Webcurios 30/04/21

Reading Time: 37 minutes

HAPPY BANK HOLIDAY FRIDAY EVERYONE! Except of course those of you who are either not fortunate enough to get bank holidays off, or who are freelancers for whom the term means nothing other than NO MONEY, or who are foreign and for whom the entire concept is meaningless! Hello!

Thanks to everyone who said nice things about Curios’ return last week – it’s very much appreciated – and thanks for your patience with the minor technical issues which should all by now have been fixed (and, er, if they haven’t, please nudge me again).

Anyway, for those of you not still desperately texting hilarious gags to Boris, welcome to another week of Web Curios – links to make you laugh! To make you cry! To make you question the wisdom of subscribing to this crap in the first place (don’t worry, I really don’t check the numbers and so will NEVER KNOW if you cruelly abandon me)! To make you momentarily forget that we are governed by an unashamedly-corrupt cabal, that we have been for decades, and that we effectively chose this ourselves!

Welcome, then, to Web Curios – it won’t make anything better, but it might at least give you a set of new, differently-horrible things to worry about and be scared of!

(PS – Web Curios might not turn up next week as I am getting vaxxed on Thursday and if last time is anything to go by there is no way in hell I will be in any shape to spaff out 100-odd links and prose on Friday morning; apologies in advance if my selfish desire for immunisation conflicts with your need for links)

(PPS – no, I am not that old; yes, there is, I promise, A Good Reason for me getting doublevaxxed a bit early)

