Webcurios 31/05/24

Reading Time: 34 minutes

When I was 20, in the Summer of 2001, I spent an afternoon at my friend Paul’s house in Swindon along with my other friend Jim. As we got gently drunk in the sunshine, we found ourselves lamenting the fact that ‘there isn’t any big news happening at the moment’ (yes, I know, but in our defence we were young and this was a pre-rolling-news / pre-web-everywhere era).

And so, the monkey’s paw curled.

Since then it’s fair to say that everything appears to be happening simultaneously, all the time, but even by the standards of modernity this week has been QUITE FULL, what with the various election madnesses in the UK, and Ukraine, and Gaza (honestly, Israel’s commitment to finding new and creative definitions for the word ‘precision’ is quite remarkable), and the Pope and, oh yes, That Fcuking Man (lol, though), not to mention all the other stuff which I simply haven’t had time to learn about.

So what I’m saying is that you probably feel like you need a break, like you need to kick back, to relax, to maybe just live in the moment, to BREATHE. Well, sorry, but I can’t help with that – all I have are a fcuktonne of links, as ever, so make the best of it and stop whining.

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and you might want to consider visiting a heat pump this weekend (it will make sense if you read on, promise).

By Sonmina



  • Showrunner: I’ve repeatedly said in here that I am pretty bearish about AI-generated video – it’s not very good now, and I don’t think, based on what I understand about How Generating It Works, that it is going to get meaningfully better very fast – and the less said about ‘AI video based on AI-generated scripts’ the better. So that’s to preface this link with a general hand-wavey ‘hey, anyone who works in TV/film, I don’t think the machine is coming to take your job just yet! No, it’s the terrible mismanagement of your industry, rapacious greed of the people at the top and the insane competition for attention you’re up against that’s going to fcuk you instead!’ sort of vibe – that good? You feel reassured? GREAT! Showrunner (back to the link) is a prototypical (very prototypical – it’s only in Alpha, and there’s apparently a 50,000 strong waitlist to get into even that) platform designed to let people make entire TV shows using AI. Do you remember a year or so ago I linked to an entirely AI-generated episode of South Park? No, of course you don’t, but I DO. That was built on something calling itself ‘Fable Technologies’ – which has since spun up this platform. The details are VERY FUZZY, but from what I can recall there’s a sort of ‘create the characters, give them personalities, and emergent drama happens within the sandbox, which you can direct and edit and (possibly, I’m reaching a bit here) script if you want…anyway, Showrunner currently has a selection of trailers and the occasional 5-minute FULL EPISODE of AI shows for you to check out, and I encourage you to take a few minutes to click into some of them and take a look. There’s the inevitable ‘South Park-style satirical riff on Silicon Valley; (OF COURSE), which has a 5-minute episode and which was probably the least-bad of the things I looked at (the bar, to be clear, is snake-belly low); there’s an Akira ripoff anime, there’s a Cars ripoff…honestly, based on the quality of the output here it’s hard to imagine anyone with an IQ in treble figures being entertained by any of this stuff, particularly when you consider that the bits they’ll have put on the website will be THE VERY BEST they could create, but I am fascinated to see whether there does end up being a market for dreck of this ilk – because, to be clear, if there *is* a market for it, that is slightly chilling.
  • The Big Spreadsheet of Politicians Doing Video: So, have you enjoyed THE FIRST WEEK OF ELECTION FUN? I’ve had to pay significantly more attention to the practical minutiae than I would ideally have liked, and, honestly, it is incredibly dispiriting – I think perhaps my most ‘we are not a serious country’ moment (and there have been many) was the realisation that it’s entirely plausible that the party whose entire electoral comms strategy to date has been ‘wacky, self-aware photo opportunities’ will in fact be the official party of opposition in five weeks’ time (I mean, unlikely but NOT IMPOSSIBLE) and that their response to this potential responsibility is to pretend to fall off a paddleboard in ‘comedy’ style. My second least-favourite thing has been the branding of the whole thing as ‘THE FIRST TIKTOK ELECTION’ (I know, the media needs a THING to latch onto, but really?) and the breathless attempts to analyse the competing communication styles of the two main parties on the platform without any parallel explanation of How The Platform Works, or seeming understanding that ‘doing TikTok’ is literally just ‘throwing sh1t at the wall and seeing what sticks’. Anyway, if you are curious to see how various politicians in the UK are communicating with video, the BBC’s Marianna Spring has compiled this amazing spreadsheet of all the UK and US politicians, with links to their Insta and TikTok profils (where they have them), so you can get a feel for how they’re using it. If you’re a bit of a politics weirdo (like, er, me, to a certain extent) there’s a degree of joy to be gleaned from the sheer wooden ineptitude of so much of the output here – I’ve worked in politics and adjacent to it, and I have to acknowledge that almost every single MP I have ever met is in their own way incredibly charismatic in person, strange as that might be to say (weird, yes, invariably incredibly strange and often broken, but charismatic nonetheless), and yet that charisma does not, in the main, translate to the small screen AT ALL. Almost every single one of these accounts has what I believe people refer to as ‘incredibly cursed energy’.
  • In Rhythm With Nature: If all the politics this week has left you feeling somewhat enervated and wrung-out, then a) pull yourself together ffs, there’s LOTS left; and b) you might appreciate this small Google Arts & Culture Experiment which effectively offers a selection of small meditative moments, a ‘virtual multisensory experience’ which in itself is an interpretation of Carl Linnaeus’ Flower Clock. Depending on what time of day it is when you visit, you’ll get a different experience based on a different type of flora, some breathing exercises, and some lovely flowery visuals designed by Anna Glover. Lovely, this, and genuinely relaxing in a way that I don’t ordinarily find this sort of thing.
