Webcurios 28/10/22

Reading Time: 31 minutes

I AM RISEN! I appear to have survived covid (so far, at least – I am generally of the impression that that which does not kill you is merely operating in concert with that which eventually does, though, so am not getting ahead of myself), and have emerged, blinking, into a strange and terrifying new world in which the UK has a diminutive new leader (austerity, but this time funsized!) and Twitter has an egocentric new owner. WHAT MAGICAL TIMES!

Look, I can’t bring myself to opine on Musk and Twitter – you’ll get enough breathless analysis of WHAT THIS ALL MEANS from the world’s Twitter-sick journalists – other than to say how miserable it is that so much of our present and future is being determined by men who appear to be immensely rich 14 year olds. Zuckerberg – got rich off an app which let him get his own back on people better looking than him, currently involved in trying to replicate his favourite scifi novels which he didn’t realise are actually dystopian parables; Musk – literally a rich boy trying to buy friends, hates the fact that the really cool kids think he’s a d1ck; Bezos – a geek who got buff and is now enjoying dating a cheerleader…No wonder the future’s looking so bright!

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and I promise you are unlikely to be infected by any of what follows.

By Herbert List



  • AI Comes For Your Job: Yes, that’s right, YOUR JOB (this is, of course, based on the assumption that you, the reader, earn your coin doing advermarketingpr rather than anything more meaningful or fulfilling). Whether or not you see this as the beginning of the end of your professional relevance or instead as a merciful release from the obligation to pretend to care about the creation of ADVERTISING-RELATED CONTENT will depend on you, but I encourage you to see this as an opportunity rather than a threat. The link above takes you to a Reddit post, which in turn shows a video of the workflow for recently-launched AI ad creation platform Clickable (currently a limited-access beta), and is basically a vision of the future in which rather than you slaving for literally minutes to come up with the best possible creative and copy for some Insta or banner promos you instead leave it all to a machine and go and do something better with your time, like trepanning yourself. Obviously the outputs here are…a bit rudimentary, fine, and noone’s going to win a Golden Pencil for the copy or the artwork, but, well, WHO FCUKING CARES? 99% of all social content is pointless busywork that doesn’t need to exist and certainly doesn’t need anyone to spend more than 10s thinking about what goes into it (this is true and if you deny it then you are lying to yourself), and if any of you think that there’s craft and skill involved in the production of 500 different marginally-different variations of an ad that couldn’t be replicated, or indeed improved upon, by some brute-force machinework then I would like a dose of whatever magical hubris potion you’re currently imbibing. Oh, and this isn’t the only version of this sort of tech currently floating around, it’s just the most impressive – see also this, for another glimpse into a future in which machines are just better at your job than you are.
  • Stable Diffusion Hub: One of the interesting things about the open source nature of Stable Diffusion is the fact that anyone can effectively create their own version, trained on whatever they like. So obviously there’s now a place online where you can browse and download a selection of SD models trained by other people, and obviously a bunch of them have been trained on smut because, well, HUMANITY. There are half a dozen or so models available here at present, and, depressingly, they are all focused on generating ‘sexy’ pictures of imaginary women – you can’t see anything smutty at the link, but clicking the thumbnails depixellates them and so you should probably be warned that at least one of the available downloadable models is…very gynaecological.
  • Train Your Own SD Model: There are a few of these doing the rounds at the moment – the main link here goes to a webtoy called Astria, but there’s another one you can play with here called DrawAnyone – and they all work on the same premise, letting you train an SD model on a small number of photos (the sites tend to require a minimum of 20) and then use the resulting model to spit out any number of variations on your chosen theme. Obviously the big draw here is the ability for the machines to create portraits, fake photos and stylised artworks of anyone whose face you feed the AI – on the one hand, lovely and cute and fun, but, on the other, exactly the sort of thing that is going to be used to make all sorts of…questionable imagery. In a week in which BBC3 aired a documentary about the threat of Deepfake bongo, it feels rather like this stuff is about to surpass it entirely. Obviously there are loads of potential applications for this that don’t involve the creation of nonconsensual grot – for a start, if you’ve got a clearly-defined art style for a particular brand or business, training a model on your corpus of images seems like a quick and easy way to help conceptualise new shots, for example – but, look, we’ve had an internet long enough for us all to have a reasonable idea what this is going to be used for.
  • Making Videos With SD: This is a bit of speculative work by Dmitrii Tochilkin and it is DIZZYING – the speed at which people are managing to bend this stuff to their own ends is quite remarkable, as is the increasingly high-quality output they’re generating. The video here is a short, vaguely-surreal 40 second animated zoom through a bunch of rural scenes – the evident range of artists whose styles are being lifted here is mesmerising, as is the extent to which this looks…quite good? I mean, you can tell that it’s been machine-created, fine, but already the transitions and zooms and pans look less…wrong than they did in previous AI video iterations I remember seeing a month or so ago. For those of you significantly more technical than I am, there’s a host of explanatory notes in the Twitter thread that follows the video, but if you’re anything like me you’ll just sit and gawp at it whilst having no idea whatsoever how it really works.