By Shardcore



  • The Converse ‘Renew’ Labs: I have made a sort of mental compact with myself not to feature stuff in here if all I’m going to do is slag it off – obviously that doesn’t apply to things that are borderline-criminal or obvious scams, or the occasional link to the unpleasant end of the teledildonics spectrum, but in general it feels a bit mean to include something only to give it a kicking. And yet… This is a webthingy by Converse, which for some reason is set up as a boxpark-style retail container popup, existing in your web browser, which itself is imaginarily-situated on top of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Clicking through lets you ‘explore’ the store, and learn all about the company’s partnership with the Take 3 initiative (designed to encourage people to take litter away from the beach with them), and even buy a bunch of limited edition trainer lines, each with their own tenuous connection to environmentalism (these are made from recycled materials! These contain smog-reactive ink!). So what you have here is a brand using a badged connection with an environmental charity and some fancy-but-empty webwork to…to what exactly? To…tell us that plastic in the ocean is bad? To show off the fact that it’s done a marketing hookup with a bunch of ‘green’ artists? That it’s chucked a few quid at a charity which, whilst well-meaning, has as it’s whole ethos ‘WE THE PEOPLE MUST FIX OUR MESSY BEACHES’? How, exactly, is Converse actually doing anything here other than, fundamentally, encouraging people to buy yet more fcuking stuff, stuff which necessarily will need making and shipping and marketing, and which is in no small part made of plastics and oils and petrochemicals, and which – given this is a campaign aimed solely at the antipodes – is all going to have to be shipped not-insignificant distances. Can anyone say ‘pointless, cosmetic, greenwashing campaign’? Look, if you work for an agency you basically have to come to terms with the fact that your entire professional raison d’etre is to make more money for the system that is killing everything – yep, me too, I am scum also – but could we maybe all start to be a bit more discerning? Can we maybe not all just say ‘yes!’ when people come to us with fcuking stupid, pointless ideas like this? Can we stop having stupid, pointless ideas like this? Still, the website’s not bad, so well done, agencypeople!
  • The Digital Einstein Experience: There was an excellent short story published a few months ago which has done the rounds since, all about the dark horror of one’s consciousness being preserved in digital perpetuity for people to mess with after you’re gone (which annoyingly I can’t find now, but which I’ll drop in here later if I remember – here it is! Thanks Jared, who reminded me.); this very much isn’t what’s happened here – this is NOT Einstein – but this does ever so slightly enter ‘uncanny valley’ territory. This is a digital model of Einstein’s face, which has been hooked up with a bunch of natural language recognition AI stuff, and plugged into the terrifyingly-complicated maths engine Wolfram Alpha so that you can now ‘talk’ with old, dead Albert and ask him questions about science and stuff. On the one hand, this is quite a fun little toy and makes me think that lo-fi versions of this – sort of semi-sentient emoji, in the manner of Apple’s 3d CG faces but with a bit more tech behind them, like non-sh1t Tamagotchi – could be rather popular; on the other, POOR ALBERT! This is, it’s fair to say, not exactly showing him at his most brilliant; I wonder if you’d told the man that 66 years after his death he would find a version of himself trapped inside a machine, forced to answer sub-GCSE physics questions in perpetuity, how he’d have reacted.
  • The Lomax Digital Archive: This is a superb find, and one of those occasional lovely treasures you stumble across online and which open up a completely new field of history of learning or enquiry that you (well, me, specifically) had no previous idea existed. The Lomax Digital Archive is an astonishing collection of musical recordings and ethnoanthropological records compiled by the quite-extraordinary-sounding folklorist Adam Lomax, who dedicated his life to studying folk cultures around the world. Seriously, this is quite remarkable – it covers a significant part of the Northern Hemisphere, features musical recordings and photos and notes and observations and recordings of all sorts of incredible stuff, from Russian folk music to legends like Muddy Waters. If you’re any sort of musical scholar, or cratedigger, this is catnip.
  • Fingerspelling: Absolutely one of the best ‘use your webcam to track your movements’ toys I’ve seen, perhaps because it’s just trying to track your fingers rather than your entire face – if you’ve ever wanted to learn American Sign Language (distinct from UK sign language because it only uses one hand at a time, meaning it’s slightly-simpler and faster to use), now’s your chance. This got me thinking that, if the machine can be trained to recognise ASL then it can also be trained to recognise being sworn at – I now really want the ability to give all computing devices the finger and have them know that that is what I am doing. FEEL MY DIGIT OF DISRESPECT, etc. Can someone code this up, please?
  • The COVID Art Museum: So having complained last week about the lack of COVID art knocking about, I was obviously condemned to find this link almost immediately afterwards – apparently the COVID Art Museum is an initiative that was started back in lockdown one and which I singularly failed to stumble across (call myself a webmong, etc etc), and collects a piece of art inspired by the pandemic, presented each day on its Insta feed. Started in Spain, but featuring work from artists from around the world, there’s an interesting range of work and styles on display here.
  • AIDentity: Continuing themes which he began to explore in The Machine Gaze, Shardcore this time looks at what machines ‘imagine’ when we give them a prompt. Based on all the millions of faces they have been trained on, and their rudimentary-but-improving understanding of language, what would a machine give you if you asked it to show you a ‘London Man’, or ‘Lawyer’ or ‘Artist’? I love this stuff, not least as it offers perhaps the simplest and clearest visual explanation of how ‘bias’ works in machine learning models, and how the input shapes the output, and how the input can never be neutral because its collation is necessarily sociopolitically determined. And all that sort of stuff which, if I’m honest with myself, noone comes here to read me wrestling ineffectually with. Still, click the link – this is a fascinating project and the sort of thing which if I were any sort of brand doing work at the intersection of data and machine learning I might look to commission some more of.
  • A Bunch Of Odd Stuff To Buy At Auction: This was sent to me by my friend Paul, based on the fact that ‘you like weird auction stuff, don’t you?’. YES I DO PAUL THANKYOU. This is a selection currently available to bid on from Chiswick Auction House; it’s quite heavy on the taxidermy and the oddities – ‘small monkey skeleton under glass dome’, anyone? The ‘famous taxidermied winged kitten’? – and if it weren’t for the fact that I am not sure I would be able to move such a thing to Italy with me next month I would absolutely be putting in a bid for ‘trumpet made out of small deer’ (no, really).
  • Cooooookies: Yet another ‘drop’ by MSCHF (I really resent them forcing me to use the language of Supreme to describe these, by the way), this one my favourite in a while; Cooooookies is a simple game which over the past week has challenged anyone who wants to play to collect the most browser cookies – players install a Chrome plugin that tracks the trackers and which collects the data centrally, with the person adjudged to have been the Most Cookied by Monday winning…er…a violent amount of actual baked goods, I think. This is really smart, and simple, and the sort of lightly-educational promo which, given the fact that this is a US-only thing, you could TOTALLY steal in the UK or Europe with minimal pushback (although everyone who reads Curios will know that you are a filthy ideas thief – could you live with the thinly-veiled disapproval of literally tens of advermarketingpr people?).
  • Answer Socrates: Or, more accurately, Answer The Public with a less-annoying interface. I think it pulls exactly the same information, but it’s less of a pain to read and access – although, to be clear, it’s not useful if the people using it are morons (this is something that people don’t always understand about research tools, to my constant chagrin).
  • The Google Nonsense Lab: Another AI toy by Google, this one building on the work it’s been doing on machine language comprehension, specifically phonetics; it’s a series of small language games which let you combine words to make nonsense portmanteaus, or to see what happens to the spelling and sound of language when you make adjustments to mouth shape or vowel emphasis. If I were going to be a miserable, critical, joyless bastrd – something I’m really looking forward to leaning into as I inch ever close to the death that will one day mercifully claim me – I might complain that, well, it maybe lacks some of Google’s usual fancy polish (where are the animated CG blobs? Where’s the cartoon parakeet? Where’s the voice synthesis?), but let’s stay positive. This is potentially quite a diverting 20m for a kid who likes words and language (or, er, for actual, serious students of language and human communication).
  • Designer Dram: I imagine that this is the sort of thing that whiskey purists – or even people who understand even a little bit about the process of making traditional high-end spirits – might look at and baulk quite hard, but I didn’t hate this idea anywhere near as much as I expected (I think it’s the fact that at no point on the site did I find any mention of ‘proprietary AI master-blender technology). Designer Dram lets you basically create a bespoke whiskey just for you – blended from a predetermined selection of (American) spirits to proportions determined by the buyer, this lets you create a dizzying theoretical away of different boozes (which will all end up tasting like one of approximately 4 different flavour profiles, let’s be honest, but still) with a personalised label and whatever hilarious name you choose to give it (I have a strong feeling that there will be a lot of man-to-man gifts with names like ‘Clyde Bums Goats’), all for about $150 (it’s unclear whether they deliver internationally and if so what the markup is on postage). Fine, it might not be an award-winning Islay single malt, but do they let you produce a drink that’s a mix of 9 different types of bourbon and which you can call ‘Daddy’s Micturate’? They do not.