  • Maven: It’s been interesting watching Twitter come back to life (a bit, in a sort of dead cat bounce sort of way) as the politics has kicked off again, as people remember that in certain very specific times there are few things more entertaining than a bunch of desperately-cynical, miserable and internet-broken people making jokes about how dreadful everything is (or, er, that’s what my feed’s like, in any case) – still, I still largely believe that the social media as-was era is over and isn’t really coming back. It’s not stopping people from attempting to reinvent that particular wheel, though, and the latest attempt is this, Maven, which has a few interesting features and looks…maybe like it could be worth persisting with. Effectively it’s ‘social media but with no likes, or ‘follow’ mechanic, and which instead is designed around the idea of following ‘interests’, with content then aggregated within these interests by AI. The idea of this, presumably, is to minimise the peacocking and personal self-aggrandisement of a ‘me and my followers and my popularity’ network, and instead to move towards a ‘value of information based on interest and utility’-based network, where content is surfaced based on how worthwhile people find it. “Maven is a new kind of social network–a serendipity network–that doesn’t work like the usual popularity-contest style of network you’re used to experiencing everywhere else.  We don’t have likes (and therefore don’t count them) and you don’t follow other people’s accounts.  Instead, you follow interests, and your feed is a reflection of the interests you follow. Maven AI extracts the relevant interests from every post and shows them to you when you see content in your feed.  That way, because posts touch on multiple interests, you continually experience the opportunity to expand your horizons by following new interests, increasing your chance of serendipity through meeting people with complementary interests. Because the users you encounter on Maven are through shared interests rather than likes or follows, you’ll meet people here you would not encounter anywhere else. Part of the idea behind Maven is that there is an enormous flux of ideas and interests out there on the internet that we never get to see or interact with because everything we experience is always based on popularity.  That changes with Maven.” I’ve been vaguely lurking on the web version for a couple of weeks, and it is a VERY different experience to anything I’ve used before – significantly slower, and…deeper, in a way. Not sure I need another fcuking distraction timesink and therefore whether it will stick for me, but it’s definitely worth a look.
  • Kaizen: Look, full disclosure – on many levels I really, really dislike this. The voices used (an incredibly-irritating kid and a patronising-sounding woman), the generically motivational/positivity/YOU CAN DO IT! vibe of the narrative, such as there is one, and the general sense of ‘live, laugh, love’ of the whole experience meant that at several points over the few minutes of its runtime I found myself making disgusted noises out loud, and at one point even muttering ‘oh for fcuk’s sake’ at my laptop (which by the way was wheezing emphysemically at certain points, so maybe don’t have ALL the tabs open when you run this). But…but…the art style is REALLY nice, and the animation is nice, and if you ignore the sickly ‘message’ and the ‘you can do anything!’ bromides, it’s actually a nicely-made bit of webwork (and, to reiterate, the look of this is really rather gorgeous). It’s a digital calling card by the Make Me Pulse agency, who, should they ever read this, I hope will focus on the nice things I have said about their technical chops rather than the aspersions I am seemingly casting on who they are as people.
  • Analysing Text Messages With My Ex-Boyfriend: This could not be more up my street if it came and set up camp outside my front door (fcuking *hell* that was clunky, sorry) – Teresa Ibarra had a relationship which went on for about nine months, and during which she and her boyfriend exchanged 83,000 odd messages between them. This site is a deep textual analysis of those messages (done with the permission of the ex) and I LOVE IT SO MUCH. Sentiment analysis, topics over time, common themes…all of this is presented as data, graphed and plotted and visible to the world. Ibarra presents all this fairly baldly, with minimal commentary and interpretation, but there’s something beautiful and poignant and sad and lovely about seeing the ebb and flow and eventual demise of a love affair tracked in bar charts, the tailing off of communication as things reach their close, the spikes at the start when you’re still stunned by the fact that you found each other and you like each other and you still have so much to learn…Honestly, I think this is so so so beautiful, in a very analytical and slightly-austere sense, and I would give a kidney (not that mine are worth anything any more) to have this sort of analysis available as a standard feature in any communications platform, to be able to select a WhatsApp chat, say, and with the consent of all parties involved to be able to create something like this (but I say that as someone who somewhere has a CD onto which I burnt all of the emails I exchanged with an old girlfriend with whom I shared a workplace, so maybe I’m just weird).
  • Gmail Will Break Your Heart: Tangentially-related to the last link, this is a project that Caitlin at ‘Links I Will Gchat You’ is running and which I think is SUCH a good idea – she writes, “I’m collecting old, personally meaningful emails to celebrate Gmail’s 20th year. Our long-memoried inboxes contain a complete and damning record of our past interactions. But when’s the last time YOU went spelunking there?? What I’m looking for: Old emails (pre-2022, let’s say, but the older the better) with personal meaning to you. That could include your first email with a friend or partner, your last email from an elderly relative, a message expressing love or anger or heartbreak or any announcement that otherwise changed your life in some way.” All emails will be anonymised – and there are tips on how to easily do that with software before you submit via an anonymous Google form, so this is all totally privacy-safe – and, even if you decide not to participate, I can’t recommend the exercise of going back into your email past enough. It is a different country, and there is something quite remarkable about revisiting the very different and yet entirely the same person you were 20 years ago via the medium of old prose which you never thought you would look at ever again.
  • Walmart Realm: It’s A METAVERSE! Or at least that’s probably what it was sold to management as – in reality it’s…dear God, what the fcuk *is* this mess? It appears to be a selection of ‘immersive interactive environments’ that you can explore (I confess to only having tried one of them, because this is fcuking terrible on every level and I couldn’t stand to waste any more of the limited amount of time remaining to me with ‘experiencing the magical undersea world of Walmart’) – I say ‘explore’, but it’s limited to clicking on a few navigation arrows, and then some buttons which apparently let you…buy a very limited selection of stuff from Walmart, and play some terrible browser games for…the chance to be entered into a sweepstake to win a voucher? This is astonishingly bad – not just conceptually, but technically (seriously, try ‘looking around’ the environment and see what happens to the camera), and if you’re feeling a bit low, professionally-speaking, it’s perhaps worth taking a look and reminding yourself that you were at least not involved in pitching, building or justifying this utter waste of energy (unless, er, you were, in which case I am very sorry for your lots).
