Trains! Misogyny! Hateful rhetoric about immigration! The risible lolfest that is Liberal Democrat Party Conference! Unauthorised tree surgery! WHAT A WEEK!
There, that’s you all caught up with the stuff in the ‘real’ world! Now it’s time to focus on the weird internet ephemera, of which there is a BUMPER CROP – which is fortunate because Web Curios is off next week and so fcuk knows what you’d have done without this jam-packed dose of linky munificence.
I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and you probably found the concept of Laurence Fox opining on the ‘fcukability’ or otherwise of anyone else as risible as I did.
By Noah Kalina
THE SECTION WHICH IS STARTING TO WONDER WHETHER IT WOULD IN FACT BE MORALLY ACCEPTABLE TO JUST CULL EVERYONE INVOLVED WITH THE CURRENT INCARNATION OF THE TORY PARTY, INCLUDING THE WIDER UK MEDIA SYSTEM THAT PROPS THEM UP, BECAUSE IT’S BECOMING INCREASINGLY CLEAR THAT THEY ARE ALL DREADFUL CNUTS WITH LITERALLY NO REDEEMING FEATURES WHATSOEVER AND, Y’KNOW, THERE ARE SOME PRETTY STRONG UTILITARIAN ARGUMENTS WE COULD DEPLOY IF PRESSED, PT.1:
- Wikipedia Search-by-Vibes: I can’t help but love a wonky, slightly-orthogonal search mechanic (WHO DOESN’T, RIGHT KIDS? Eh? Oh), and this is a near-perfect example by Lee Butterman, who’s built a way of navigating Wikipedia which eschews all the normal, traditionally ‘click a hyperlink’ or ‘search for keywords’ techniques and which instead uses natural language stuff (look, there’s a more technical explanation which you can find here should you so desire, but know that I tried to read and understand it and, well, I failed) to let you search for, I don’t know, ‘those trees with the leaves that are a bit pointy but also rounded’ and return you a bunch of results from the Wikidepths. SUCH a brilliant idea, and a nice example of the eventual endpoint of all this AI stuff, where The Machine will eventually be able to make sense of whatever garbled, half-baked request we feed it and we’re able to sit back and just feed on peeled grapes while reclining like late-period Romans (that’s definitely how it’s all going to work out).
- Another Text-To-Video Toy: Yes, ok, fine, I know that these are no longer new and shiny, but I’m always interested to compare the pace of change of the various tools in this space – this one’s called ‘Genmo’, and it’s in-browser, and it’s free (or at least you can play around with it a bit without having to fork out initial cash for ‘credits’) and while you won’t be using this to create all your video from hereon in, a) it’s not bad, considering it took ~10s to generate this; b) honestly, most of the video you create for your job and your clients is pointless and doesn’t need to exist, so why not just sack it all off, replace the ‘content’ with AI-generated footage of cats or whatever, and call it all quits? I appreciate that ‘link 2’ is a bit early in the week to start with the whole ‘your job in advermarketingpr is a pointless joke and you should stop doing it’ but, well, I am feeling it VERY STRONGLY this week and thought you might want a Friday afternoon fillip.
- Historica: This is a genuinely-interesting project which, as far as I can tell, is fruit of collaboration between a bunch of historians and a few technologists across Europe, and which is interested in looking at how generative AI tools and techniques can be applied to the study of history, and specifically the creation of AI-augmented historical maps. This site itself is…a bit dense, fine, and VERY WORDY, but there’s a lot of interesting thinking and writing on there about some of the ways in which they have used generative models to help generate visual representations of THE PASSAGE OF TIME, and if you’re interested in AI, history, teaching or any vague combination of those things then you may find this stimulating.
- The Snapchat Agency Adventure: Snap is having something of a trying period, with various stories appearing over the past week or so suggesting user numbers are dropping, and the company culling its enterprise AR team a couple of days ago…but that’s ok, because it’s going to persuade agencies to pay it FCUKTONNES OF MONEY via the medium of, er, a game! And not just ANY game, but ‘a game designed to show you how Snapchat can help your clients reach their audience and drive results’, which I think we can all agree is just what the troubled company needs to get people spending big with them again! This is actually a reasonably-diverting 15 minute experience, although it suffers slightly from being built in a top-down, vaguely-16-bit style which means you spend more time than you might necessarily want to having ‘conversations’ with various avatars representing Snap staff who tell you helpful things like ‘we have a large and growing audience of 750 million a month!’ while they loop through three frames of minimalist animation. Still, there are a few pleasing minigames in there which will help use up some of those empty hours between birth and death which you might otherwise have to fill with ‘work’.
- The Coca Cola Record Store Experience: What do you think of when you think of ‘Coca Cola’? Sticky brown sugarwater? Incredibly-expensive endorsement deals? Vending machines? Those weirdos who seem to exist solely on Diet Coke, to the exclusion of all other liquids (I say this as someone who probably gets through in the region of 20 cups of tea a day, but WHAT IS THAT DOING TO YOUR INSIDES?!)? NO YOU THINK OF NONE OF THOSE THINGS YOU INSTEAD THINK OF CRATE-DIGGING IN AN UNDERGROUND RECORD STORE! Or at least that’s what Coke *wants* you to think of, judging by this ‘interactive digital experience’ in which you’re plonked into a 3d CG representation of a dimly-lit vinyl emporium and invited to wander around it, collecting digital tchotchkes representing various expressions of the Coca Cola Brand Experience (so miserable, so sad!) – but not just that! Oh no! You can also find a selection of records in the ‘store’ by various artists which you can then ‘listen’ to in a dedicated ‘room’, and by so doing you can ‘unlock’ some special artist-related content…on the one hand, this is pretty-slickly-made (as you’d expect from one of the world’s largest and richest brands), but on the other there’s something a bit…thin about the experiences you unlock, and I remain slightly baffled as to exactly what I would get from this were I a fan of (to cite but one of the artists involved) Cat Burns (other than, obviously, a near-irresistible desire to waterboard myself with Coke).