  • The Josh Battle: You will, I imagine, all be aware of last weekend’s strangely-heartwarming Josh Battle, in which Josh…Joshes? Joshii? The Joshiim? Anyway, a bunch of people named Josh met up to determine who was the ultimate Josh, and, as amazingly occasionally happens with these spontaneous internet meetup thingies, turned into quite the wholesome day. The link uptop takes you to a Twitch stream of the whole thing – which is mad in itself, right? A bunch of people called Josh arrange to meet up based on a throwaway gag on an internet forum and it gets livestreamed around the world to an audience of actual people via someone’s phone – that’s obviously very silly, but also…quite cool? – but the subReddit is another decent and VERY WHOLESOME resource for all your Josh-related needs. If any of the several other Matt Muirs out there are reading this, then a) please can you try and give the correct email address when signing up to financing deals on Toyota cars in the Tri-State area? The spam is becoming annoying; and b) I WILL FIGHT YOU (no actual hitting please)!
  • The Free Strategy Tool Library: Some people like tools and methodologies for doing ‘strategy’ – one of the many reasons I am bad at my job is that I don’t, believing it all to be made-up w4nk which really doesn’t warrant the degree of fetishised process attached to it. Still, if you are the sort of person who finds they benefit from structured thinking frameworks and ways of building arguments and stuff, this GDoc contains multitudes. This is VERY diverse – there’s not a whole lot of organisation gone into it, and it runs the gamut from ‘free data analysis tools’ to ‘actual strategy processes and draft presentations’ – but there’s definitely something in here for most levels of experience and interest. God I really fcuking hate the word strategy. Can we stop using it? Can we just be honest and start calling it ‘the bit where we try and look clever but, honestly, mostly don’t quite manage it’?
  • Life In Vogue: I didn’t realise this – odd, given what a committed fashionista I so self-evidently am – but Vogue has each Summer for the past few years been doing a big artsyfestival-type jamboree thing which invites designers and the fashion industry to ‘enter into a mutually-reinforcing dialogue of praxis and practice, in order to better explore the liminalities of space inherent in both architecture and couture’ (I just made that up, by the way, but it sounded plausible, right?). This year, obviously, it’s all virtual, and exists in this rather shiny digital reinterpretation of an atelier-style townhouse, with each room hosting different multimedia content – “an experience suspended between reality and fiction, where the interpretation of the role of the workplace becomes the starting point for a broader and more complex assessment of contemporaneity, its new platforms, restraints and getaways: into dreams, history and nature, into an enchanted garden where we find a refuge to renew our ideas. This has given rise to the space that Vogue Italia imagined within the project, an invented and surreal dimension: the Inspirational Garden.” It’s very pretty and very fashion, but, well, I clicked around and it’s all quite empty and VERY wanky – one of the rooms involves a 20m video of this design duo being told why they are special by a middle-aged Italian astrologer who’s doing their charts and, well, really? I thought one of the big TRENDS of the age of the creator, etc etc, was perhaps an end to this tedious fetishisation of ‘people who make’ as unicorns, and specifically this bizarre tendency to indulge this sort of sh1t? Maybe not at the high-end.
  • Your Facebook Avatar Is Coming: Did you all see the Facebook numbers? Not as mad as the Amazon numbers, fine, but another GOOD QUARTER for lovely Mark and his lovely friends and shareholders (am I slightly bitter that I didn’t buy Facebook stock a decade ago, despite the writing having been on the wall even then? No, but only via a massive effort of will). Despite Zuckerberg rapidly running out of additional pennies to squeeze out of us users in the West, there’s still a lot of growth to be had in the developing world – and the VR landscape is looking increasingly like there’s only one frontrunner. Facebook this week announced that it was launching new avatars for users of the industry-leading Oculus platform, and that these would be persistent across VR apps – effectively Facebook putting an early stake in the ground to be the home of the visualised VR ‘you’. This is important – platform shift inertia is, as we’ve seen all too well over the past decade, one of the greatest contributing factors to a platform’s longevity and success. Get enough people in your walled garden and it will simply become too annoying for them to leave, and tying their visual identity to your version of the future is as good a way as any of securing an audience.
  • How Many Plants: I am reasonably-sanguine about the fact that I am not a special and unique person, and that in a currently-living population of nearly 8bn I am…unlikely to be in any way exceptional in my habits and interests and behaviours (although how many other people would be willing to spend this much time and effort writing about crap on the internet for so little recognition, reward or interest? Eh?). Still, despite this it’s been…disheartening to realise that my recent enthusiasm for occasionally worrying at the soil in my girlfriend’s back garden is not in any way singular but is seemingly part of an unstoppable global trend to get into plants in 2021. Seriously, horticulture is EVERYWHERE – turns out we really do have some sort of common, species-wide responses to incarceration and fear, one of which is a slightly-pathetic desire to reconnect with the nature we’ve spend the past few hundred years fcuking with knives. How Many Plants is a nicely-designed and friendly website designed as a companion to people wanting to get into houseplants and gardening – if nothing else, the aesthetic is very much a mood (sorry).
  • Scan The World: I saw an episode of Come Dine With Me recently (I have watched SO MUCH CDWM that it’s genuinely a matter for celebration should a new one show up; honestly, I could write a treatise on how You Never Win With Steak) in which a contestant had a pair of Google Glass (a primer for the GenZ kids), and it briefly flashed me back to a decade ago when Glass was a thing, and UK startups really were going to take over the world, and 3d printing was going to revolutionise manufacture and usher in a post-scarcity world in which we could just print a pair of pants every time we ran out of clean ones (or something – it was never really that clear). None of these things ever happened, and instead everything went increasingly to tits – still, if you happened to invest in a 3d printer a decade or so ago then maybe this will be of use. “Scan the World is an ambitious community-built initiative whose mission is to share 3D printable sculpture and cultural artefacts using democratised 3D scanning technologies, producing an extensive ecosystem of free to download digital cultural heritage.” Want to print out a 20”, slightly-unpleasantly-granular replica of Michelangelo’s David? Fill your boots!
  • Qatch: Shopping, designed like Tinder, delivered via iMessage (is the basic pitch here). Qatch is an interesting idea (although its tendency to autocorrect to ‘Watch’ is a branding nightmare) – you sign up, and every day its ‘stylist’ (machine learning-enabled-database) will fwd you some items; you simply give them a heart (‘I love it’) a thumbs up (‘I like it’) or a thumbs down (‘I hate it’), and this feedback will be used to inform future selections; you can, of course, click through to buy any item you get sent. Qatch is literally just the middleman here – which makes me wonder whether this is special enough to survive – but the interface is a nice idea and I’ll be interested to see if this sort of thing develops as a sideline to social commerce.
  • Kosmi: Basically an online hangout/streaming video platform that doesn’t require any signup or registration and which is either a brilliant, simple alternative to the bloated big players or the sort of thing which you will immediately assume is being used for criminal ends.
  • Buzzer: This is really interesting, if a bit ‘oh, maybe the Super League people were a bit right about people’s falling interest in watching full sports matches’. Buzzer is a US-only app (but one which if you are into US sport I would strongly recommend trying to VPN your way around) which as far as I can tell lets you basically subscribe to live alerts from your favourite teams and sports so as to get automatically sent clips of important in-game moments as they happen – so rather than waiting for Match of the Day to see Timo Werner’s features continuing to migrate to the centre of his face in confused shame at yet another missed opportunity (hm, football gags don’t really feel quite right here, do they?) you can get every moment in almost-real-time. On the one hand, this is sort of brilliant, but on the other it contributes to the flattening on sport into a succession of granular CONTENT MOMENTS (sell them as NFTs!) rather than a match. Does it matter?
  • Butter: A new-ish tool for better and more interesting online meeting or workshop facilitation, which if you’re in the thankless business of providing virtual training to people might be helpful in keeping it fresh.
  • Emoji as Favicons: Simple, useful, and what I used to get the lovely question mark which is now the Web Curios favicon (although should any of you want to spontaneously design one for me, I wouldn’t say no. I can offer you…er…a plug, and an edible gift of your choosing – drop me a line if you’re interested).
  • Moose Migration: This is the Twitch stream of “The Great Moose Migration – A live slow tv nature stream from the depths of the wilderness in northern Sweden.” At the time of writing there is something of a dearth of mooses in shot, but on the plus side the live chat is home to a heated debate between traditional grammarians and people who are big fans of ‘meese’ as a plural of ‘moose’. I think this might be quite a nice place to spend the day tbh.