  • RetractionWatch: Niche, and honestly a bit serious for Curios, but I was momentarily fascinated by this site which exists to track and document retractions in the academic space – so basically a list of posts detailing instances where academics or institutions have been forced to retract research papers as a result of…irregularities. I was amazed by how often this seems to happen, although on reflection there are a LOT of academics and institutions worldwide, and, well, people will be people. Interestingly, there’s a whole section on ‘GPT-generated papers’ which gives you some insight into how LLMs are affecting academia.
  • ViewStats: Say what you like about Jimmy ‘MrBeast’ Donaldson – no, really, say what you like, he will never know and even if he did it is unlikely he would give one iota of a fcuk, considering the only thing the man seems to care about is YouTube channel stats – but this is, I think, A Good Thing and quite a generous one. ViewStats is a new tool, in beta at the moment, which gives you really pretty good (from a cursory look, at least) insights into YouTube channel performance, for free – there is of course a paid tier with PRO TOOLS which promise to help creators make more appealing, stickier (and more monetisable!) videos by using MrBeast’s ‘secret sauce’ (a deeply unpleasant sentence I wish I had not written), but the free analytics are genuinely pretty good, and if you need a way of getting details about channel performance over time and a whole bunch of other stuff, this looks like it could be genuinely helpful. It doesn’t have every YT channel on there (yet), but if you are looking for one and it’s not currently visible you can submit it to be added to the database, which feels helpful and generally like A Good Thing.
  • The CalmTech Institute: An interesting new initiative – the CalmTech Institute is basically a new collective that, as far as I can tell, wants to set itself up as a kitemark for ‘mindful (sorry, sorry, sorry) technology’ – or, at the very least, technology that isn’t explicitly designed to siphon all of your attention (and, by extension, data, or money, or what remains of the withered husk of your soul). The idea is that they will work with tech developers to ‘accredit’ their devices or software, thereby granting an imprimatur of ‘quality’, or at least ‘calm’ to the whole thing. You can read about the principles here – they’re sensible, to my mind at least – and this feels like something which if you’re doing a Certain Type of Initiative, it might be worth investigation or partnering with.
  • AI Literature Review: This…this looks like a rare example of a good, useful implementation of AI for academic purposes (although it’s entirely possible I am wrong here, so, well, as ever don’t take a word I say seriously). AI Literature Review, as the name would suggest, uses AI to help academics create the summaries of the current state of thinking in their field which are a necessary part of the submission process for papers, based on real, verified-by-humans information: “With Seamless, researchers can input a paper description and Seamless will generate a literature review grounded on real papers. Seamless searches the Semantic Scholar database of scientific papers (that covers the scientific works published in most of the topics), and blends together the relevant papers with the user description to create the literature review. The last step is done using large language models like GPT-4.” So basically an LLM query layer on top of a database – which, fine, isn’t exactly groundbreaking, but does feel like a smart and helpful application of the tech. It’s not free, but if you’re in academia it might be worth a look, particularly considering how onerous I imagine this sort of thing is to compile manually.
  • Hello Wonder: Another interesting application of AI as a ‘layer’, although I am…sceptical as to how this will actually work, if at all. The premise is, basically, ‘the internet, but filtered through an LLM which ensures that it’s safe for kids at all times’ – so basically your kid can browse, but the content is moderated. “Wonder is an AI companion that makes the whole internet safe and nurturing for kids. It effectively filters out harmful content, making it a better way for children to independently experience the internet. Children can engage in conversations about their interests using simple language. Parents and guardians have the ability to customize content parameters to align with their goals and values. Additionally, parents and guardians can monitor their children’s online activities in real time, receive notifications, and communicate with their children directly through Wonder.” So, as far as I can tell, it basically adds an ‘Explain It Like I’m 5” filter to everything, as well as a safety filter, to render the contents of the web digestible for smaller people. I am…not sure I like this idea, but then again I am not a parent and am probably more relaxed than is healthy about ‘just let them read stuff, it’ll be FINE’ (reading Kate Millett’s ‘Sexual Politics’ at 11 never did me any ha…oh) – still, I am not sure I’m comfortable with the way that this presumably sands all the edges off everything and regurgitates it in the bland LinkedIn-ese of LLM prose. Still, if you have a kid and an iPad this is free to use (it’s in beta, so there may be charges in the future) and could be interesting.
  • Visit A Heat Pump: What are YOU doing this weekend? Anything fun? BBQ, maybe? The Champions League Final? A 72h meth and darkroom bender? Why do any of those things when instead you could, er, VISIT A HEAT PUMP! Via Ben Templeton, this is actually an initiative by NESTA in the UK, designed to get people who already have a heat pump installed to evangelise to the heat pump-curious (what a phrase!) about how great they are and how easy to install – all of this in service of the policy drive to get more people to replace their old fossil fuel-powered boilers with the cleaner, greener tech. To be honest this is a good idea and I am sure there’s a lot of smart ‘insight’ behind it (maybe), but I couldn’t help but p1ss myself at the hopeful-sounding website title which implies that ‘Visiting a heatpump’ is an activity to be bracketed alongside, say, ‘visiting Stonehenge’.
  • Facebook AI Slop: This is a genuinely great Twitter account sharing some of the best/worst examples of the AI rubbish sweeping through Facebook like a plague. The pinned image is one of the best things I have ever seen, if by ‘best’ you accept I mean ‘worst’, and this feed is FULL of some truly batsh1t stuff (and some occasionally slightly horrible images, just so you know).