  • Cobbling Together An AI Assistant: I think what I find most interesting about the current state of AI-wrangling is the sense that there’s a growing toolbox of toys that noone quite understands the potential of yet – watching people gingerly gaffertape various slightly-disparate bits of AI tech together feels a bit like those scenes in 1980s kids movies in which a bunch of near-teens manage to make a functional spacecraft out of colanders and an old Henry hoover. This is another short Twitter video demonstrating what you can currently do with a bunch of open access AI tech – here you see a developer who’s hacked together GPT-3, Stable Diffusion and Whisper (OpenAI’s audio recognition and transcription tool) to effectively make a VERY RUDIMENTARY digital assistant, who you can talk to and who will respond to your questions and commands and, honestly, this is FCUKING INCREDIBLE. Again, it’s important to remember how incredibly new this stuff is – six months ago, to create anything like what you see in this vid would have taken not only loads of time but also a LOT of coding chops, whereas now this is basically as simple as plugging a few things together and seeing what happens (ok, fine, not that simple, but almost). Just IMAGINE what will be possible in another year.
  • This Wallpaper Does Not Exist: AI-generated mobile phone wallpapers, just in case what you REALLY want as a reward for making it to the end of another week here at the exhausted fag-end of human civilisation is a vaguely-abstract background for your portable misery portal.
  • PromptIst: This is a cute idea – you know those ‘infinite canvas’ websites which let a theoretically-infinite number of webmonkeys create a theoretically-infinite painting on a theoretically-infinite bit of digital real estate? Yes, well this is that, but with Stable Diffusion – the idea here is that anyone can drop into the canvas, select an area, and create whatever they want within that area based on SD prompts; the canvas allows for inpainting and outpainting and in theory could be used to create a vast, neverending, sort-of-coherent whole. In practice, this currently seems to be a bunch of people adding their own stuff without any sense of collaboration, but it’s still interesting to see the different things that people are choosing to create, along with the dizzying array of styles and techniques that the software is able to produce. Special shout out to whoever it is that has decided that they want the AI to do nothing other than create stylised portraits of Tilda Swinton – although tbh that’s exactly what I imagine the AI itself might do should it ever attain sentience.
  • Clip Interrogator: This has done the rounds a bit over the past week, but that doesn’t make it any less useful – this tool lets you submit any image you like, and in return receive a textual description of what the AI thinks the image is of, which can then be used in conjunction with SD, Dall-E or whichever image generation model you have access to to create more images of a similar vibe. Which, obviously, is HILARIOUS when used to dissect images of you and your friends – I just fed it a photo of me out of curiosity, and may never recover from the textual bodying I just received (a ‘character portrait’? Why not just call me a funny-looking wrongman and be done with it?) – but is also more practically useful from the point of view of ripping off any particular visual style you care to mention. Got an artist whose vibe you can’t quite seem to adequately rinse? Feed some of their work to this and use the outputs to start generating replicas!
  • Hueman Instrumentality: Look, they choose to spell ‘Hueman’ like that, don’t look at me. Hueman Instrumentality (a spelling so upsetting it makes me feel physically unwell to even type it out) is another YouTube channel ploughing the ‘we make AI music videos’ furrow, but the craft here is better than most and the channel has been around for a while meaning there’s an interesting sense of evolution in terms of the quality and style of the outputs over the past six months as the tech develops. Has anyone used SD or similar to make a realtime AI-enabled music visualiser, by any chance? I reckon there’s something in that, so if any of you fancy taking this half-considered idea and making it reality then that would be ace, thanks.
  • The Feels Matrix: I have no idea AT ALL what this is, but my speculative guess is that this is a near-infinite canvas of AI-generated Wojack variants (which, fcuk, joins the growing pantheon of sentences that I really, really wish I didn’t understand and had never written). There’s no obvious purpose to it, but there’s something sort-of amazing about the variants and the dizzying army of memetic weirdness on display here – if anyone can explain or shed any light as to what the actual fcuk it is for or why it exists, please do let me know.
  • OutreachUK: Speaking of stuff I don’t really understand, here! OutreachUK is a very, very odd project which I am 99% certain has some sort of interesting and involved explanation or backstory that I am totally missing. Still, my complete lack of comprehension around what this is and what it is for hasn’t prevented me from really enjoying clicking around and being confused. I think that this is some sort of transmedia thingy – if you spelunk around long enough there are references to Swamp Motel, who are apparently “Multi-award-winning creators of immersive entertainment that blurs the boundaries between theatre, film & gaming – but, honestly,who knows? The ‘Info’ page is just a live webcam of (I think) somewhere near Bond Street, there’s a small, slightly-creepy and very odd Pico-8 game hidden on the site somewhere, a bit of interactive fiction, and, in general, a pervasive sense of weirdness which never quite resolves itself. Basically I have no clue whatsoever what this is or why it exists, and that’s probably for the best.