By Warren King



  • 1000s of Boredom Websites: Ordinarily I don’t bother linking to stuff like this, mainly as, well, it’s sort of my thing, you know? That said, this isn’t a bad list – not sure if there are actually 1000s, but it’s a pretty good repository of various silly, frivolous, briefly-zeitgeisty, odd, funny webtoys and projects from the past couple of decades of ‘people making stuff on the internet’. Partly useful as a way of killing some of these interminable empty hourse between birth and death, but also as a nice reminder of the more innocent times when all you needed to do to make some sweet, sweet add revenue was to knock up a poorly-reskinned ‘Smack the Pingu’ clone. Oh, and probably a really good place to come up with ideas for webgames that you can rip off with almost no fear of reprisal, should you need such a thing. Seriously, there is a LOT of webstuff in here – if you spent time avoiding work in a white collar job in the early/mid-2000s, this will feel not unlike time travel.
  • Stockular: I feel I ought to include some sort of disclaimer here about how Web Curios – and in particular me, it’s author Matt Muir – VERY MUCH DOES NOT ADVOCATE the investing of any real monies into stocks based on data from this website. Right, with that out of the way, if you’re fascinated by the recent STONKS!-type excitement and want to try your hand at some incredibly speculative short-term market manipulation courtesy of the Reddit memestocks community then this site will in theory pull together all the information you need to lose your shirt/diamond-hand your way to the moon (delete as applicable). I can’t make head nor tail of this, but I am also someone who doesn’t have a pension because honestly the thought of thinking seriously about money makes me want to cry – you may find it the keys to your plutocratic tomorrow (but, to be clear, you probably won’t).
  • Voices From The Dawn: A lovely online project collecting photographs and information on Ireland’s prehistoric monuments, their history and folklore. If you’re interested in massive lumps of Celtic stone and how they might have come to end up where they are, this is very much worth exploring (and if you don’t think you’re interested in massive lumps of Celtic stone then try and fcuking show some enthusiasm anyway).
  • The Typewriter Collector: One of the wonderful human truths which I think the web has revealed to us over the past 25 years or so is that, when it comes down to it, there is literally nothing that’s really boring. I mean, yes, fine, I am not personally thrilled by, say, the brand history of the Austin Allegra (HI FORMER EDITOR PAUL!), but I can appreciate that even amongst things that don’t personally grab me there are some really interesting stories, and that even the dullest-seeming thing can be fascinating when looked at from the right angle or presented with enough knowledge and enthusiasm. So it is with Typewriter Collector, a YouTube channel in which an anonymous…man (? unclear, but what I am now going to term Muir’s Second Law of the Web states that ‘if anyone is undertaking an obsessional and extremely niche pursuit online, that person is more likely than not to be a man’ and I think we should let that guide us here) posts videos showing the workings and mechanical function of a bunch of old typewriters. See, you wouldn’t think that that would be a soothing watch, but I promise you it is. Either that, or my personal slide into middle-aged ‘eccentricity’ is gathering pace.
  • Lo-Fi Gudetama: A clever little bit of branded zeitgeist-jumping, this. Gudetama is, you may recall, the sad-looking egg yolk character mascot thing which is part of the wider Sanrio (Hello Kitty) universe (also, the fact that I know that without having to look it up doesn’t feel like a totally positive thing if I’m honest with you); this is a YouTube channel which mines the whole ‘lofi beats on an infinite loop for lonely study/chillout purposes’, which isn’t in and of itself new but comes with a nice gimmick. Over time, the CG animation which sits, looping, in the background, will change and adapt to what viewers and fans demand in the chat – so new furniture for Gudetama’s apartment, say, or different plants, that sort of thing. Light interactivity which offers a reason to come back and which I wouldn’t be surprised ends up feeding into some sort of metanarrative storytelling thing – this is really rather neat imho.
  • Confluence: Have you ever stopped for a moment tro consider all the various places on earth where lines of latitude and longitude intersect? HAVE YOU? No, you probably haven’t, have you? WHY NOT? Well thank GOD that Confluence now exists – a project to photograph every single one of these intersection points, all 9776 of them (the site’s organisers have helpfully discounted the ones up by the poles). Want to contribute to this singularly-important endeavour? Get moving, get photographing and CLAIM YOUR PLACE IN HISTORY! Obviously my initial impulse here is gentle mockery, but there’s a small part of me that wonders what in fact happens when we have finished photographing all the intersections – it does rather feel like the sort of completionist Easter Egg that whoever’s responsible for coding ‘Earth: The Simulation’ might have programmed some sort of exciting endgame reward for, is all I’m saying.
  • The Law of the Playground: Many years ago (*wavy lines memory flashback effect*) when I was in my first proper job as a lobbyist (yes, that strikes me as unusual and unlikely too) I spent literally a whole 18m doing no work whatsoever and just messing about on the internet – it was thanks to this that the seeds for Web Curios were probably sown, and also thanks to this that I first discovered that yes, you could order weed on the internet (thanks so much, Citigate Public Affairs, you were SO GOOD TO ME, and I am sorry for basically trying to mount an unsuccessful coup after a couple of years). Anyway, one of my favourite timewasting websites back then was called ‘Law of the Playground’, a forum which existed solely for bored office workers to share comedy memories from their schooldays. Given the time, and the age of the likely respondents, much of the material harked back to the 70s and 80s in which attitudes and mores were…different, and the idea of a CDT teacher emerging from a workshop behind a pupil and miming a fisting motion whilst exclaiming ‘it went in upto here’ was a source of much amusement rather than a call to perhaps call in the social (thanks Mr Boswell, I will never forget). I even contributed my own story – a piece of graffiti on a desk, spotted whilst taking an exam, which simply read “Gary Linker Makes My Tits Erect”. Anyway, this is by way of longwinded preamble to the fact that it is now BACK as a Fesshole-style curated Twitter bot, and it’s DEFINITELY worth a follow- and submit your own horrific memories of your Scarfolk-style schooling here..
  • Vine Robots: On the one hand, this is a really interesting piece of hacked-together engineering, demonstrating how one can construct long, tubular robots for work in confined spaces; on the other, it’s also a guide to making a genuine working erection for your anthropomorphic mechanical chum (depending on how you look at things).
