a strong knowledge of game design help you win The Traitors? This was the question UK series one contestant Ivan Brett had in mind when he joined the show last year, keen to beat the odds for as long as he could while playing as one of the game’s Faithful. The author of The Floor is Lava and Bored? Games!, a professional D&D Dungeon Master and long-time fan of social gaming, Brett’s own pitch to the series’ producers was that he could beat them at their own format. Of course, things didn’t entirely go to plan.”
  • Nicholas Saunders: This week’s ‘yes, it’s been linked to everywhere but it really is good and so I am sharing it here too’ piece is this SUPERB profile of Nicholas Saunders by Jonathan Nunn – Saunders, I learned from this article, founded both Neal’s Yard Dairy and Monmouth Street Coffee, and in so doing had a genuinely transformative effect on food in London and, subsequently, the UK. I have always pinned Italia 90 as ‘the moment when food in the UK stopped being terrible’, and this piece does a great job of articulating all the reasons, starting in the 70s and continuing through the 80s, why that came to pass. If you’re in any way interested in food, restaurants and culture, this is essential. BONUS FOOD LINK: The NYT does a trend analysis of current menus from NYC restaurants; this is WONDERFUL, and I want someone to commission this for London please thankyou.
  • Wikimedia’s Pornographers: I enjoyed this piece – about the people who devote significant proportions of their finite time on Earth to helping document human sexual practice on Wikipedia – but personally think they could have gone in a bit harder on the psychology of a man who seems determined to make himself THE physical representation of heterosexual congress for our entire species because, honestly, that strikes me as a peculiar degree of specific hubris worth investigating.
  • Dog Day Afternoon: Hussein Kesvani writes about people who go dogging, for The Fence – this is not only very funny, but surprisingly tender and respectful; credit to Kesvani for at no point sounding like he’s sniggering at Harry and Eva, or any of their fellow ‘boning in car parks’ enthusiasts.
  • Reading The Whale: Honestly, the best way I can introduce this is to give you the opening: “If all the chairs are taken during the annual Moby-Dick Marathon, held every January at the New Bedford Whaling Museum, you can always climb aboard the Lagoda. It’s the museum’s pièce de résistance: a half-scale replica of an old whaling ship outfitted with the proper rigging for a yearslong hunt in the North Atlantic. (There are dispatchable paddle boats from which sailors could harpoon the beasts, and space for furnaces capable of rendering the harvested blubber into reeking vats of oil.) The original Lagoda was scrapped for parts in 1899 after the global whaling industry swooned into obscurity. This model, commissioned in 1916, has never touched the sea, but it does function as an impeccably Melvillian venue. I sat cross-legged on the port side of the ship, a few feet away from the captain’s helm, flanked by a thicket of Moby-Dick zealots who would remain here for the next 25 hours in an attempt to consume the full scope of the novel in one uninterrupted reading session. Each of them brandished their own bespoke copy of the novel, representing a century’s worth of differing editions—some dense and pocket Bible–like, some paperback and battered, others regal and elegiac with golden bindings, all cracked open to Page 1. The first speaker took the lectern at noon after the strike of eight bells. “Call me Ishmael,” the famous opening words, sent a ripple of applause through the room.” For the past 28 years, the Whaling Museum in Southern Massachusetts has hosted a ‘Moby Dick Reading Marathon’, where a bunch of people gather together to read the book aloud, chapter by chapter, til it’s done – this is about them, and it is GORGEOUS.
  • Widowing: This is from last Summer, but I found it this week and I found it beautiful; the opening paragraph sets the tone perfectly, I think: “At twenty-three, I already know that I am going to outlive every man I fcuk. I am going to outlive my mother and my father. I am going to outlive my sisters. Both of them. The older and the younger one. I am going to outlive the gray squirrel on the pine tree outside my apartment window as well as the mailman who delivers my Amazon package of Certain Dri fragrance-free solid deodorant. So far, I have already outlived each of my childhood pets. I have outlived one set of my grandparents. I have outlived friends. I have attended one candlelight vigil in the foothills and another in the neighborhood park. I have definitely outlived my virginity.”
  • I, Ghost: In October last year I said I wasn’t going to ‘do’ the Israel/Palestine conflict, and in the main I’ve kept to that, but this essay, by Yousef Rakhain Guernica, was so strong, so incandescently angry, that I couldn’t not include it. It’s beautiful but it is very very sad and it’s quite hard to know what to do with the feeling it leaves you with.

By David Van Der Leeuw