By Randy Ortiz (this and all subsequent pics lifted from TIH)



  • Sympawnies: Via Andy, this is a YouTube channel with a single, singular premise – Noam Oxman is a musician who…oh, look, let him explain it: “In the search of new ways to express my art, my passions, and my music I created ‘Sympawnies’ – a new type of art form that combines three of my biggest loves – animals, music, and drawing. ‘Sympawnies’ is a collection of my original musical scores, which I draw in the shapes of different animals. All animals are welcome – pets/farm/wild.” Which I appreciate may not make much sense, so click in and look at the videos and realise that the score is written in such a way TO MAKE THE MUSICAL NOTATION LOOK LIKE A PICTURE OF THE ANIMAL IN QUESTION! THIS IS REMARKABLE! Ok, so there are some flourishes in the way he draws his semiquavers and the like to make the pictures work, but there’s also some insane compositional skill in making music that sounds good while also being recognisably written so as to appear in the shape of, say, a great dane. This is honestly mental, and made me wonder how the fcuk this idea first came to him (mushrooms, surely?).
  • Poetic Computer: This is technical and a bit obscure, but I very much like the idea of ‘code as poetry’ and the ability of html and css to connote meaning and convey emotion beyond the content they frame (if that makes any sense at all). Basically this is the home to Prasa, described by its creator as ‘an esoteric programming language that investigates the intersection of technology and cultural identity’, inspired by the Telugu language of certain parts of India. Look, you’ll have to be a particular type of programmer/language enthusiast to get the most out of this, I think, but I hope that for maybe one of you this will be slightly inspirational or at least academically-interesting.
  • Load-Bearing Posts: If you’ve been anywhere near Twitter in the past week or so you’ll likely have seen this floating around, but if not then I strongly encourage you to click the link, click the ‘Quote Tweets’ button and enjoy a recap of some of the greatest shortform bangers that the human race has ever produced (oh, ok, fine, that’s unfair, but we’re not privy to the pithy sh1tposting of the Mesopotamians and so this is what we’re left with). The original post read as follows: “What are the load-bearing posts of our time? Obviously ‘facing god and walking backwards into hell’ and ‘miette’ are up there. Does Ed Balls still count? PS if you can parse this you should probably log off”, and although, as is inevitable when something gets this big, people have gone off-topic and are substituting ‘load-bearing’ for ‘funny’, it’s still a wonderful reminder of the fact that Twitter really has given us some absolutely top-notch comedy over the years (alongside the brainrot and the general disgust with our species that it’s also engendered).
  • Meow Library: Books for cats – specifically, famous novels which have been ‘translated’ for felines, so that every word is replaced with ‘meow’. “Founded by feline linguist Sam Austen, The Meow Library aims to translate every major work of the Western canon into language that can be understood and appreciated by the common housecat. Proceeds from Sam’s literary debut, Meow: A Novel, are funding this effort. Our organization hopes to have several works by Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, and Proust feline-ready by this holiday season.” So this is obviously a very silly joke and the fact that the books are being sold as ‘comedy gifts’ slightly put me off including it, but then I discovered the podcast and FCUKING HELL is this a commitment to the bit that I can’t help but applaud. Seriously, click the link and listen – I genuinely did corpse at this, and it made me feel significantly warmer to the whole project. MEOW.
  • Watch Censor: On the one hand, this SAYS it’s a site dedicated to helping you work out at what point in popular films there are scenes of a sexual nature so that you can ensure that you skip them entirely, so as to not offend your chaste eyeballs with the FILTHY PERVERSION OF HUMAN CONGRESS (so far, so ‘stereotypes about GenZ/Alpha’) – except, if you dig a bit, all of the titles they seem to have information on are, er, famously QUITE SEXY, and the information also serves the dual function of itemising every single even vaguely-titillating moment in each episode so that, should you be so minded, you could ALSO use this as a way to just scrub through and get to the good bits. This has obviously been hacked together by an enterprising teenager, and, frankly, more power to them for not just going straight to a Tube site.  This reminded me an awful lot of something that genuinely did exist in the 1980s and 1990s in the UK – terrible joke non-newspaper ‘The Daily Sport’, famous for incredible headlines like ‘Lord Lucan Found Living In Bus On Moon’ (no, really – you can see some bangers from its Sunday edition collected here), used to have daily TV listings which would provide a detailed breakdown of every single instance in which female nudity, however minor, was visible on UK television, so avid masturbators could ensure they were tuning in at the exact moment in which, I don’t know, you got a brief flash of Helen Mirren’s nipple in a vaguely-erotic 1970s arthouse flick. Good to see that certain habits persist (Jesus, men eh?).
  • Can’t Sleep Reads: This is a nice idea – Can’t Sleep Reads is, as the name suggests, a place to find things to read when you can’t sleep; all of the content is public domain, so it tends to short stories from classic (mainly US, I think) authors like Mark Twain, and you get a different one each time you refresh (you can also load a new random one at the bottom of each page should a single tale not be enough to send you towards catatonia). Definitely worth bookmarking or saving a link to on your phone should you be the sort of person with a tendency to lie there staring at the ceiling at 3am, wondering if your insides are doing what they’re supposed to be doing.
  • Drum Samples: Would you like some free drum samples? You would? GREAT! This is a page on the website of artist (and drummer) Bill Mead, who posts images of his paintings, free to download, as well as offering a whole host of these samples for anyone to take and do with as they please. “Most of the drum samples you’ll find on this site were originally created and distributed through a project called Organic Drum Loops (organicdrumloops.com). This site was prolific from late 2016 through early 2023 and produced a large catalog of unique drum samples. This body of work represented the sound of calfskin headed drums, and the aesthetic of a professional drummer who was finding his way out of musical conformity. Within these downloads are thousands of high resolution multi-track loops, one-shot samples, and improvisations. Earthy in sound, greasy in groove. Interestingly messy much of time, clean and appropriate almost none of the time – yet somehow always feel-driven and vastly musical.” I think I’ve been saying this a lot recently, but I really do adore this sort of thing, the generosity just to make stuff available just in case anyone might want to play with it, or make with it. THANKS, BILL MEAD!