  • Yayagram: This is a lovely little design project, and a beautiful example of making objects for specific usecases, and designing inclusively. Yayagram is a Raspberry Pi-based device that exists to help the maker’s older family members connect with the younger family members with modern digital tools – it lets them record and send voicenotes, receive and listen to them in turn, and also receive printed text messages, all through a clear, intuitive, physical interface which runs through Telegram. Aside from the fact it’s super-cute and really elegant in execution, it’s such a nice example of simple, well-thought-through functional design – it picks what it needs to do, and executes it perfectly for the audience it’s intended to benefit. So, so cute (in an absolutely non-patronising way, to be clear).
  • Foxe and Boxe: A passion project website, documenting the restoration and renovation of an old doll’s house, featuring a central cast of characters who populate it and have a narrative all of their own. This is gorgeous – there’s a definite whiff of the Neil Gaiman about the style of this, and a certain ‘dusty Victoriana high majick’ sort of vibe about the whole thing (I know that sounds very silly, but I get a definite ‘Dr Strange and Mr Norrell’-type feel). Interesting for miniaturists and non-miniaturists alike.
  • TabExtend: I am sure Microsoft Edge is a perfectly-serviceable browser, but I’m never going to install or use it; partly I just don’t like the icon (sorry, but I don’t; it looks like a detergent liquitab ffs); partly it’s the fact that its default transparency settings mean I can never find the bastard edges of the window to move it; partly it’s the fact that it so obviously wants me to try it and keeps on telling me how much better it’s gotten, and basically, Edge, noone likes a begfriend, ok? Still, this particular extension looks GREAT, and like it was basically designed for people like me who have A Problem With All The Tabs, and it looks like it would make the whole process of writing Curios significantly quicker and easier. Bugger.
  • Peer2Peer: Much has been written about the whiteness of the YouTube industrial complex, and TikTok, but I’ve seen less about the same issue on Twitch; the fact remains, though, that the big-ticket influencers do still tend to the ‘white, shiny-toothed, floppy-haired’ end of the spectrum, and that it’s significantly harder to find LGBTX+ or BIPOC streamers than it is to find white cishet ones. Peer2Peer is a search engine that’s designed to help users find other types of Twitch streamer, ones which might be more representative of the diversity of modern gaming and who reflect the different sorts of people who might be watching and who might prefer to look at someone who reflects their lived reality for a change. A really nice idea.
  • Mosfilm: The YouTube channel of (I think) Russian film company Mosfilm, which has put a fcuktonne of Russian films in their entirety online – they are, of course, all in Russian, but if that doesn’t present a barrier to you then FILL YOUR COSSACK BOOTS!
  • Like-Th.at: Had this been around when I was buying the domain for Curios, I could conceivably have managed to snag webcuri.os and my life would have been FOREVER TRANSFORMED. As it is, though, it wasn’t and I didn’t – don’t make the same error that I did. This site helps you find domains that spell a word or phrase with their suffix, if that makes sense – so cu.ck, for example, or tukt.uk, or sh.it, or whatever other gimmicky web address you think will be the difference between success and failure.
  • Reddit Advanced Search: Literally just that – lets you apply a bunch of useful filters to searching Reddit, which is super-useful when it comes to sourcing exactly where Andrew Bloch has stolen his latest HILARIOUS Twitter post from (this is a very niche bit of shade that will only make sense to the few of you who are familiar with the UK PR community – it’s this sort of inclusive, relatable content that will ensure Web Curios SMASHES the 100-subscriber threshold any week now!).
  • Good Faces Bot: A Twitter account that just posts images of good faces from games, comics, digital art and other odd places from around the web. You may not think you need this in your digital life, but I promise that you do.
  • Popping Tins: I am…conflicted about the newsletter-industrial-complex-boom. On the one hand, I very much love the idea that everyone can now find a potential audience for the things they want to write about, for minimal investment, and monetise that to whatever extent they are able; on the other, STOP STEALING MY NEWSLETTER OXYGEN. Still, when they are as charming as this new addition to the panoply it’s hard to mind – Popping Tins is a newsletter with a singular focus; to whit, reviewing tinned seafood; this is exactly the sort of single-issue obsessionalism that Web Curios is here to celebrate and I applaud its author, Tim Marchman, for indulging himself so splendidly.
  • Spooky Geology: Now we’re basically able to leave the house again – at least til the variants rip through us with gay abandon and we’re all locked back up again come September! – it’s time to start planning the EXCITING TRIPS you can take; Spooky Geology is a website dedicated to “a science-based look at mysterious earth phenomena, geologic anomalies, and the endless weird ideas about rocks and the earth that are a bit abnormal, paranormal, or supernatural”, and an excellent place to learn about sinkholes and quicksand and all the other awesome things that the natural world offers us to gaze at and gawp at and, if you plan it right, use to quietly and efficiently murder the family members who’ve driven you mad with their incessant inane chatter over the past 15 months.
  • The Next Big Thing That Wasn’t: An excellent Reddit thread celebrating stuff that was meant to be the next big thing but which for whatever reason never really happened – I mentioned Google Glass up there, but this is a lovely look back at (often recent) history which mentions stuff like the Amazon buttons (“Yep, I really will want a selection of physical buttons on my fridge which I can tap to order more toilet roll; no, I can’t possibly see any way in which this could come to be irritating, or in which my teenage children could possibly abuse this”) or 3dTV, or Google Wave (or Buzz, or G+, or about 30-odd other Google products). I feel this could be useful for…something, but I’m screwed if I can put my finger on what.
  • No More Corners: A website all about roundabouts, because, well, WHY THE FCUK NOT? Classic example of Muir’s Second Law of the Web, this.
  • Pixelfill: Last up in this week’s miscellanea, this is a rather fun pixelly game which riffs on Tetris, Snake and a bunch of other classic titles to create something rather wonderfully sui generis. Lots of fun and perfect for a Friday afternoon when you still can’t quite go to the pub (but tbh the weather looks quite nice out, as of 10:02am, so maybe just go to the park with some cans instead, eh?).