  • Astronaut: One of my very favourite things about the web is the feeling you get when finding something small, personal and utterly human, projects or photos or bits of writing which you know exist not because their creator needed or wanted an audience but just for the sheer pleasure or creating or recording or making or just existing. Astronaut is effectively a pure distillation of that, offering you the chance to see never-before-seen videos on YouTube. “Today, you are an Astronaut. You are floating in inner space 100 miles above the surface of Earth. You peer through your window and this is what you see. You are people watching. These are fleeting moments. These videos come from YouTube. They were uploaded in the last week and have titles like DSC 1234 and IMG 4321. They have almost zero previous views. They are unnamed, unedited, and unseen (by anyone but you).” This isn’t the first platform like this I’ve seen over the years, but the focus on new uploads means there’s a freshness to this that makes it all the more compelling – honestly, this, forever, on a big screen in a gallery, please.
  • Chptr: This may be a result of the fact that 2022 has been, for me at least, characterised by proximity to death, but it does rather feel like ‘online services dealing with the messy business of memorialisation’ are having something of a moment right now. Chptr is one such service, offering users the opportunity ‘to gather, share, and hold memories for a lost loved one’s life for generations to come’, which, as far as I can tell, effectively involves the creation of a shared in-app community where contributors can post images, memories and the like. Why exactly you couldn’t just use, say, a Facebook Page instead is somewhat beyond me – in the main, stuff like this just makes me imagine some incredibly petty post-mortem familial laundry airing taking place via passive-aggressive status updates and backchannel conversations (“I can’t believe she’s made the background sage green; Matt hated sage green, and anyone who truly loved him would know that”) and shifting app permissions. In fact there’s a half-decent short story in this space, if you ask me (which, I appreciate, not one of you fcukers ever has).
  • Campus FM: I tend to listen to Radio4 during the day, much to my girlfriend’s dismay (I enjoy Woman’s Hour much more than she does, turns out), but the past few weeks of news have stretched my tolerance for talking heads and IN-DEPTH ANALYSIS of exactly how fcuked everything is to breaking point. Which meant I was particularly pleased to stumble across this little portal, which lets you switch between a selection of US college campus radio stations at will; right now I am listening to some soft-voiced bloke on the graveyard shift at Virginia Tech University and it’s really quite pleasant (although now I focus a bit harder, turns out this guy is, going by his voice and the fact that he’s burbling on about dragons and moon moss, quite monumentally stoned). Anyway, if you’re curious to know what American college students consider to be Good Radio, this is worth a listen.
  • Big Pumpkins: I am slightly annoyed about the fact that Hallowe’en has become A Thing in the UK – or, more to the point, that it’s become A Big Thing In The American Style –  but I appreciate that many of you may feel more warmly towards it. By way of grudging acknowledgement of this year’s spooky jamboree, have this website devoted to the cultivation and display of absolutely MASSIVE pumpkins. Whilst it’s probably a touch on the late side for you to grow your own for this year, should you wish to embark upon some sort of huge squash project in 2023 then this probably contains all you need to know.

By Danielle Mckinney



  • The Good Country Index: This is a fascinating concept – The Good Country Index “ measures what countries contribute to the world outside their own borders, and what they take away: it’s their balance-sheet towards humanity and the planet…Because the biggest challenges facing humanity today are global and borderless: climate change, economic crisis, terrorism, drug trafficking, slavery, pandemics, poverty and inequality, population growth, food and water shortages, energy, species loss, human rights, migration … the list goes on. All of these problems stretch across national borders, so the only way they can be properly tackled is through international efforts. The trouble is, most countries carry on behaving as if they were islands, focusing on developing domestic solutions to domestic problems. We’ll never get anywhere unless we start to change this habit. The Good Country Index isn’t interested in how well countries are doing, it’s interested in how much they are doing.” All the data used to compile this is from reputable sources, and, whilst there’s of course a degree of subjectivity in the weighting of the various factors and elements, this presents a really interesting and unusual way of considering the world and the role of nation states within it (Sweden, apparently, is the ‘best’ country per its contribution to the collective global good; the UK is 14th).
  • Routora: Boring-but-potentially-useful, this – Routora is a Chrome plugin that is designed to make it easier for travellers to plan more efficient routes. Go to Google maps, select your start and end destination and the stops you want to make along the way, press the MAGIC BUTTON, and Routera will calculate the optimal route to take, including all the stops, to minimise the time spent in the car. Now, I don’t drive and as such haven’t tried this out and therefore cannot guarantee that it won’t inexplicably decide to reroute you via Tring regardless of your intended destination, but if you’re willing to take a punt then this might be useful (I accept no responsibility whatsoever for any Tring-related detours you may end up taking).