- Staring Contest: I really like this – a neat little toy by Google, as part of its Arts & Culture Lab, by longstanding Web Curios favourite Pippin Barr – click the link and you’re presented with a different artwork each day (I think), representing an individual who is presented to you in close-up detail; your job as the viewer is to STAY AWAKE, which you can do by clicking your mouse to keep your ‘digital eyelids’ (I promise it will make more sense when you click the link) open. This is obviously a bit of a silly, one-note gag, but it also does a good job of forcing you to engage with the work, and because it’s Google the works are presented in super-high-res and as such the whole ‘stare into the subject’s eyes while clicking manically’ thing does actually make you engage with each piece in a way you mightn’t have done otherwise. This is fun and silly and a really strong example of how interaction design can have interesting impacts on how information is communicated and absorbed (he said, like the boring pseud he is).
- The City of Praxis: It is a truth universally acknowledged that a plutocrat in possession of vast fortune must be in want of a vaguely-libertarian citystate built to exactly their specifications in which they can live out the rest of their violently-wealthy days unfettered by the tedious concerns of the lumpenproletariat! Or at least that’s how it fcuking seems, judging by the speed with which all these fcuking cnuts start imagining their own ‘NEW TECH UTOPIA CITIES’ as soon as they get to nine figures in their bank accounts – and so it is with the fantastically-named CITY OF PRAXIS (in my head it is called ‘CITY OF HUBRIS’ fwiw), which self-describes as ‘A greenfield development designed to support those tackling the world’s hardest problems’ (also, I like the implied positioning here that these MEGABRAINS, these violently-rich altruists, DESERVE a special city all of their own because of the vital work they are doing delivering hockey-stick returns and 10x shareholder growth). This is still very much at the blueprints stage, but the site claims that the collective behind the project is in ‘the final stages of site selection’ to determine where exactly in the Mediterranean they are going to establish this utopia for the brightest and best – and if you would like to be one of them you can apply here; they stop short of asking for your net worth, but it does rather feel implied, but there’s a…reasonably-strong implication in the literature that they’re only interested in you if you can bring a few million to the table, as the model for Praxis is built on ‘ten thousand members with an average lifetime value of $2+ million collectively represent $20+ billion in city value.’ Details as to who has signed up so far are limited, but intriguingly the site mentions ‘a former G7 Prime Minister’ and ‘a former EU Prime Minister’ and I would not be surprised if the grinning face of Mr Tony Blair was somehow involved in this. You can read a bit more about the project in this excellent piece in the equally-excellent The Fence Magazine – I doubt that this is ever going to happen, but I hope that its failure is spectacular and visible from space.
- Spill: As The Great Social Fragmentation engendered by That Fcuking Man’s slow evisceration of Twitter continues, so new spaces to hang out online continue to crop up – the latest to cross my field of vision is Spill (main link here) which is a Twitter-esque product built by ex-Twitter staffers and which is designed for, and aimed at, the Black community specifically. The main link takes you to their ‘about and onboarding’ document, which is done as a Google presentation and is…actually really good, giving you a clear illustration of what the platform is, how it works, some notes on language and general vibe…honestly, it struck me as a really smart and simple way of quickly getting people onboard with what you are trying to do and significantly quicker and easier than spinning up and maintaining a website. I confess to not having tried Spill, mainly because a) I am a misanthrope and don’t actually feel the need to join any more fcuking communities, please leave me alone; and b) I am a white, middle-aged man and didn’t feel that I would necessarily have a lot to contribute to the app, but it looks like a decent new entrant into the ‘granular alternatives to Twitter’ landscape should you be in the market for one.
- Post Crossing: I am slightly astonished that I have apparently never featured this before, but I suppose I should just be pleased at how that illustrates the wide-ranging and near-infinite majesty of the web rather than letting my failure to be across EVERY SINGLE FCUKING WEBSITE IN THE WORLD irk me (except obviously that is exactly what I am going to do) – anyway, my inadequacies aside, Post Crossing is a LOVELY web project which exists to encourage strangers to send postcards to each other – there’s a simple mechanic which matches people, and all you have to do is request an address from the site, pick a card, write a message and pay the postage and VWALLAH! You are now part of an international network of strangers all sending messages to each other via the magic of the postal service. I love this so so so much and am going to pop out and do my first missive this afternoon (someone is going to be SO EXCITED to get that postcard of a goose being fois-grased!) – honestly, I don’t think there is any pleasure quite like getting a (nice, to be clear) message from a total stranger, and I STRONGLY recommend you get involved with this as it is lovely and pure and you may end up with a nice new friend as a result (although based on a cursory bit of research, it is very likely that that friend will be in Germany – MAN do Germans love postcards, turns out).
- The Nature TTL Photographer of the Year: ANOTHER EXCELLENT SELECTION OF PHOTOGRAPHS OF CRITTERS! As ever, these are all wonderful – as far as I can tell, they’re also all reasonably-happy pictures (no obvious animal death on display, basically) so you can click safe in the knowledge that it’s all cuteness and light and no PETA-style horrors; my personal favourite of these is the gorgeous shot of the caterpillars chowing their way through a leaf, but please feel free to pick your own.
- 1FF: I am fascinated by this (and thanks to Rishi for sending it my way) – it’s another example, along with the previously-mentioned King’s League, of how it feels like we’re on the cusp of some sort of new breakout mass sporting format based around football, but equally like noone quite knows what that might look like or how it might in fact work. 1FF is…it’s an entirely-fictitious, entirely-CG-and-AI generated football league, in which a bunch of (again, entirely-fictitious and entirely-virtual) teams compete in computer-generated matches to contest a league title; the gimmick here is that ‘fans’ can invest in individual teams and players by buying stakes, which stakes translate to votes on crucial decisions on which players to sign, or in the case of the players which teams to sign for…There’s an element of this I can imagine really taking off, that taps into the modern phenomenon of people supporting individual players rather than teams, and the idea of kids being able to materially affect the ‘career’ of one of these ‘players’ is something I can conceive of as being appealing, but at present it all feels a bit…thin. I haven’t delved in too deeply – there’s a weirdly crypto-ish vibe which puts me off, although perhaps that’s unfair – but I am honestly fascinated to see how (if) this evolves – if nothing else the fact that they have seemingly got their very own proprietary CG match engine simulating all this is pretty impressive and suggests to some reasonably-deep pockets. The team names are AWFUL, though – South London United FC is SO ‘Pro Evo’ it hurts.