  • Losange Magazine: Do YOU like old Renault cars? Oh my word you will love this, then. “Losange Magazine started in the Netherlands in 2007 as an initiative of Renault enthusiast Tony Vos. The magazine is published four times a year. The digital version started in 2018. Losange Magazine has the support of Renault Classic, the history department of the Renault factory.” SO MUCH RENAULT! Not just cars either, tractors too! Look, this is very much Not My Thing, but I have the utmost respect for anyone who loves something as much as the person behind this clearly loves Renault – seriously, some of the prose is almost reverential – I mean, just listen to this: “Love is not always logical or explainable. But Renault Design has made the new all-electric 5 a sweetheart.” Find someone who talks about you the same way that Tony Vos talks about the all-electric Renault 5.
  • Strong Spiel: Oh oh oh this is so pleasing (and, I get the impression, surprisingly deep if you are musical and take the time to play around with it and understand it a bit). This is basically a stringed instrument simulator – click the link and you’ll be presented with a selection of four sets of digital ‘strings’ which you can strum with your mouse (or, presumably, your finger if you’re on a touchscreen device); you can also edit them and add your own additional strings to effectively create your own strummable instruments – you sort of have to play with it to get the idea, but it’s quite astonishingly soothing, both to play with and to listen to. If you click the little ‘notes’ icon in the bottom-right hand corner you can select from a range of classical pieces (and a few game OSTs as well) to see them being played on the site, which will give you an idea of what’s possible if you can get your head around the interface and the concept – this really is quite beautiful, and, based on the ‘about’ section, I think pretty technically-impressive. There’s an iPad version available for a couple of quid, which I think is a bargain for anyone who’s interested in spending some time getting to grips with it – but even the web version is just gorgeous. Superb work by Canadian dev Murat Ayfer.
  • Funny Works: This week’s ‘preposterously overengineered bit of webwork’ comes from Korean digital studio Funny Works, who’ve recently revamped their website and created this quite amazing portal into their portfolio and projects, all designed as a cartoon teenager’s bedroom that you can click around and explore. There are so many lovely touches here – perhaps my favourite is the oldschool videogame system which acts as a portal to let you explore the various ‘metaverse’ (sorry) type products they’ve built for various clients by plugging in different carts (such a nice bit of design, that), but the whole thing is charming and even the sound on the Page isn’t annoying in the slightest. Ordinarily I get annoyed with sites like this for being obtuse and hard to navigate, but this is really, really charming.
  • Synthetic Theatre: More AI art/storytelling experimentation here, this time (I think – the project’s not exactly well-described, if I can be critical for a second) an experiment in (again, I think) seeing what happens when you let an LLM concoct a story and an image-generator spin up accompanying pictures, with a bit of human guidance. This is very much ‘what you might expect’ in terms of the aesthetic, but I did like the ethos behind it, described here: “This project is an exercise in feeling exposed. Not every story is going to be interesting, not every story or artwork will be interesting, and not every design exploration will look great, but as long as I can manage to fuel my drive to create something new, the outcome becomes secondary.” I can get behind this sort of play – why not use The Machine to fiddle and mess around? Although, to be clear, about 80% of the stuff here is tripe.
  • Cockfloat: This is, I concede, incredibly stupid and very, very childish, but at the same time I was totally unprepared for what I would get when I clicked and I found myself laughing out loud for longer than I am comfortable admitting. ART.
  • Sort The Court: Ooh, this is fun! Have you ever played the mobile game ‘Reigns’? OH GOD SORRY I HAVE JUST DISCOVERED THAT THERE’S A FREE WEB VERSION OH GOD Ahem, sorry – I was saying, Reigns is a game which puts you in the shoes of a monarch making decisions about their kingdom; the decisions are all binary yes/no-type choices, and through them you will either guide your kingdom to fortune and glory, or yourself to an early death. Sort The Court is basically like that, but with a few more graphical flourishes, and it’s FUN! Silly, fun, and a bit whimsical, and a really good way of passing 20 minutes while you wait for something. But. let me reiterate, the second link here takes you to a browser-based version of Reigns, which I really can recommend unreservedly and which may well become something of a timesink compulsion if you’re not careful. TWO  GAMES FOR THE PRICE OF ONE LINK! God I am good to you.
  • Utopia Must Fall: A browser-based demo for a fuller game, coming sometime soon, but which is more than engaging enough to occupy you for 5-10 minutes at a time – it’s basically a Missile Defence-type setup, with you tasked with defending London from asteroids and aliens and assorted other threats by shooting the everliving fcuk out of them with some space lasers. The gameplay is simple-but-fun, but the real star here is the visual style which is a pitch-perfect recreation of the 80s arcade aesthetic responsible for, say, the original Star Wars cabinet game (iykyn) – very reminiscent of Matt Round’s interpretation of Flappy Bird which I linked to a few weeks ago.
  • Frogger, the RPG: Our final game of the week is this FAR better than it needs to be RPG – this is a ‘real game’, or at least about an hour’s worth of one if you’re a completist, made in RPG Maker and asking ‘what if Frogger was a roleplaying game in the style of early Final Fantasy titles?’ – the answer, by the way, is ‘it would be really fun, and if any of these references mean anything to you then you should play it!’. There’s a save functionality so you don’t have to do the whole thing in one sitting, and this is generally a lot smarter and more engaging than you might think when you first log on.