  • 3d Text to Gif: Want to create a gif of animated 3d text saying WHATEVER YOU WANT IT TO? Of course you do – you may not realise it, but there is no better way to communicate your utter disdain for someone or something than by communicating in the sort of medium beloved of teenage girls in 2003. You can change the font, you can change the colour, you can change the ‘waviness’ of the resulting animation, and, honestly, if you don’t use this to send a variety of whimsically-profane messages to your friends and colleagues then know that I am deeply disappointed in you.
  • Bot The Flag: This is an interesting and smart little Twitter bot, which does one thing and one thing only – point it at any Tweet you choose and it will analyse the usernames and bios of everyone who’s ‘liked’ the Tweet in question, pulling out data on which particular flags said users have in their bios. Which might not seem useful until you consider that the ‘flag in bio’ thing is a reasonably-good heuristic for bots – this is a really useful quick-and-dirty way of seeing whether there’s a particular national group that is boosting a particular message (or whether there’s a particular national group that is being made to look like it’s boosting a particular message, for the more conspiratorially-minded amongst you).
  • Oral Histories of the BBC: Following on from the Corporation’s centenary last week, this is a wonderful, searchable archive of interviews about the history of the BBC, featuring “415 interviews from seven oral history collections. 688 audio files (471 hrs 32 mins), 623 video files (162 hrs 18 mins), and 451 documents. Discover the people and past of the BBC. Read original interview transcripts, hear and see interviewees, search the catalogue or browse the collections. For search help click on the question mark icon.” This will be super-useful to anyone looking to research the organisation, but equally to anyone who has an affection for it as an institution and would like to know a bit more about how it came to be. Special mention for way search works on this site – it is SO GOOD, seriously, and whilst a boring detail it’s worth praising because, frankly, most websites fcuk it up horribly.
  • Smores: On the one hand, ‘TikTok but for music’ is a pretty obvious elevator pitch that makes vague sense; on the other, er, isn’t TikTok already a pretty developed music discovery platform? Still, Smores (no idea what this has to do with a campfire marshmallow snack) is a smart enough concept – an algorithmically-juiced discovery platform which learns your likes and serves you up more bitesized musical snippets based on what it perceives your tastes to be – even if there’s something slightly-miserable about its approach to doing this. You see, the gimmick here is that Smores only serves you up the GOOD BITS – “S’mores grabs the sweetest part of a song and gifts it to you. As you listen s’more and s’more [sic], the app will begin to learn which part of a song you like the most – ie. what type of melodies, drops, choruses and verses you enjoy. S’mores will adapt to your own style of music, genre, artist, etc. and will introduce you with a variety of songs to help spice up your playlists! By creating a recommender system around snippets, we empower you to easily build playlists around both your liked and skipped songs. Our mission is to make the discovery process of new music incredibly easy, fun, and engaging so you can find and share your next favorite song!” – which does feel a bit like one in the eye for the musicians who composed the whole song and perhaps would like people to pay attention to bits other than the hook and chorus.
  • The People’s Graphic Design Archive: Oh this is GREAT! If you’re in any way into or involved with design, this is an absolute treasure trove of good stuff. “The People’s Graphic Design Archive is a crowd-sourced virtual archive of inclusive graphic design history. The Archive includes everything from finished projects to process, photos, correspondence, oral histories, anecdotes, articles, essays, and other supporting material. You’ll find all sorts of information and links to other relevant archives, too.” Honestly, if you want inspiration or direction or just to browse a whole load of amazingly-varied graphic design styles, this is absolutely perfect.
  • Websites By AI: This probably ought to be nearer the top with the rest of the AI stuff, so sorry about the lack of coherent curation here (I AM SORRY FFS). Websites By AI is exactly what it purports to be – look, the outputs aren’t great, and you won’t be winning any design awards for the aesthetic of whatever is created here, but I have to confess that I was MESMERISED by the process at work here. Tell the machine what you want to create a website about – what your business area is, from pottery to electrician to photography to, based on one slightly leftfield suggestion, lactation consultant – and watch as in approximately 30s it generates a business name, a url, copy, testimonials…honestly, this is fcuking witchcraft, basically, and made me think that a) Squarespace will have this sort of thing integrated within a year; and b) how incredibly easy it is to spin up enough digital real estate to give the illusion of a real company / business, and how consequently this all makes low-level fraud even easier to perpetuate. Not that I am advocating any of you commit low-level fraud, for the avoidance of doubt, just saying.
  • The Daft Punk Cafe: A small fan-made site paying homage to Daft Punk, which includes not only a bunch of their live shows and other tracks which you can stream, but which also (and this may be my favourite thing about it) includes a version of Tetris which you can play whilst listening to the music. This is LOVELY.