- Fat Bear Week: It’s FAT BEAR WEEK AGAIN! You should, by now, what to do – at the time of writing, voting in the first bracket is yet to open, but hopefully by the time I hit ‘send’ on this fcuker you’ll be able to click and decide whether you think ‘910 Yearling’ or ‘806 Spring Cub’ is the chonkiest.
- All Of The PixeL Art: OH GOD THIS IS SUCH AN INCREDIBLE RESOURCE! Japan’s Maeda Design Studio has made this incredible collection of pixel art assets available for anyone to download and make use of – the description is so charming I might cry: “DOTOWN is a site where you can download coarse dots. Rough dots refer to pixel art that uses the lowest possible resolution to create the ultimate abstract expression. Despite being abstracted, the coarse dots are packed with information and have achieved a “reverse evolution (=ultimate abstraction)” in game graphics.They have a slightly empty atmosphere and have a “Maeda design feel”. Rough dots have been a symbol of this, and even today, rough dots appear everywhere, including on the Maeda Design Office’s website and membership page. All of us at Maeda Design Studio would be happy if you could use these coarse dots for a variety of things, including websites, banners, flyers, and even embroidery!” No, seriously, literally crying a bit (I am tired), IT IS SO PURE.
- Castrooms: This does, I concede, feel VERY 2020, but there’s no reason why some of you might not still find this useful – Castrooms is a bit of software designed for DJs or indeed anyone doing live performances to a virtual audience, and which presents everyone listening to / watching said performance as a massive WALL OF AUDIENCE in front of the performer so as to give them a better sense of presence and feedback when putting on a show. This is a really good idea, which is eerily similar to technology that The Pleasance Theatre were experimenting with during lockdown, which makes me wonder whether it’s in any way connected – anyway, if you do stuff that involves ‘streaming comedy or music or theatre or whatever to a reasonable audience’ and you would like to deepen the connection between perform and said audience then, well, HERE HAVE THIS.
- Songwritings: I stumbled across this earlier this week on Twitter and I LOVE IT – this is an occasional newsletter by two people who I think work in advermarketingPR (but don’t hold it against them, they seem nice) and who every now and again collaborate to make a song. Nick Asbury writes words, and Kate van den Borgh sets them to music, and they share the resulting songs and thoughts about the creative process each time they make something, and the latest one is genuinely really rather beautiful and made me want to hear more.
- An Auction of Stuff from Tron: I saw Tron at the Cinema with my mum in Swindon in the early-80s, and it honestly changed my life – not in the sense that it motivated me to pursue a career in, say, programming or graphic design (lol career!), but in the sense that it was the first time that I realised that I would probably be happier inside a machine than outside, and that perhaps this whole ‘meat’ thing was a mistake. You may or may not have any sort of personal connection to the original film, but you will almost certainly be vaguely aware of its incredibly strong sense of style and aesthetic and the neon and the costumes and the light cycles and the mad Jai Alai-variant game that they play…SUCH A GREAT FILM! Anyway, this links you to a bunch of stuff currently for sale online – lots have between 1-3 weeks left to run, as far as I can tell and so you have PLENTY OF TIME to peruse them and work out what you’re going to spend your kids’ nonexistent inheritance on. Concept art, frames from the film…there is SO MUCH wonderful material here, and there’s a lot of stuff where the starting bid is $0, so it’s entirely possible that you might be able to get your hands on something without having to sell a kidney to do so.
By Xiangni Song
THE SECTION WHICH IS STARTING TO WONDER WHETHER IT WOULD IN FACT BE MORALLY ACCEPTABLE TO JUST CULL EVERYONE INVOLVED WITH THE CURRENT INCARNATION OF THE TORY PARTY, INCLUDING THE WIDER UK MEDIA SYSTEM THAT ENABLES THEM, BECAUSE IT’S BECOMING INCREASINGLY CLEAR THAT THEY ARE ALL DREADFUL CNUTS WITH LITERALLY NO REDEEMING FEATURES WHATSOEVER AND, Y’KNOW, THERE ARE SOME PRETTY STRONG UTILITARIAN ARGUMENTS WE COULD DEPLOY IF PRESSED, PT.2:
- Bloom: Audio erotica has been a thing for a few years now – pretty sure I’ve featured at least one company making SEXY PODCASTS for you to enjoy here in the past – but that’s almost certainly set to explode thanks to the INFINITE CONTENT FLYWHEEL allowed by generative AI; which is exactly where Bloom comes in. The platform promises to offer a range of SPICY CONTENT augmented by AI chatbots which reflect the personalities and kinks and desires of the most popular characters from the platforms stories, which will let you talk filth to whichever hunk you prefer (and, eventually, let you ‘talk’ to them with AI voice simulation, although I don’t think that that’s live yet) – I confess to not having spent much time with this, partly because, well, I don’t personally feel the need to listen to audiobongo, but also because the site is pretty heavily paygated (you only get a couple of stories to listen to for free, and any chat beyond the third interaction needs ‘credits’) and it’s also (unsurprisingly) VERY much focused at the heterosexual woman market and I don’t personally really want to listen to some breathless discussion of how ‘she tasted the nectar of his forbidden hardness’. You, though, might be DESPERATE for exactly this sort of content – I neither know nor care about your proclivities! – and so, you know, ENJOY.