By Matt Hansel



  • The Photo Registry: Via Things Magazine, which I was really pleased to see return this week, The Photo Registry self-describes as “A compendium of photographs for you to digest now and again” – these are not only all really cool images, but the curation here is astonishingly good – just scroll slowly down the page and revel in the absolutely superb ‘mixing’ (yes, I know, but I can’t think of a better term here) of form and subject that whoever is putting these together is doing. Excellent curation done with real style.
  • Forbidden Toys: Whoever is behind this account has absolutely found, and locked into, the part of latent space which is the intersection between ‘old MB toys and boardgames’ and ‘Scarfolk’ – these are fcuking BRILLIANT, and quite a few are just uncanny enough that you’ll have a second or two of false memory before realising that no, actually you did not have a Hypno Pancracio playset (can I just say, by the way, that the LEGO ‘Lady of Fatima’ is legitimately brilliant, and I would like anyone reading this with any influence at the company (lol!) to petition hard for a ‘Catholic Icons’ series? Thanks!


  • Snapper Matt: Also via Things, this is drone photography of London – you know what you’re getting, but the images are no less impressive for all their slight predictability.


  • Building The World For Everyone: Our first longread of the week is written, broadly speaking, about the need for New Zealand to think more and harder about the systems and structures it puts in place to ensure that they work for indigenous peoples as much as they do others – but it’s a really strong argument for inclusive design in a broader sense, and while there’s nothing in here that I would class as ‘revelatory’, it’s equally a really cogent and clear explanation of how systems, and therefore systemic inequality, work, specifically in relation to tech, and the three questions it frames in conclusion are I think hugely useful to carry with you whenever you’re thinking about changing a system or creating a new one (whether technological or otherwise).
  • Strong Links vs Weak Links: A really interesting exploration of two opposite ways of looking at a problem and developing potential solutions – from the opening, “A weak-link problem is where success depends upon the quality of the worst component, whereas a strong-link problem is where it depends upon the quality of the best” – and how a focus on one or the other can and will lead to radically different outcomes and approaches. I thought this was fascinating, both conceptually and also from a practical perspective, as a way of framing thinking and approaches – for the strategists and planners, this is the sort of thing that you can probably turn into an absolute fcuktonne of diagrams (thereby inevitably removing all depth and meaning from the thinking, but, well, I know what you’re like!).
  • Nudging Doesn’t Work: Or, more accurately, perhaps it’s not the magic bullet which so many people have spent the past decade or so saying it is. You’ll be familiar with ‘nudge theory’ – the idea that behavioural change in people is easier to effect via the medium of changing the environment or system within which they operate or exist so as to facilitate or incentivise the behaviour you wish to encourage – largely in part thanks to the adoring coverage given over to the ‘nudge unit’ (technically the Behavioural Insights Team) and their work with the UK Government in recent years. This WSJ piece looks at new research which suggests that the long-term impacts of this sort of work aren’t in fact as impressive as they seem in the short-term, arguing that people are less likely to stick to behavioural change when they don’t feel that they have been agents in deciding to make said change – basically if you eat fewer doughnuts because your route to work changes rather than because you have decided to eat fewer doughnuts, you’re likely to relapse and start going to Krispy Kreme to buy in bulk at the weekends after a while (is basically the argument here).
  • Culture Is An Ecosystem: I have a very personal, very peculiar horror of ‘diagrammatic representations of systems’ thanks to a boss of mine, circa 2005, casually suggesting that it would be good if I could ‘just sort of create a visual map of the UK’s cultural landscape which we could then turn into an interactive website which would effectively be the ur-guide to who was what in every single aspect of the arts at the time, and which we could use as a sort of catch-all research, media and contacts database’ (I am not joking AT ALL – that was literally the aspiration, he was nothing if not ambitious, and I very nearly had some sort of breakdown); anyway, if you are less scarred than I am you might find this interesting and useful (in fact, again, the planner/strategist types among you will fcuking lick this up). “The “culture” of a society isn’t a blob of random human activity, but an orderly ecosystem arising from the interactions between particular subunits. To maintain ecosystem health, we must reject the cynical “poptimist” framing of culture as a mere vehicle for entertainment and commerce and instead promote the benefits of constant cultural refresh” – this is part one of three, but it’s interesting and, I think, a potentially useful set of frames/lenses for thinking about How Culture Works.
  • The Accidental Tyranny of User Interfaces: Or, ‘how making things easy also often makes them worse’. I felt this SO DEEPLY – part of this is age, fine, and FEAR OF CHANGE, but it’s also motivated by being reasonably comfortable navigating information and digital systems, and enjoying the feeling of agency that comes with that comfort; as this piece argues, the drive towards simplification can have the unintended consequences of hamstringing the more accomplished or curious or creative person who’s interacting with a product, service or system (hm, lots of ‘systems’ this week). This is actually a couple of years old, but it feels very resonant and relevant four years on: “My thesis here is that an obsession with easy, “intuitive” and perhaps even efficient user interfaces is creating a layer of soft tyranny. This layer is not unlike what I might create were I a dictator, seeking to soften up the public prior to an immense abuse of liberty in the future, by getting them so used to comical restrictions on their use of things that such bullying becomes normalised.” PREACH.