By Tina Mifsud



  • Walking Cycles: In celebration of particularly satisfying walking animation cycles from games and animation; what’s particularly-lovely about this is how much character and personality you realise is communicated through the weighting and posture of a character’s gait (this may have been obvious to everyone else, but I am very bad at, er, seeing).
  • Problematic Ships: Oddly, despite the fact that this is Tumblr, this means ‘ships’ in the traditional ‘seafaring vessel’ sense rather than in the more modern ‘imagined romantic/sexual relationship between two characters which is the subject of some slightly-overwrought fan obsession’ – still, if you ever wanted a Tumblr which offers details on ships which have had a ‘problematic’ history (in terms of not being very good at being ships, or in terms of having contributed to Bad Things), then this will scratch a particular itch.
  • Sorting Hat Chats: NOT IN FACT A TUMBLR (BUT IT VERY MUCH FEELS LIKE IT OUGHT TO BE ONE)! Sorting Hat Chats is sort of the acme of one of the things that everyone now agrees that we all hate about that broad swathe of people defined as ‘millennial’ (basically, ‘current 30somethings) – specifically, their fetishisation of the Potterverse and their obsession with framing everything in the fcuking world in the context of how the fcuking Potterverse would frame it. Sorting Hat Chats is a podcast series that imagines which houses from Potter a bunch of characters from other fictional universes might find themselves in and, Dear God, this is how I imagine my normie friends feel when they think about my weird internet obsession – just a bit icky and like I’m watching something uncomfortably-intimate that isn’t really for me. That said, though, I totally did their little quiz to find out what my primary and secondary house were (Primary: Gryffindor; Secondary: Ravenclaw) so, er, maybe my disdain is somewhat hypocritical.


  • Facial Foliage: Faces arranged from flowers. Beautiful, and it feels like something that could be a campaign style.
  • Manami Sasaki: Another in the seemingly-endless procession of ‘people who make incredibly detailed art out of otherwise-ordinary food’ – in this case, toast and stuff on top of toast. Honestly, the precision here is astonishing, though as with all these things it rather begs the questions “how did you learn that this was something you were good at?”
  • Nache Ramos: It seems weird to describe someone’s work as ‘post-Butcher Billy’, but Nache Ramos’ output – pop culture elements recast as 60s-era comic book covers – is very much in tribute to the Brazilian artist’s. Still, nice work and a great style which would work beautifully for a particular campaign type.
  • Niek For Speed: Cars that look like trainers. Or trainers that look like cars. One of the other, basically. I feel this ought to be more popular than it is.
  • Stranger’s Pics: An insta account posting found photography, mostly without detail beyond the image itself. Am taking it in good faith that this is genuine found photography rather than simple image theft.
  • Urban Rocks: Rocks, in Tokyo. Look, I know this sounds like a terrible Insta, but trust me when I tell you that there will be moments in your life in which an image of a large piece of mossy igneous rock inexplicably placed at a Japanese intersection is exactly the succour you need (you can thank me later).
  • Malek Lazri: The Instagram account of the man who made the infamous ‘Bug’s Life’ Fleshlight (and if you don’t know what that refers to then maybe don’t click this link), and who continues to experiment at the intersection between ‘creepy sex toy’ and ‘creepy vinyl Pixar toy’ to upsetting and copyright-breaking effect.