- The StayCay: Another link which is SO 2020 (this one via Rina), The StayCay is a gorgeous example of ‘building an online ‘space’ using freely-available and non-obvious tools’, specifically in this case doing so via Google Sheets – there was a spate of people creating ‘hangout’-type environments during the pandemic using the ‘shared documents’ functionality of the GSuite, but I think this is by far the most involved and well-realised and thought out, although I am personally saddened by the fact that it’s basically all about how cool crypto is which rather lessens its whimsical appeal in my eyes. Still, this really is a proper labour of love and it’s really pleasing to explore and see the care that’s gone into designing, making and maintaining this shared space. I STRONGLY BELIEVE that every single company should create one of these spaces as a sort of unmonitored digital hangout for staff, and if any of you would like to pay me loads of money to do a really half-ar$ed job of setting such a thing up for you then, well, YOU KNOW WHERE I AM.
- The Tomb of Rameses I: Do you want to explore the inside of the tomb of one of Ancient Egypt’s rulers? Would you like to do so without suffering the horrors of international air travel and the attentions of 10million artefact-peddlers attempting to sell you a pewter model of the Great Pyramid? WELL LUCKY YOU! This is a rather wonderful project which has photographed the interior of the Tomb of Rameses I and made it available to navigate via a Google StreetView-esque interface, complete with all sorts of explanatory annotations – you can either choose the guided tour or to ‘freely explore’ the temple, and while the latter is best for actually learning stuff there’s something genuinely cool and slightly-Indiana-Jones-y about the ability to navigate the tomb’s tunnels and the torchlight effect the software applies to your field of vision. The only thing that could make this better, to my mind, would be some sort of ‘OH GOD THERE’S A MUMMY’-style Easter Egg, but I concede that that’s possibly not the historically-accurate vibe that the creators were going for.
- Stay In Shrek’s Swamp: I wouldn’t normally link to something which is literally just ‘a PR stunt by Airbnb’, but I’ll make an exception for this specific promo because, well, IT’S SHREK!!! WHO DOESN’T LOVE SHREK?!?! NO FCUKER, etc! As part of its semi-regular ‘let’s mock up a location from a popular entertainment property and make it available as a very short-term let, and by so doing rinse the PR!’ activity, Airbnb has created a version of Shrek’s Swamp somewhere in Scotland, which will be made available to rent for a limited period in this Autumn/Winter – booking opens on 13 October, so I suggest you bookmark this now and set a reminder, because otherwise this will be 100% booked out by the sort of weirdos who want to use this as an opportunity to film disturbingly-well-located Shrek-related bongo (look, it’s a disgusting concept and I am sorry for raising it but, also, that is EXACTLY what will happen).
- Sent You A Song: I have long thought that there’s a missing…thing (sorry, this is very inarticulate but we have run out of milk and it’s 903am and I am currently torn between needing to keep caffeinated if I am ever going to finish this thing and knowing that if I take 10m to run to the shop my ability to finish this even vaguely on time will be utterly banjaxed, and you don’t actually need this internal monologue digression, do you?) in modernity when it comes to cute and pleasing ways to share music with people – you can send a link, fine, but it lacks a certain poetry. Sent You A Song is a lovely little project which attempts to make sharing music with an individual a bit special again – what I particularly like about this is that by using the site to share a track, you add your selection and accompanying message both to the site’s homepage and the accompanying playlist, which makes the whole thing a lovely accumulation of songs that mean something to people, and which they have wanted to share with others. The trail of messages is a beautiful touch – it looks like this has been most popular in Brasil to date, based on the fact most of the messages are in Portuguese, and the music that people have sent is wonderfully-eclectic. Basically this is GREAT.
- FontGuessr: I think this might be the hardest game I have ever featured on Curios – NO OF COURSE I CAN’T GUESS WHAT THE FCUKING FONT IS, WHAT DO YOU THINK I AM SOME SORT OF TYPOGRAPHICAL RAINMAN?! Ahem. Anyway, those of you who are actual designers and typographers might find this significantly more fun and less challenging than I do.
- Has Your Book Been Scraped?: You may have seen a whole bunch of authors online getting understandably upset this week at the discovery that their works have apparently been ingested into OpenAI’s training corpus for its LLMs – The Athletic first ran this story early in the year, but it’s been resurrected by the fact that they have now released a search engine which lets anyone check whether their works have been included in the Books3 dataset (which is what speculation suggests has been used to train GPTx) and as such whether they form part of the training data for the current most popular LLM. The main link takes you to the search engine, but you can read more about it The Atlantic’s project here – the question that remains, though, is to what extent can any of these authors expect to have any sort of legal redress against OpenAI and others, and how might the various lawsuits currently being engaged work in practice? Obviously the answer is ‘lol noone knows this is literally unprecedented’, but if you’re interested in delving into some of the likely legal arguments then you could do worse than read this rundown which does a neat job of explaining why ‘fair use’ is a very slippery idea, and why it might turn out that there’s a perfectly compelling argument that OpenAI might make to suggest that at best authors might be entitled to a couple of quid and a pat on the head (briefly: I can totally see a legally-sound argument to suggest that the best equivalence to what we are talking about here is someone ingesting an author’s entire body of work and then using that body of work to inform their own subsequent thinking and writing and doing – and there is no way in hell that we would suggest that the ‘someone’ here owes anything to the author in question other than the RRP of their body of work).
- Mused: It’s fair to say that museums in the UK don’t always do the very best digital work, often through no fault of their own – I know what public sector digital procurement is like, and I know what ‘attempting to get funding for anything’ is like, and I know that there is often a…disconnect between the digital abilities and inclinations of staff at the more operational end of the pyramid and those at the top who tend to be a bit more…traditional, let’s say – so I don’t want to be mean about this new effort by the V&A… Mused is aimed at 10-14 year olds (placing me quite firmly outside its target demographic, so feel free to take everything I say from hereon in as the ramblings of an old and out-of-touch moron who doesn’t understand d1ck) – so why make it a website? How many 10-14 year olds visit websites? It’s obviously intended to frame the V&A’s exhibits and work in the context of kid-friendly concepts like gaming, film and music – so why’s it all so static? Ach, I feel bad writing this stuff so I will stop, but it feels like a huge missed opportunity – still, if you have a 10-14 year old person in your life who you think might like a quiz about Minecraft delivered by one of the UK’s national museums then, well, IT’S THEIR CHRISTMAS COME EARLY!