  • Longform vs Shortform Culture: Or ‘why, if everyone’s attention span is shot to fcuk, is media so bloated these days?’ This is a Vox piece, so it’s a bit surface-y, but the general question – why are so many films so long? Why are so many albums so self-indulgent? – is an interesting one, even though it’s easy to think of examples that contradict this supposed ‘trend’ (and also it doesn’t look at the most interesting longform medium of all, the YouTube deep dive – currently being discussed because of that insane four-hour video about the Star Wars hotel which I haven’t watched but I am reliably informed is Very Interesting). A lot of this is obvious, but there were a couple of questions that I found worth thinking about a bit more – I don’t think there’s any basis whatsoever for this assertion other than ‘authorial vibe’, but this one struck me in particular: “We worry about whether art is the right length because we’re worried that we don’t know how to pay attention anymore,”  or the idea that there’s a sort of performative quality to this longform trend, in a ‘look, see, we CAN focus!’ way.
  • Why Is Learning Chinese So Boring?: This is LONG – and is in fact a collection of three separate essays, all exploring the same broad topic of ‘why don’t people want to learn Mandarin?’ (specifically, I think, from the perspective of New Zealand, but applicable more broadly). This is really interesting – it covers all sorts of things that seem semi-obvious when you are told them, but which I had personally never considered before, such as the extent to which the mandated themes and texts and examples and vocabulary deployed to students are of course mandated by the Chinese state, which has a very clear and well-defined idea of the image of China they want to communicate and who see language teaching as an extension of that – hence the focus on classical poetry and a strangely-antiquated set of phrases and vocabulary which don’t reflect the reality of living in modern, highly-developed Shanghai or Shenzen. I also didn’t realise that foreigners learning through official schools aren’t encouraged to learn ‘traditional’ Mandarin, and are instead directed to the Simplified version of the language and characters, which in itself cuts them off from significant swathes of modern cultural output. Thanks to Alex for sending this my way.
  • The Era of Celebrity Erotica: I had literally no idea that this was a thing, but I guess it’s inevitable given the rise in popularity of both audiobooks and rampantly erotic werewolf bongo novels (other types of bongo novel are, I am assured, available). “A relatively new phenomenon pioneered by audio erotica apps like Dipsea and Quinn, actors have taken on the role of smut narrator, much to their fans’ delight. The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina’s Luke Cook plays an actor engaging in group sex with his wife and girlfriend on Dipsea and You star Victoria Pedretti plays a sapphic detective on Quinn, for example. Most recently, the Hot Priest himself recorded a three-episode story for Quinn portraying a queen’s guard with unresolved feelings for a fiery rebel.” This is an article on Mashable so it’s not exactly sparkling prose (sorry, but it isn’t) – that said, it touches on a lot of interesting areas including the rise in female-centric erotica, the resurgence of INSANE FANDOM and the inevitable boom in spoofed celebrity voices being spun up by AI to enact whatever grubby little scenario you like in audio form. Is…is everyone on the tube secretly listening to Andrew Scott narrating fellatio?
  • One DnD, Two Covers: A really interesting post by Jay Springett – apparently Dungeons and Dragons have published new editions of the game’s ruleset, but have done so in two different covers; one aimed at the sort of player who wants to GO ON ADVENTURES AND KILL DRAGONS AND GET LOOT, and the other aimed at the sort of player who sees the game as a sandbox in which to do character-led roleplay that maybe doesn’t have to involve combat or ‘The Magical Mithril Sword of Thorgandia +3’ or any of that rubbish. I enjoyed the exploration of the promises design makes to the buyer, and the wider question of whether it’s really meaningfully possible to play the second sort of game within a ruleset that was originally developed to be very much the first type – and, to be clear, I don’t and have never played D&D in my life (no shade, I just grew up in an era where demonstrating any interest in this sort of thing would have resulted in my having no friends and an interesting and growing collection of contusions all over my body, and possibly cigarette burns too. Ah, the 1980s! See, kids? Life was shit before mobille telephony and the internet too!).
  • Weetabix: You may not think that a history of Weetabix and a look at its manufacturing process would be a fascinating read, but you would be WRONG – this, by Alex Brenchley in Vittles, is great, although in common with many (if not most) stories about ‘how things work’ there will come a point where you stop reading and sigh/roll your eyes and mutter something about ‘oh ffs massive global capitalism AGAIN, is it?’. Anyway, if nothing else this will give you a new company to investigate and then despise with every fibre of your being – Hi, Cargill! – although if I have a criticism of this article is that it doesn’t devote enough (or indeed any) time to discussing the weird Weetabix brand flirtation with the skinhead movement in the mid-80s.
  • The History of Prosthetic Eyes: I’ve always been fascinated by ocular prostheses (look, not in a weird way, promise), ever since my little brother toyed with the idea of getting one but was fundamentally too freaked out by the process involved – turns out ‘taking a cast of your eyesocket’ is a genuinely invasive and unpleasant experience, who knew?! – and this is a fascinating (if *slightly* uncomfortable, certainly if you’re a bit squeamish about eyes like I am) insight into how they were made traditionally and how the technology has evolved.
  • Penis Filler: Not the first article I’ve featured about ‘men messing with their penises for cosmetic reasons’, but this one is very much a puff-piece rather than an expose’ – no tales of bruised, damaged or deformed members here, oh no siree, just a couple of thousand words of what is basically advertorial for a particular doctor in the US, enthusiastically endorsed by his patient ‘Tommy’, whose getting his treatments comped in exchange for basically being the doc’s hypeman. I’m including this in part because, well, I want every single man reading Curios to feel exactly as queasy as I did when reading about the practicalities of the procedure, and in part because I was so astonished about the various things that (mostly gay) men have done to themselves. Scrotal botox?! (is a phrase I didn’t expect to ever write, and yet).