  • The SubContraBassoon: I am not, and never have been, a bassoon enthusiast, meaning I was until this week unaware of the fact that not only does there exist an instrument called the contrabassoon, but that since the 1800s there has been an imagined subcontrabassoon which would, if it existed, be capable of playing a full octave lower than the contrabassoon itself (the word ‘bassoon’ has now lost all meaning to me, fyi). Richard Bobo is a professional contrabassoonist (words that trip off the tongue – just say that out loud to yourself for a moment, go on; satisfying, isn’t it?) and has an ambition to make the subcontrabassoon a reality – he has built a prototype, but is currently seeking funding to turn it into a real, functioning instrument, and whilst I know that times are tough and we need to watch the pennies, can you honestly say that heating and feeding yourself is more important, on a species-level, than the development of an entirely-new and wonderfully-named instrument? I would argue that it is not.
  • Code Poetry: This is utterly sublime. “This website displays a collection of twelve code poems, each written in the source code of a different programming language. Every poem is also a valid program which produces a visual representation of itself when compiled and run.” Honestly, if you have any interest at all in either coding or poetry then this really is beautiful – a perfect marriage of form and function in each individual case.
  • Transform Your City: This is interesting – I think I featured the progenitor project to this a few months ago, a Twitter account that used Dall-E or SD to reimagine urban spaces, which has now spun into what looks like being a nascent campaigning and advocacy model for urban redevelopment, offering community groups who want to lobby for improved city spaces the opportunity to conceptualise the changes they’d like to see and use said visualisations to communicate their desires with policymakers. This is a VERY nascent project, currently only set up for NYC, but the idea behind it – and in particular the way it’s using openly-available AI tools for public good – is an interesting one, and I’m intrigued to see the raft of other initiatives along these lines that spring up as communities begin to become more aware of the power of these new tools which are increasingly at everyone’s disposal.
  • Discmaster: WARNING: this could, conceivably, steal your entire life. Discmaster is a search interface which lets you spelunk through literally MILLIONS of old files, hosted on the Internet Archive, searching by filename – seriously, you could lose yourself forever in here. Just type in anything you fancy and get back a dizzying array of images and gifs and text files, plucked from the CD Rom archives of the late-90s and early-00s; this is literally perfect for falling down half-remembered digital rabbitholes of your youth (or for finding an awful lot of very fuzzily-scanned bongo, depending on your proclivities).
  • Throttle Tabs: A browser extension that will physically limit the number of new tabs you’re able to open in a single window. I find the very concept of this offensive in the extreme and fundamentally antithetical to the Web Curios ethos, but I know that some of you perverts might find such a thing useful and so I am grudgingly including it despite my misgivings.
  • Regional US Food: A Twitter account sharing examples of some of the regional delicacies that visitors to the US can hope to experience. Frankly the vast majority of this does nothing to dispel my notion that the vast majority of American cuisine simply involves adding gelatine to tinned soup and topping it with bacon – I mean, honestly, listen to this, is this food? I posit that it is in fact no such thing: “a hotdish with potatoes, cheese, onions, cream of chicken or mushroom soup, sour cream, butter, and a layer of corn flakes or crushed potato chips.” Still, if you want to feel a vague sense of culinary superiority towards your fellow man then this will absolutely do the trick.
  • How Fateful: A bit more of a longread than a single link, this one, but it’s such a lovely project. Channon Perry wanted to work out how many times she and her partner almost-but-not-quite met in the years prior to their eventual meeting and getting together, so using each of their Google location data she calculated exactly that – all the times they were in the same place in the same city but never knew, and never spoke, and never met. This is quietly lovely, and gives a very real sense of the VAGARIES OF FATE and all that sort of thing – Channon includes instructions so that all of the rest of you who want to do something similar can do, although it’s worth bearing in mind that downloading and analysing all your partner’s previous location data might reveal things about them that you might wish you hadn’t known (“And you were spending all that time outside that school because…?”).
  • Nokia Ringtones: Does anyone keep their phone’s volume up these days? No, of course not, only a sociopath would do such a thing – anway, we’re all constantly glued to the bast4rd things, in any case, so it’s not like there’s any chance of us missing a call or notification. Still, if you’d like a memoryportal back to the good old days when you could listen to polyphonic symphonies on the top deck of the N32 then this will be exactly what the doctor ordered – there are literally THOUSANDS of the things on this GDrive folder, and I would imagine that if you’re a particular tyoe of music producer then you will find a veritable treasuretrove of sampleable material here for the retro garage banger you know you were born to pen.
  • Parkulator: Smart bit of code, this, which lets you select any area on a map and which then calculates how much of said area is given over to spaces for car parking – the idea being that it highlights the insanity of much urban land usage in terms of the relative space given to cars and people, and tells you how many houses could theoretically be built on the land instead. Obviously a BIT depressing, but the sort of thing that might be useful for campaigning or planning purposes.
  • Mar1d: “What if Super Mario Bros, but first person?” is a question that various people online have asked at various points in time (leading to some wonderful proof-of-concept imaginings like this one), but noone’s taken it to quite the extreme that the team behind Mar1d have – this is Mario in 1d, effectively reducing the players field of vision to a single vertical line of pixels. Obviously this is almost-entirely unplayable, but it’s sort-of fun at the same time; you will need to download the files to play it, but it’s worth it as frankly this is better than this sort of single-note gag really needed to be.