- Heste Nettet: I think that this is one of my favourite stories of the week, possibly the year, possibly the decade. I stumbled across this while doing a bunch of reading around AI and stuff (such is the misery of my ‘professional’ existence) – while so doing I happened to read this Bloomberg newsletter, which included this astonishing fact about Danish language AI development: because there’s a relatively-msall quantity of Danish on the web, and a relatively small number of sources, a significant part of the training corpus for Danish-language LLMs comes from Heste Nettet, a Danish forum which over the past decades has basically become a sort of universal catch-all platform for conversations about literally every aspect of Danish life (as forums are often wont to do) – except the forum was originally designed to be about horses, and horse ownership, and as a result there’s an awful lot of equine content in the training data, which means that “There is definitely a horse bias…If you want to know something about horses, it’s definitely in there.” I LOVE THIS SO SO SO MUCH, in particular the idea (completely untested, but I am going to presume that it’s true) that the long arc of conversation with AI in Danish will ALWAYS tend towards horses: “Yes, that’s nice Dave, and I am sure that you do want to know more about the document you’ve just fed me to ingest and summarise – but wouldn’t you like to know more about optimal forelock length?” Anyway, the original link takes you to the Danish forum in question which, I concede, probably isn’t hugely compelling to you, but I love this story so so so much and I hope it has pleased you to the same degree.
- Hearts and Minds: Also via Giuseppe, this is an excellent piece of datavisualisation (bizarrely a bit of CSR work by the IKEA Foundation) which demonstrates how attitudes towards immigration have changed across Europe over the past few years – and which pleasingly demonstrates how in general people are significantly more pro-immigration than might be thought based on some of the vile media and political rhetoric being spewed at the moment. This covers 10 countries in Europe, including the UK, and the data’s from the ODI and as such pretty unimpeachable.
- Be A Bee: Non-Anglos amongst you may be aware of Ricola, a Swiss company which for nearly a century has been manufacturing sweets flavoured with Swiss herbs – I don’t think they sell them in the UK, but I have very strong flashback memories of these things being foisted on me as a kid by well-meaning elderly Italian relatives and realising at a young age that it turns out that I really don’t like the taste of Jaegermeister (they really do taste of Jaeger, I promise). Anyway, this is an international promo site which is designed both to promote the sweets and the brand’s partnership with a doubtless-incredibly-famous Korean person (sorry, I don’t recognise the face/name – is it a BTS person?) – it’s a game in which you’re a bee, and you’re tasked with flying around some alpine meadows and collecting herbs or somesuch, but, honestly, it is SO RELAXING that if you’re anything like me you’ll spend 10 minutes just sort of flying around and enjoying the apian splendour of it all. Mobile-only, but this really is very nicely done indeed and I’m not joking about the ‘soothing’ thing.
- National Populations As Joy Division Album Graphs: A horrible descriptor which almost certainly means nothing to you, so click the link and get enlightened (these are glorious, honestly, and some of them would look rather nice as posters I think).
- Gorgeous PixelArt Cars: The link actually takes you to the Twitter account of a games studio called ‘Etherfield’, but at the moment they seem to be posting nothing but really beautiful little 8-bit representations of old cars – if you’ve ever wanted a pixel representation of 1978 Toyota Celica (and, honestly, which of us can say they haven’t? NO FCUKER, etc) then this will be your paradise, your Elysian Fields, your happy place.
- The Tenth Watch: If you’re the sort of person who has been online for A LONG TIME then you will also be the sort of person who knows about the legendary history of the pitch drop when it comes to online video streaming and its use in pioneering the idea of a webcam feed waiting for SOMETHING to happen – now the University of Queensland in Australia is running a livestream of its 10th pitch drop experiment (the last one fell in April 2014), so if you would like to stare blankly at a video feed in the hope that something, anything will happen then, well, ENJOY!
- Sun Terraces: I really like this – a collaborative Dutch project which seeks to map all the places in the Netherlands where there’s a bit of public space that gets the sun – whether that’s a pub garden or a public park, this is just a superb and really useful resource that feels like it should be trivial to replicate pretty much anywhere (or at least, anywhere where everyone has the same sort of general spirit of commuty as the Dutch, which perhaps isn’t as common as one might wish). Conversely, if you’d rather avoid the sun while travelling, then this is a similar tool which tells you which side of the train you ought to sit on to prevent getting blinded – I don’t know why I love these things so much but I really do.
- Bihrmann: Kris described this as ‘possibly the perfect personal website’ and I don’t know that I can disagree with his assessment – I have no idea whatsoever who this belongs to what it is for or why it exists, or indeed what most of the content it hosts is about, but I am slightly in love with the aesthetic and the maximalist nature of the endeavour. MORE OF THE CONFUSING AND LARGELY-POINTLESS-SEEMING WEB, PLEASE!
- Planet Destroyer: Our final miscellaneous link of the week is this SUPERB clicker game which I have had open in a tab all week and which I can confirm is incredibly cathartic – there are few things more satisfying when having A Professional Moment than clicking frantically on a little CG planet and watching it blow up (no, that’s totally normal, I don’t know what you mean).
By Hiroshi Sato
THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!
- Hallowe’en 2023: Because I appreciate that some of you like doing the whole ‘it’s autumn! Let’s make everything orange and cinnamon-tasting!’ thing.
THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!
- Unicorn Colour Theory: “Transmutation of thought into touchable color. Colorbending is about encouraging connection thru touch, and the joy that color brings!” Does that description speak to you? No, of course it doesn’t, it’s utter gibberish! Still, if you’ve ever wanted to see someone make art with ‘liquid crayons’ (no, me neither, but apparently they are a thing) then this is very much the Insta feed for you.
LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!