  • Ballard: An LRB piece about the work and life of JG Ballard, reviewing a new book focusing on the author’s non-fiction output and giving a far more nuanced overview of the man and his thinking, beliefs and place in the canon of 20thC British thinkers than you often get from pieces focusing on his fiction. If there’s one writer who I wish were still alive now to comment on The Now, it’s Ballard (and, oddly, it’s he who I think of first when grasping for ‘an author whose predictions about the world came closest to being true’).
  • Kid Rock: Kid Rock isn’t really a thing in the UK, and never was, but I found this profile of him in Rolling Stone far more curious than I expected – there’s a lot about his career which frankly you might want to skim, but the meat of it comes from his conversations with David Peisner about his politics and beliefs and how he has ended up occupying the niche he has, given his early history in Detroit rap. By the end of the piece there’s something properly tragic about the character depicted, and the closing scenes are among the most poignant I’ve read in a celebrity profile in a long, long time. Rock’s obviously a pr1ck, but it’s also hard not to feel a tiny, tiny bit sorry for him, like so many of this sort of populist waverider trapped in a prison of affect that’s largely of their own making (on which note, long-term UK Twitter/tech heads might want to check out Milo’s feed now he’s been de-banned, which very much has a similar, tragic, ‘playing the hits to the peanut gallery’ vibe).
  • Trump and the Apprentice: On the one hand, HAHAAHAHA! On the other, I am not laughing any more than that until after the US election, because, well, I remember last time. Still, this piece dropped overnight – a look back at the first series of The Apprentice by one of the producers, one Bill Pruitt, who for whatever reason now feels able to dish out the unvarnished truth about what it was like working with That Fcuking Man – this won’t surprise you, but, equally, fcuk me some of the details in here.
  • The Social History of the Cardboard Box: Also via Links, this is a VERY LONG piece about something which sounds incredibly dull but, in fact, is properly interesting. Cardboard boxes are everywhere, but like so many ubiquitous-yet-mundane features of modernity we don’t tend to think about where they come from or who makes them or how or why – this will OPEN YOUR EYES. This covers supply chain, manufacture, the environment…even the *semiotics* of the cardboard box (and yes, I am well aware how w4nky that sounds) – the only omission here, that really surprised me, was the complete lack of acknowledgement of the box’s role as a place of shelter and rest for homeless people in urban environments the world over, a surprising omission for such a winding and comprehensive piece.
  • OnlyFans and Football: As a Chelsea fan I spend a bit of time on Chelsea Twitter, which is how I became tangentially aware of the existence of OnlyFans ‘model’ Astrid Wett (I am unsure as to whether this is Ms Wett’s given name, but I have my doubts) – I didn’t, though, know that there was a whole cottage industry of other young women doing various shades of bongo while at the same time milking their club allegiance to make ‘w4nking to a woman barely out of her teens’ an essential part of ‘SUPPORTING THE BOYS’. This piece made me feel very old, if I’m honest, and quite sad – look, if these women can deal with it then more power to them, but the degree of abuse they seem to receive, and the fairly rank misogyny involved, and the stuff lurking just below the surface about the tacit relationships between clubs and players just all feels…quite grubby.
  • Strength Training: I have been to the gym twice in my life, and that was enough; despite this personal lack of interest in staving off death via the medium of exercise, I really enjoyed this piece, by Phil Christman, about his experience of lifting, the difference between ‘working out’ and ‘training’ and the culture and psychology of physical self-optimisation. This is really well-written, whether or not you know what and where the fcuk a deltoid is.
  • How To Write A Eulogy: A really good piece by Chandler Dean in McSweeneys, on writing words for a funeral. I hope you don’t need this, but just in case you do.
  • What It’s Like Being At A Gangbang: On reflection  not necessarily the cadence of articles I’d necessarily have chosen, but, well, that’s just the way the tabs fell this morning. This is JOYOUS – honestly, it really is, and I say that as someone who genuinely has no desire ever to see, attend, participate in or, especially, smell the sort of event here being described. This is a Q&A interview between some bloke who wasn’t there and some woman who very much was – the interviewee was working as a ‘fluffer’ at said gangbang, and, honestly, just sounds like SUCH a happy and sex-positive and friendly person, and makes the whole event sound quite astonishingly friendly and wholesome, if you can use that word about a piece that involves some detailed descriptions of ‘Eiffel Towering’ (no, I didn’t either, but you will learn).
  • 50 Things I Know: Ordinarily I have VERY little time for these sorts of lists – I don’t care what wisdom you’ve accrued, you fcuker, and why does it so often end up being the same set of platitudinous Hallmark bromides, eh? – but I will make an exception for this one, which I very much enjoyed; partly stylistically, but partly because of the variance in the sorts of ‘lessons’ being imparted. I thought a good 15% of this was errant b0llocks, but that doesn’t matter because it was enjoyable, interesting and thought-provoking to read.
  • Slap Fighting: This is a SUPERB bit of feature writing in Esquire – Ander Monson goes to explore the growing world of slap fighting, a sport where men stand opposite each other and compete to see who can deck the other first via the medium of delivering straight-arm, open-hand slaps to the face. Funny, interesting, and with just enough authorial personality injected to make it relatable for those of us who aren’t the sort of person who thinks ‘getting smacked in the face by someone who weighs 14 stone’ sounds like a good time. The final paragraph took me back to Ballard again, oddly enough, specifically Cocaine Nights and Super Cannes, which isn’t something I had really expected when I was watching videos of slap fighting at the top of the piece (honestly, the knockouts are TERRIFYING).
  • The Smoke of the Land Went Up: Finally this week, a beautiful short story by Andrew Cominelli about sex, money, the environment, transience, place, belonging and all that jazz – I really, really enjoyed this and I think you will too.

By Chet Zar