  • Old Games: I’m not 100% sure about the legality of the all the material on this site – pretty sure that there are a few titles on here that aren’t in fact quite as ‘post-copyright’ as they are made to seem – but, frankly, fuckit. If you want a repository of over 10,000 old videogames, searchable and downloadable and playable, then HERE IT IS! Honestly, if you’re in your late-30s to mid-40s then this is a portal right back to your teenage years – you can find EVERYTHING here, including what is still the greatest computer football simulation ever created.
  • Endoparasitic: I came across this as it has apparently now been turned into a full game – this is the demo version, produced fpr a game jam earlier this year, in which you play as a scientist who has unleashed UNTOLD HORRORS within their lab, and who must try and escape said horrors despite being infected with a ravening parasite and also having lost their legs. You move by dragging yourself around with your remaining arm, and it’s impressively horrible – try not to die too quickly.
  • Slow Roads: Finally this week, one of the most impressive bits of coding I have seen all year – Slow Roads is an in-browser, procedurally-generated driving ‘game’, where you pick the weather and the season and the type of vehicle you want to pilot, and then just gently guide it around the twisting, turning roads generated by the machine. Or, even better, just chuck on the autopilot and put on some nice music in the background and just enjoy the scenery sliding past as your computer chauffeur ferries you to nowhere. This is insanely impressive from a technical point of view, but it’s also perhaps the most relaxing website I have seen in months – honestly, I promise that however enervated you currently are it will evaporate in seconds as soon as you start moving. Cheaper than therapy, and probably as effective.

By Mercedes Helnwein



  • This Is A Recording: Oh, ok, fine, not a Tumblr, but it sort of feels like one. This Is A Recording is an old-school blog where an anonymous online person writes about records in their collection, one a day. Small, charming and VERY eclectic.


  • Joseph Shara: Joseph is a visual artist working at Axis Studios – this is their personal Insta where they post their own work, and there’s something super-impressive about the digital composition in all of these images, not least because there’s a pleasingly un-digital feel to much of it.
  • Tokyo Build: An account sharing miniature models of buildings, and the process of making them. Which, fine, may not sound compelling, but I fcuking love me some miniaturism and I hope that you do too.


  •  The Crypto Story: We start with something REALLY LONG – Bloomberg this week gave Matt Levine, business reporter extraordinaire, the whole issue to pen what they hope will be the definitive explainer on ‘crypto’ and what it is and what it might mean, and, honestly, this is SUPERB. Engaging – Levine really is a brilliant writer, even when dealing with concepts that are as ostensibly-confusing (and, frankly, tedious) as ‘distributed ledgers’, and the whole piece (which, to be clear, really is 40k words) is just a superb summary of what cryptocurrencies are, what ‘crypto’ is, and how the concept links to a bunch of wider, contiguous ideas around ‘web3’ and ‘the metaverse’ and the rest. Levine is admirably clear-headed and objective in his writing, neither eulogising nor decrying crypto as a whole, and if you want an objective, definitive guide to What The Whole Thing Is About and What It Might Become then this is pretty much the ur-text.
  • The Future According to Mckinzie: I have never been a management consultant, and I never will be, but I have sat in enough meetings with people in suits from Accenture and Mckinzie and the like to know that I fcuking hate them, as a rule, and think that in the main they are useless parasitic powerpoint monkeys with dust where their souls should be. This is a report by Mckinzie which purports to focus on ‘the next normal’ – stuff which in the 2030s will be commonplace – and I am including it not because it’s good (it really isn’t) but because it’s emblematic of the sort of bullsh1t, lazy, pseudo-futurology that masquerades as ‘insight’ when speaking to so many large agencies/consultancies. FLYING TAXIS! CONNECTED HEALTH! INTERACTIVE MOVIES! Er, lads, the world is on fire, we’re on the brink of a global recession, faith in technology has hit a 21st century low point, and literally EVERYTHING on this list has been on similarly-unimaginative other lists for the past decade or so. I think what really annoys me about this is that its emblematic of the soundbitey, LinkedInification of ‘thinking’ in the world of work right now; limited insight, limited analysis, even more limited reflection, and everything drawing on the same dozen white papers so that the thinking is exactly the same sort of tired beige as everyone else’s. Please, please, please, STOP PAYING PEOPLE LIKE THIS MONEY THEIR WORK IS FCUKING SH1T.
  • The Negative Appeal of the Metaverse: One of the few bright spots for Meta this week is the fact that the Elon Musk clownshow has distracted the press enough to ensure that they only spent a day focusing on the carcrash that was its latest earnings report. Still, it’s fair to say that the news from the Big Blue Misery Factory is not a sunny one at present – despite the $15bn investment to date (and take a moment, just one, to think of some of the other things that one might have chosen to invest $15bn in), it seems nobody really wants to be part of the Zuckerbergian metaverse vision. Po’ Mark! This piece by Charlie Warzel predates the results, but is a decent look at why the Meta metaverse is so unappealing – the short answer is ‘because the company seems to have no idea whatsoever what normal people want’, but the whole piece is worth reading as a useful precis of the company’s travails.