- Let Them East Oysters: We start the longreads this week with what I have to warn you is a relatively-chewy bit of writing – Lorna Finlayson in the LRB writes about animal rights and applied ethics more generally (while the ostensible focus of the piece is on the animal rights question, the piece is really a LOT broader than that) as she considers two new(ish) books on the subject by Peter Singer (see Curios passim) and Martha Nussbaum, and OH GOD IS THIS INTERESTING. Ok, fine, I perhaps have a slight bias towards this stuff as it maps onto a significant proportion of my MSc, but these are also objectively fascinating questions – how ought we behave? How do we decide? And how much of a theoretical fcuk ought we give about anything else while so doing? – that Finlayson analyses with intelligence and humour (honestly, you forget quite how…funny some of the discussion around ethics can be, silly as that probably sounds). The central questions here revolve around utilitarianism vs deontology, the question of ‘speciesism’, self-actualisation and ‘higher goods’ and all sorts of other thorny stuff – I personally think that Finlayson slightly-traduces some of Singer’s arguments in the piece, or at least doesn’t present them entirely fairly, but overall this is a WONDERFUL bit of writing about some hard fundamental questions about How We Should Be that I promise you really is worth taking the time to think through.
- The Fateful 90s: For about the first third of this essay I was in awe at its analysis and dissection of a lot of 90s political and economic thinking, and how it shaped Where We Are Now – and then it goes quite weirdly right-wing in ways I don’t agree with towards the end. That said, regardless of the extent to which I don’t agree with some of the intensely-Republican (and frankly quite racist-feeling) assertions made towards the article’s coda, the way it presents economic theory and the rise of the web and the broken promises of much of the early-to-mid-90s political (and social, and technological) rhetoric of the US is really interesting (particularly if you’re old enough to remember it the first time round).
- What Makes Elon Tick?: So I read the biography and wrote it up for work – SPOILER ALERT: it is a very, very dull book which is written very badly and which seems to take almost everything Musk says at face value without at any point asking any really interesting or challenging questions, and which really doesn’t pay enough attention to the people who for the past couple of decades have been Musk’s influencers and what looking at them might tell us about him. This, though, is not about the biography – in the Guardian, David Runciman writes about his experience of following all the same people as Elon does on Twitter, and what that might tell us about the man and his worldview – obviously this is an…unsifficiant mechanism by which to GET INSIDE ELON’S HEAD, but I promise you that the conclusions drawn in this piece are significantly more interesting and trenchant than those Isaacson gets to after 620-fcuking-pages.
- The Sam Altman Profile: My appetite for profiles of ‘great men’ (particularly ‘great men of technology’) is VERY small right now, but I reluctantly read this profile of OpenAI’s Sam Altman in case it contained any VITAL INSIGHTS – it doesn’t really, unless you count ‘wow, this person really has incredibly shallow points of view when it comes to the really hard questions’ and ‘this person probably shouldn’t be determining the future path of R&D in this incredibly morally and intellectually complex field, and yet, well, HERE WE ARE!’, but I appreciate that I have spent a LOT more time reading about this man and this fcuking industry than you probably have (this isn’t some sort of brag, to be clear, more a sad cry for help) and as such you my find this a bit more enlightening. Altman comes across as a bit of a d1ck, but only in that nonspecific sort of ‘smooth-faced, monied Thielian protege’ fashion rather than anything more pointy – but, honestly, can we PLEASE have a different type of guy (non gender-specific, for avoidance of doubt) in charge of stuff in the future, please? I am very, very bored of this flavour of man. BONUS LINK: if you’re not familiar with the TESCREAL acronym detailing the broad belief systems underpinning the current AI movement which mean we should be very fcuking sceptical of the Altman position, this is a very good overview.
- GPT Goes Multimodal: Or at least it will do soon – this is the OpenAI announcement of its forthcoming GPT update (in the next month or so, apparently), which will let you interact with its models via text-to-voice and, more excitedly, introduce image analysis to the Beta of GPT4 (this stuff will only be for the paying few, at least initially, although it will come to Bing soon enough too) – this is already available on Bard, but given how much better the OpenAI LLM is than the current Google one I’m expecting this to be a significant upgrade. If you’d like an idea of What This Means, you might find this post detailing an early user’s experiences useful in terms of outlining what’s possible – and if you’d like something genuinely mindblowing, this ‘sketch-to-website’ demo is pretty mad. I know that there are quite good reasons for this, but I am moderately-annoyed that OpenAI is nerfing the tech from providing assessments or analyses of images of people – I REALLY like the idea of making a ‘roast me’ mirror, which they won’t let me do the BAST4RDS.
- Welcome To The AI Infinistream: Or, “How AI is enabling Chinese livestreams to create digital avatars of them which can shill tat 24/7 for that sweet, sweet affiliate revenue’ – welcome to the future in which we all have digital versions of ourselves who we set to slave earning pennies in the affiliate mines! I appreciate that livestream shopping is very much not a Western phenomenon, but I am slightly curious as to whether people will still have an appetite for watching infinite QVC when the presenters are AIs – if they do, I am probably going to downgrade my position on humanity stocks from ‘HOLD’ to ‘SELL’.
- Zuckerberg on AI: Yes, I know that I said that I didn’t care about FOUNDERS AND THEIR VISIONS, and that I didn’t really want to read anymore profiles of tech people, but this relatively-rare interview with Zuckerberg in The Verge, which focuses on Meta’s AI announcements from this week and What They Mean, is more interesting than most, mainly because it offers a clear picture of how Zuckerberg sees generative AI fitting into the Facestagram ecosystem and the broader metaverse bet (don’t laugh!) – there’s also a bit in there about AI and training data that really made me laugh from a ‘wow, you really have been media trained haven’t you Mark?’ perspective. Basically this won’t tell you anything startling, but I think it’s useful to read it if you want to (or, worse, need to) have a point of view of Meta’s current position in the AI race/bunfight.