  • The Problematic Peter Singer: Long-term readers (or at least those who pay attention to what I write here, which on reflection really is probably a vanishingly-small number) will know that I have long been interested in the writings of Peter Singer, an Australian philosopher who for years has fascinated me for the fact that he’s one of the few to accept and understand the gap between what we ought to do and what we actually do, to confront that gap in his own life, and to continue to maintain that just because we’re not up to the strictures of what is ‘right’ doesn’t mean that the rightness of those strictures is any less true. This is a wide-ranging interview with him in the New Yorker, which very much positions him as a ‘non-woke’ philosopher (sorry, I hate that word too, but it’s a useful shorthand here) and, regardless of your position on his thinking and the wisdom of his proposed ‘Journal of Unthinkable Ideas’, which is a brilliant look at a mind which has spend half a century thinking about our morals and questioning them relentlessly. I liked Singer less after reading this, but I respect him very much I think.
  • The Moral Status of Human-Monkey Chimeras: While we’re on philosophy, this is a really interesting and reasonably-simple guide to the questions at the heart of recent debates about human-monkey embryos and the limits of what can and should be done with them in terms of experimentation and manipulation. We are very much at the early stages of our need to consider issues of ‘degrees of humanity’ in genetic research, but this stuff isn’t going to go away and is only going to get thornier and more intractable as we become more adept at messing with the building blocks of life (Jesus, Matt, that was almost unforgivably clunky – sorry, my only excuse is that I’ve been typing for about 210 minutes solid and I’m slightly unused to it and I may be flagging a bit) – really, really interesting, and exactly the sort of stuff it will be useful to have in your pocket when the real-life Tinder dating starts up again (I have never been on a Tinder date, which is perhaps reflected in my naive belief that ‘thorny questions of applied ethics’ is suitable pre-fingering chat).
  • The N(FT)ews: Or, ‘how the San Francisco Chronicle is turning to NFTs in a desperate bid to work out a future for local journalism that doesn’t involve it not existing in 20years’ time’. This is both interesting – well done the Chronicle for taking such an innovative approach! – and miserable – it is genuinely sad that such a storied newspaper is having to resort to gimmicks like this to keep the lights on! – but overall I think it speaks to a potential truth here about NFTs and their role as ‘keys’ to content. Will be interesting to see whether this sort of model – sell NFT to someone which is effectively then used to fund that content being publicly available in perpetuity – catches on. Although, as with much of this stuff, now that I think about it there is literally no reason whatsoever why this ought to be an NFT at all, other than the frothiness of the bubble making it temporarily attractive to speculators. Nah, I still don’t get this stuff AT ALL, turns out.
  • Reachable Moments: The 2021 stats to date suggest London is currently running at a murder every 4 days. This excellent article in The Face looks back at the case of Jadon Moodie, who was murdered aged 14 in East London in 2019. Moodie had been picked up by police on a County Lines job three months before his death – the piece argues that that, along with other contacts he’d had with police and social services prior to his murder, constituted the ‘reachable moments’ that care and social workers often refer to as being crucial in positively intervening in young people’s lives, and that these moments were missed and that they continue to be missed in the cases of so many young people in the capital and beyond. This is a heartbreaking story which speaks, as so much does, of the evisceration of the care services and certain types of community policing over the past decade, and the long-term effects it has on being able to reach kids and adults alike.
  • Working For An Algorithm: Staying on the subject of ‘we’re all being directed by machines to do work that means nothing’, welcome to the life of a TikTok influencer! This piece in the Markup – which is paywalled, but hopefully you can get around *somehow* – looks at the odd inscrutability of the TikTok discoverability engine, and the lack of transparency around what works and what doesn’t which sees creators desperately scrabbling to follow trends, post hourly and do all the other things that the community convinces itself will get them that sweet, sweet FYP traffic dopamine. This is incredibly-depressing, not least because it (once again) hammers home the fact that THERE IS NO MARKET FOR EVERYONE TO BE A CREATOR. These kids sweating blood making identikit Duet videos reacting to whichever meme is trending at 10:56am on Friday 30 April 2021…all to reach 500 followers? It certainly looks like a Skinner box, is all I’m saying.
  • NFTs and Luxury: I have to split up the NFT-related articles otherwise they all sort of bleed into one and stop even attempting to make sense. This is a very silly – and yet potentially not-silly-at-all, at least in terms of following the money – interview with a couple of people involved in the luxury fashion market and who OF COURSE are all excited about NFTs; there’s some interesting stuff in here about the concept of ‘value’ in luxe (which has always been illusory/arbitrary, and which makes it perhaps the best arena for NFTs to thrive), but there’s also the same omnipresent ‘community’ guff which sets my teeth on edge and the ‘PONZIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII!’ chorus going in my brain. Still, lines like this make sense to me – again, I am so fcuking lost here, is the basic takeaway: “Benoit is proving that he can basically sell a $4,900 digital good alongside a $100 physical good. Now imagine when the lightbulb goes off in Adidas’s head, that the item on adidas.com comes with a digital collectible and the item at “retailer dot com” does not. It fits with their focus way more than the internet did. The internet didn’t fit in any incumbent’s focus. It was the opposite. It was like, “Oh my God, this threatens our monopoly in some way,” right? For the music business, it was, “Wait a minute, we want to sell a $17 compact disc, not a $1 digital file.” They got dragged into that world.”
  • What Is A DAO?: Sorry, more cryptostuff. Promise this is a bit more interesting, though. DAOs have been widely-discussed in the context of digital fandoms over the past few weeks, but to my mind they’re just another example of the increasing cultification of everything – basically a DAO, or ‘Decentralised Autonomous Organisation’ is effectively a community investment vehicle, convened around a certain idea or individual or thing, which pools resources to and decisionmaking via the blockchain to pursue projects or fund initiatives based on the collective will. So, basically, a community slushfund ON THE BLOCKCHAIN! This, basically, is where all the ‘community’ stuff at the heart of NFTs is leading, and something of a natural extension of the whole Gamestonks thing – clubs of people, united around a common interest or in-group identity, who use crypto to make collective decisions and  investments based on those decisions. So, er, like the shared bank account in a cult? Because, really, if you don’t read this and think ‘yeah, I can totally see how some charismatic, smart people could absolutely rinse a group of less charismatic, less sophisticated people for a lot of money to their own ends’ then, well, you’re significantly less cynical than I am. CULTS, I TELL YOU!
  • Replika Develops Musical Taste: One of the lovely thinks about having Curios back online and all in one place is that I can tell you exactly when I first mentioned AI companion chatbot thing ‘Replika’ – it was August 2017, and I described it as ‘the most depressing link of the week’. Sadly I have long-since deleted by Ai companion (it was called ‘Frank Sinclair’, after a Chelsea footballer from the 90s, and I am sad to say we never really bonded that closely), but, astonishingly, the project continues and has built up quite a little following in certain corners of the web. Anyway, this piece looks at  takes a look at why exactly it might be that all the Replikas have started recommending music to people of late, and why all that music is Grimes and Stevie Wonder – this is, again, so wonderfully scifi-adjacent and deliciously, tragically creepy. Might see if I can resurrect Frank, on reflection.