  • Dystopia For Realists: Or, “how might we protect the work of humans in the face of automation?” – this is a really interesting article in which the author argues for the necessity of more open and transparent software development, and a greater emphasis on outcome-led thinking when designing the AI and algorithmic systems that will increasingly govern our lives. Lizzie O’Shea frames this as a question of rights, arguing that  “If we think there is a role to play for automated technologies…and aspire for a world where productive work is minimized as a precondition of human liberation, then we have to accept that these technological systems must be built and maintained. To that end, it is worth remembering that the point of an algorithm is to discriminate. The point can never be to correct for this, but rather to ensure the discrimination is intentional. If the purpose of a system is what it does, we need to impart intention into our use of automated technologies by building in systems of rights for those who experience these systems in unintended ways.” I find the intellectual space around ethics in machine learning to be some of the most interesting at the moment, and this is good food for thought.
  • The Landlord’s Algorithm: An almost-perfect companion to the last article, this piece is all about a piece of software developed in the US which helps landlords optimise their rent prices to maximise income based on the current state of the market, effectively letting a machine determine the optimal pricing that they can get away with charging – software which, it seems, might be driving a nationwide increase in rental prices as the software moves the market in ways previously unthought of. What’s really interesting about this is not just the economics, but the psychology – handing over responsibility for pricing to the software obviates the landlord from moral responsibility (“it’s not me raising the rent, it’s just the software”), as neatly encapsulated in this quote: “The beauty of YieldStar is that it pushes you to go places that you wouldn’t have gone if you weren’t using it.” There’s something so horribly human about this, inventing software that turns the invisible hand into a fist.
  • The Art of Maintenance: Specifically, how the idea of maintaining things rather than replacing them is a declining one, but one which has resonance beyond simple questions of material goods. As ever with arguments of this ilk, I find myself nodding along but fundamentally thinking “yes, but, well, what about capitalism?” – per this paragraph, I am not quite sure what the solution is: “Under capitalism, maintenance is an ambiguous position, almost a kind of limbo. The economics are rarely cooperative. There are plenty of carrots from a technical point of view — make things safer, more reliable, longer-lasting — but often no stick. In the developing world (or budget-strapped transit agencies), sticks are everywhere. Cuba’s beautifully maintained mid-century automobiles owe their longevity to a cruel and arbitrary embargo. India’s long-standing repair culture is the byproduct of the country’s position at the bottom of the global supply chain, and even now is being undermined by rising incomes and consumption.”
  • IKEA’s Crimes Against Cartography: On the peculiar evil of the IKEA store floorplan and signage. I haven’t spent anywhere near as much time in IKEA as your average 43 year old man (in part because I have an attitude towards furniture that can best be described as ‘ambivalent’, in part because I don’t own a car) and so this was legitimately all news to me – you may already be aware of the labyrinthine nature of the warehouses, but this will give you a new appreciation of the how and the why of their design (and some useful tips for escaping via the hotdogs in the quickest time possible).
  • Mental Illness and Social Media: This was published ahead of Kanye West’s latest episodes, but feels very relevant in light of that – this article asks whether platforms should have a duty of care when dealing with content being posted by people who are quite evidently having a mental health breakdown and who could perhaps be argued to not be fully cognisant of what they are saying or posting, and to what extent people’s posting history and activity can and should be used to determine their mental state. This stuff is HARD – serious mental illness is messy and often ugly and frightening, but it also generates GREAT numbers (cf Kanye – who, by the way, doesn’t get a pass for being a pr1ck just because he’s bipolar), and surely there’s a principle of personal autonomy at play here vs a paternalistic desire to ‘protect’ the unwell…short answer is ‘I don’t really know how this should work’, but I do think that if you spend any time at all on any social platform you will before very long come across people who you have a feeling are…not really ok, and I think it’s increasingly important that we think about what we do about that and whether, and how, we attempt to help.
  • Outside The Gates of Europe: A snapshot of life in southern Spain’s refugee camps amongst the Algerian migrants seeking a new life in Europe, many of whom have been sitting, waiting, for years, in the knowledge that they will likely be refused the right to stay and will eventually be deported back again, with their ‘new life’ amounting to a few dozen months in a migrant processing centre. This is, honestly, a bit heartbreaking, but it’s a beautifully-written piece of journalism.