- Confessions of an AI Writer: Vauhini Vara writes for WIRED on their experience of writing with AI – Vara wrote one of the earliest published ‘cowritten with an AI’ pieces in 2021, and this article looks at how her feelings about ‘collaboration’ with AI have changed, and the extent to which as the tech has improved over the past two years its creative outputs have become…less interesting. I’ve touched on this in this newsletter a lot over the past year or so, but I think it’s visible to anyone who’s been paying attention to this space at all over the past few years – as with anything relating to DATA, the more you have the more your results tend to the middle of the bell curve, and the more smoothed and homogenous they become, and I think we’re only about a year or so away from a reasonably-noisy ‘make AI weird again’ movement (feel free to point and laugh at how wrong I was about this in 2024, by the way).
- Monkey Laundering: LOL AT THE NFTs! You will have seen the article doing the rounds over the past few weeks which claims that NFTs have lost 95% of their value – inspired by that story, Ed Zitron pens a decent summary of ‘where we are now with the racist monkey jpegs’ which feels like it should serve as a neat summary coda to the whole movement. I still believe that there’s something interesting in the concept of a DAO, which Zitron very much doesn’t, but otherwise this is an enjoyable read (although perhaps less so if you’re That One Guy in a group of friends who dropped £10k on a Logan Paul gif in 2020 and is feeling a bit sheepish three years on).
- The World of TikDoxing: Another ‘wow the future is weird and I am not sure I like it’ link (is there any other sort in Web Curios?) – did you know that there’s a new ‘thing’ on the platform where people are demonstrating their ‘OSINT Chops’ by identifying strangers in the background of online content and using a bunch of available tools such as facial recognition database PimEyes (see Curios passim) to find out their real identities, and document their skill in the search in their very own TikTok vids? No, I didn’t either, but now I do and it feels…somehow not ok that TikTok claims that this is totally fine and legitimate content to post, although on the flipside I suppose there’s technically nothing ‘wrong’ happening here, nothing illegal, and this is just another example of social mores butting up hard against new tech and noone really quite knowing what we’re meant to do about anything. Someone really, really ought to write a Digital Debrett’s for kids to get given when they are 10, to educate them about what, honestly, it really isn’t cool to do to people online – actually that’s not a wholly terrible idea, is it?
- The Airbnb Detective: This was SO much more interesting than I expected it to be – a profile of Airbnb’s Naba Banerjee, who’s the person responsible for helping Airbnb develop the tech that lets it identify people who are planning to host a party in their hosts’’ apartment, and how exactly they went about developing the tech. I appreciate that some of you might read this and think ‘SHE IS A COP HOW DARE YOU CELEBRATE HER’ which, you know, fine, but this is more of a ‘wow that’s a really interesting account of the technical and practical challenges involved in solving a specific problem’ than it is a ‘GO AIRBNB PROTECT THE LANDLORDS’ piece fwiw.
- Masterclass Is Fcuked: I’d totally forgotten about the existence of Masterclass until I read this piece – in case you have too, let me refresh your memory. Masterclass is the training platform that was ubiquitous during lockdown and which offers the opportunity to learn specific skills from VERY FAMOUS EXPERTS – so, I don’t know, direction with Martin Scorsese, say, or fisting with the C0ck Destroyers (tbh I don’t think either of these were ever offered, but you get the gist) – for a fee. You may have wondered how the economics of this work – turns out, according to this article, they really don’t! This contains some astonishing details of insane profligacy, not least the detail about how they literally built a whole apartment set for Natalie Portman to deliver her ‘acting’ Masterclass on – I don’t think I will ever cease to be amazed at the way in which our current business model for so many things appears to be ‘throw an awful lot of money at people who at no point have demonstrated that they know what to do with it, and watch as they come up with interesting and innovative ways to p1ss it all away’.
- LARPing and Violent Extremism: Ok, this is neither a longread nor particularly fresh, but I came across it this week and it made me laugh SO MUCH – did you know that the FBI produced a small guide a few months back to help its agents distinguish between ACTUAL TERRORISTS and, er, people enjoying a nice live action roleplay session? Would you like to read it? YOU’RE WELCOME! Honestly, this is proper beyond parody stuff.
- Domain Names: A lovely Rest of World article looking at the tiny nations whose internet domains earn them big money – you’ll already know about the Christmas Islands and Tuvalu, but I hadn’t previously considered where .ai domains are registered – turns out it’s Anguilla, which now receives ⅓ of its entire monthly budget from revenues from domain names. This is lovely, and includes a rundown of all the tiny places making reasonable bank from urls.
- Why Does Everyone Swear So Much In The Witcher 3?: Ok, you’ll need to be either really into videogame development or a big fan of the Witcher 3 to really get the most out of this, but if you tick either of those boxes then you will adore this piece in Eurogamer which takes a surprisingly deep dive into the process that led to the game’s wonderful collection of profane incidental dialogue.
- Moving Beaches: Did you know that there is a massive international market in sand, and that loads of the beaches we think are natural aren’t in fact natural at all? This is a super-interesting read about something to which I have given literally NO thought (to whit, if you need sand, where do you get it from? And is all sand the same?) but which is a genuinely fascinating topic (and particularly-relevant for a variety of depressing environmental reasons).
- Murdoch: There will be a lot written about Rupert Murdoch and his empire in the wake of his stepping back from NewsCorp, but I found this article by Conrad Black in Unherd (sorry, but) particularly interesting – not because it’s revealing, because it’s not, or because it’s well-written, because it’s not, but because of the insight it gives into the banality of thought of the very, very rich. Black’s observations on his old media rival are bland to the point of risibility, but contain the odd standout line – such as the frankly mad statement that “I’ve never had the impression that he is much interested in politics, other than in how they affect him, or culture, or hobbies”, which does rather make one wonder exactly what Conrad Black thinks ‘politics’ is all about.