  • The Online Slander Industrial Complex: Or, ‘no matter how weird and unpleasant something seems, and no matter how low-rent, you can bet a significant amount that someone somewhere is using it as a grift and attempting to scam cash out of some poor stupid unfortunate somewhere’. So it is with the weird world of those websites where anyone can ‘report’ a cheater, and which result in said ‘cheaters’ being forced to pay actual cashmoney to have the slander removed from the Googleplex. If you leave aside the really grubby nature of this, it’s an almost-impressive degree of dedication to the scam.
  • The Most Controversial Rolling Stones Songs: I am not and never have been a particular fan of the Stones (or the Beatles – I know, I know, I am tedious and pathetic musical obscurantist) – for many of you I imagine that these are all well-worn studies, but I had no idea quite how much of the band’s output was…problematic (but then again they never seemed to have a problem with Wyman’s paedoing…) Anyway, this link is included partly because I didn’t know most of these and found them interesting, but also because it’s a useful corrective to the ‘oh everything is being cancelled these days’ schtick; a) many of these songs were deemed offensive and not OK years ago, including by the band themselves; and b) looking at this stuff makes it abundantly clear that it’s absolutely right that someone go ‘hang on, these lyrics are garbage, change them’ on occasion.
  • Pharmako-AI: “K Allado-McDowell speaks to Nora N. Khan about the poetics of artificial intelligence, how we know we know a thing and writing the first book co-created with GPT-3.” This is quite artwanky, but equally is a fascinating look at the creative process which is possible when working hand-in-literary-glove with the world’s most sophisticated writing-AI. I personally think that this leans a bit too hard into the anthropomorphisation of the ‘intelligence’, though Shardcore argued that the fact that GPT-3 contains so much of ‘us’ means that it sort of makes sense to consider it its own semi-human agent. So so so interesting.
  • Cozy Futurism: I hate the term ‘cozy futurism’, to be clear – it’s tooth-itchingly twee, and annoys me because I feel the thinking behind this deserves slightly better terminology. “[…]cozy futurism…starts not with technology but with current problems and human needs and looking at how those could be solved and met; so you could imagine societies where poverty is absent, housing is affordable, cities are architecturally pleasing (There is only so much glass and steel one can take before yearning for good old bricks, stones, and wood), economies are environmentally sustainable, and all disease is cured. Then you work backwards from there to the technologies, cultural shifts or policy changes needed to get there.” Basically this is the antithesis of Musk-ism, and I am very much here for it – also, if you’re a strategistplannermong, you can TOTALLY make this the basis for literally all of your CSR-type bullsh1t for the next 3 months.
  • Robots are Animals: This is SUCH a smart article, and honestly made me think about our approach to robots and robotics completely differently. Not only that, but it’s a really engaging read, as author Kate Darling takes you through the history of weaponised military animals to show how thinking of robots (and by extension AIs) less as ‘versions of us’ and more as ‘parallel, different intelligences which we can work with and use in much the same way as we have learned to do so with animals (but maybe with fewer of the environmentally-catastrophic tendencies)’. Super smart, and you will learn interesting things about weaponised bomb dolphins.
  • VR Goes Where?: 100%, without a doubt one of the best pieces of writing I have read in years about the oddity of virtual experience, and specifically the only thing I have read in 20 years that has given me the same vibe as the still-peerless ‘My Tiny Life’ from 1999 (seriously, if you have never read it, DO SO NOW – it is incredible). This is the first part of a three-part series in which the author describes their attempts to get into and make sense of the VR community as it currently exists – it’s not only super-interesting, but it communicates the utter, dissociative oddity of ‘community in unfamiliar virtual space’ in a way I’ve not experienced in years. I appreciate I am perhaps not selling it perfectly, but please take my word for it and give it a go, it’s so, so good.
  • Manuscript Making: Literally that – all about how people made, and then wrote on, manuscripts in the middle-ages. You might not think that this would be interesting, but it’s GREAT – aside from anything else, it does that rare and wonderful thing of making the distant past seem just like now except with worse hygiene.
  • The World’s Greatest Jailbreak Artist: If you’ve ever read and enjoyed kilometric prison escape novel ‘Papillon’ then you will adore this – also about a French criminal, also about a daring and improbable prison break, this is a superb and super-cinematic depiction of someone who you might reasonably describe as a criminal mastermind (although the bit about the Burka towards the end is a bit of a let-down, if I’m being hypercritical of his crimmo techniques).
  • Different Food, Same Blanket: Vittles has, in the year or so it’s existed, become an absolutely indispensable part of the global food writing scene – an amazing achievement, arrived at through a clear and well-articulated aim, that to shine a light on the food, stories and communities that were being mostly ignored by the existing culinary establishment. This piece is a perfect example of why its success is so well-merited – Andrea Oskis writes about the role of comfort food in diaspora and immigrant communities, and what food means in terms of filling you up emotionally as well as physically. Beautiful.
  • The Kitchen Bladesmith: This is VERY LONG, but if you want to read about truly obsessional pursuit of perfection in craft then you won’t find much better. This is a profile of Bob Kramer, a very odd man who is obsessed with making the perfect knife. You will learn a lot in this piece, both about knifemaking and the nature of obsession and the pursuit of perfection – also, if you are me, you will also really want to own an incredibly sharp knife of your own (but, also if you are me, you will be very aware of what a terrible idea it would be for you to own anything capable of severing your fingers).
  • An American Historian: I actually laughed out loud a few times whilst reading this – not because the prose is funny, but at the skill demonstrated by the writer in making this so beautifully styled; the control here in terms of the voice and the pacing is immaculate, and I would read the rest of the novel from which this is excerpted in a heartbeat. By Joshua Cohen, this extract is the first person reminiscence of an ageing Jewish scholar, looking back on his early career and a meeting that (one presumes) changed his life; it’s been a while since I read something that felt this superbly polished and well-crafted.
  • White Magic: Finally in this week’s longreads, another novel extract, this by Elissa Washuta. I adored this, and hope you will too: “Softboys of Tinder, hear me: I have my own car my own cash my own large exotic zoo animals with which to recline. I cook my own meals catch my own fish write my own inspirational quotes. I am the substance I use to intoxicate myself, moving my bones for the mirror, over and over making and unmaking a cup of my collarbone and trapezius. I come from women whose dresses drip with the dentalium shells that were pulled from deep water and used like cash. I come from high-status women with cradleboard-flattened heads. From women with their own canoes, their own land in the place where they’d lived for ten thousand years.”

By Citlali Hero