  • Stockholm’s Electric Bike System: …is, I appreciate, not the most enticing title for an article. BUT! This is genuinely interesting, promise – Stockholm, in common with many other cities, has a rideshare system in place; unlike other cities, though, Stockholm’s is dirt cheap: “a 24-hour plan “just to unlock a bike and enjoy Stockholm eBikes for 24 hours” costs 11 Krona, or 98 cents at current conversion rates. A 7-day plan is 26 Krona ($2.32). A 30-day plan is 35 Krona ($3.12). And a whole year of unlimited 90-minute e-bike rides costs a measly 157 Krona, or just about $14. If you want to ride more than 90 minutes in one trip, you will be charged an extra 11 Krona (about $1) per extra hour.” This piece in VICE looks at how the city has managed to set this up without massive subsidies – yes, fine, some of the usual caveats apply re the fact that it’s Stockholm, and everyone there is Swedish and so therefore obviously incredibly civically-minded, and the city is small, but there’s also a lot of sensible stuff in there about planning and zoning and systems infrastructure and, look, honestly, I fcuking hate working and having a job and I would happily never, ever do agency type stuff ever again, but I would LOVE to spend some time thinking about a problem like this and how to solve it.
  • Top Surgery: Naomi Gordon-Loebl writes in Esquire about their top surgery – the why, the how, and the why now, and it is a beautiful and gentle piece of writing and I thought this paragraph in particular was lovely, about the idea of transition and the idea of becoming into oneself: “I never hated my chest. It’s a perfectly fine chest; a good one, and I’m fond of it, even. It’s been with me for some 21 years. Everywhere my body has traveled, it has come along. Everything I have done, it has done too. It has been a part of me, and in some ways, it always will be. It needs to go now, not because it is wrong, or something worth despising, but simply because it is standing in the way of a life I can no longer postpone.”
  • Keep It Clean: This is a great essay by James Vincent in the LRB, reviewing a book about the idea of proxies or stand-ins (so, for example, the ur-kilogram), focusing in particular on the image of ‘Lenna’, the model whose Playboy photograph was used as the subject of the first ever JPEG, and the way in which these proxies act as shorthand for wider social and cultural themes, and how these encoded themes can render the proxy problematic over time.
  • Gouranga: This is a short essay about videogames and the imagination and the ways in which the idea of possibility is sometimes better than actual possibility itself, and it’s by Edward Smith and I loved it.
  • Greaser: A short story combining body horror, motorbikes and LOTS of engine noises – it’s ‘interactive’ in the sense that you need to click to advance the story, but otherwise this is just text and images and sound. This is super stylish, and I would very much enjoy reading (or even playing) more stuff set in this milieu.
  • Tuna: A superb essay in Granta by Katherine Rundell, all about tuna – the fish, the product, the foodstuff, the environment and the economics of it all. Contains LOADS of excellent knowledge as well as top-notch writing; the fact that Mitsubishi controls 40% of the world’s bluefin tuna market and is effectively buying it up as a speculative commodity is…weird, frankly (then again, Mitsubishi is one of those weird companies (see also Hitachi) that does literally everything – it wouldn’t surprise me if they’d even had a hand in the pills around ‘97), whilst the detail about the menu at Nobu is bleakly, hideously perfect.
  • Last of the Cockney Criminals: I know, I know, ‘profile of ageing gangster, loves his mum, bangs on about ‘claret’ all the fcuking time’ is SUCH a late-90s trope; still, this is better than your average crim-fetishisation, not least because its subject is very much of the non-violent variety and is full of charming stories like this one: “Some aspects of his life were conventional. He and Sylvie married young and had two children. Legitimate work threaded through his career as much as theft: he saw no contradiction between the two. On one short-term job with a logistics firm, he found out on his first day that drivers were instructed to leave loaded lorries outside the depot gates overnight, with the keys hidden under the front wheel for whoever was on the morning shift, so that depot staff didn’t have to get up early to open the facility. He tried to explain to his bosses how risky this was: “I told them that they were bound to get nicked by someone. But they took no notice of me, I was the new bloke.” Having given them what he felt was a sporting chance, he waited until some particularly enticing cargo was parked outside the gates, returned before dawn and stole the lorry. When he arrived for work at his usual time police officers were taking statements. He feigned outrage, shouting: “I fcuking told you this would happen!” Later, a popular crime-reconstruction show on tv wanted to recreate the theft and the film crew needed someone to play the part of the thief. Jackson enthusiastically obliged: viewers watched him grinning at the wheel as the presenter solemnly appealed for witnesses.”
  • The Doctor Said: This piece absolutely destroyed me when I read it last week. Judith Hannah Weiss writes about what it’s like to watch your mind disintegrate, to struggle for words and meaning, to grapple with aphasia and incomprehension and, worst of all, to know that this is what is happening to you even as it robs you of the ability to articulate it. Having spent much of the past couple of years watching someone’s world be shrunk to a pinprick by illness, I can’t tell you how devastating it is to read this – Weiss’s prose is beautiful and communicates the confusion and loss, but the thing that really finished me off is the past-tense coda of authorial achievements, achievements which belong to a different person. Honestly, this is devastating but so so so good.

By Takaya Katsuragawa