- Painting With AI: I thought this was a lovely piece in the New York Times, which acts as an interesting counterpoint to the earlier article about co-creating prose with The Machine – in this, contemporary US painter David Salle ‘collaborates’ with a specially-trained AI to generate a new work in his style, with the process documented throughout with images and commentary, explaining how the artist worked alongside the software to define and refine its outputs; I find this sort of Centaur-process-type-investigation-stuff (god I’m such a writer!) absolutely fascinating, regardless of the eventual quality of the outputs achieved, and this is no exception.
- The Accidental Art of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater: I have, it’s fair to say, a reasonably high tolerance for stuff that might reasonably be considered ‘a load of pretentious spaff’ – that said, this article tested even my patience. That said, I also absolutely loved it, so see what you think. Jeremy Klemin writes about the obscure subculture that exists within the fandom of classic skateboarding videogame series Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, specifically around the concept of ‘improvisational’ play in which a player tries to achieve super-long combos while eschewing the ‘optimal’ routes set out by the level designers and by so doing achieves a weird, balletic state of ‘flow’ within the gamespace…look, there’s no way around it, this really is HYPERW4NKY but it’s also so so interesting if you’re curious about ideas of space and place and movement in virtual worlds, and how Borges relates to a Playstation2-era classic (so so so w4nky, honestly).
- The Invisible Epidemic: A beautiful-but-brutal bit of journoviz-ing by The Pudding here as they present a bunch of data about loneliness in the US, and specifically about the day-to-day lives of a series of subjects drawn from data about how Americans spent an average weekend in 2021 – as this shows, a significant number of people in the US (and inevitably in the rest of the Western world) pass entire days without meaningfully communicating with anyone beyond the functional. This is utterly heartbreaking – as is this beautiful piece of writing in the Paris Review, all about Philip Seymour Hoffman and loneliness and suicide, which feels related enough to link to here as an additional, thematically-linked piece.
- Watches: A little while ago my friend Paul arranged for us to go on a tour around Hatton Garden, specifically some of the locations rendered infamous by the gold heist that took place a few years back – it’s still a genuinely odd part of London, one of those weird ‘cities within a city’ (see also: the inns of court, every single London university, all the big markets) where you can see some genuinely weird stuff (and an awful lot of men looking INCREDIBLY furtive – selling – and an awful lot of other men looking very deliberately conspicuous – guarding). This is a BRILLIANT profile of the watch trade in Hatton Garden – the people, the patter, the prices – and frankly I now want someone to do a (good, though) film set in this exact milieu (but noone tell Guy Ritchie, please).
- The Last Nazis: Ordinarily ‘GQ Magazine writes about Nazi hunters’ isn’t the sort of thing I’d bother to read or link to, but this is a wonderful, sensitive and far-more-restrained-than-expected piece of writing by Tom Lamont, who profiles the German officials engaged in seeking to track down the last remaining people who can be proven to have had practical, personal involvement in the Holocaust and bring them to some sort of justice. This is, honestly, such a brilliant article which raises all the right questions about responsibility and where it can reasonably be said to end, the likely limits of personal knowledge, and what we are doing when we pursue justice. So much of this deals with the mechanics and logistics of horror, the very practical ‘banality of evil’ – it reminded me a lot of Amis’s novel ‘The Zone of Interest’, whose characters are in the main Nazis engaged in the administration of a concentration camp, and which features a line which kept coming back to me as I read this; I paraphrase slightly, but there’s a certain scene in which two Nazi officers are walking to some evening function at the Governor’s mansion overlooking the camp, seeing the billowing smoke from the chimneys, and one says to the other “You know, Hans, without the proper context I can see how this might look entirely reprehensible”.
- Ballard: I have always loved Ballard’s writing, ever since I was a teen, and personally-speaking I’ve always thought of him as rather a great prose stylist; turns out my opinion isn’t necessarily universally-held, but it’s defended nicely here by Tom McCarthy who writes persuasively about all the idiosyncratic qualities that made his works and the way he wrote them great. There’s a certain thematic callback here to the ‘writing with AI’ piece and the data-led bellcurve, should you wish to perceive it.
- Homesick Chernobyl: I thought this essay – about Chernobyl and home and place and memory and addiction and coming home – was absolutely beautiful, and I think you will too.
- I Remember Arthur: This is all about suicide, basically, which may or may not determine whether you want to read it – for those that do, though, it’s by Kevin Sampsell and it’s about his friend Arthur who killed himself, and reflections on why that was and how that feels, and this took me quite a long time to read because I had to stop at various points to basically void myself with tears but, that small caveat aside, I think it is wonderful.
- Man Called Fran: Finally this week, a short story about plumbing. I promise you that this is PERFECT and frankly it ought to win awards. PLEASE READ THIS..
By Molly Bounds
AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:
- NEW SALAD FINGERS! Honestly, the quality control on this series is insane, never misses after years and years and years – it’s also the little things, like the quality of the sound design, that elevate Salad Fingers to the status of ACTUAL ART (I will fight you if you disagree) (and if I do you will likely win, re my having basically the same body shape as the titular star of the video).
- This feels like an almost-perfect parody of a certain genre of song from the 80s but I can’t quite put my finger on a band to use as a comparator – basically you can totally imagine this over the opening credits montage of a woman in NYC getting to work in the morning, and while I appreciate that this means nothing to you right now just hit play on the video and tell me I’m wrong. It’s called ‘Modern Girl’ and it’s by Bleachers.
- I am having a really bad week for ‘this really reminds me of someone but I can’t for the life of me think who’ musical comparisons – but, er, here’s another one! This is called ‘Always Exploding’, by Angie Mcmahon, and it REALLY reminds me of a specific female vocalist but I’m fcuked if I can think of the name right now. Anyway, this is a BIG and EMPOWERING song, which isn’t ordinarily my sort of vibe but which in this instance I rather liked.
- Finally this week, we have ‘Bruises’ by Girl Scout – this is, fine, very much A Type Of Song that you will have heard before, but it’s a gorgeous vocal and I think the whole track is rather beautiful if you can get past the slight stylistic cliche (and if you can’t, well, that’s your problem really)…and oh look THAT IS IT I LOVE YOU I AM OFF SEE YOU SOON BYE!