39 minutes reading time (7842 words)

Web Curios 06/09/19

Web Curios 06/09/19


I wasn't expecting this, I have to say, but as I prepare to take two weeks off (yes, that's right, I'm AWAY! You don't have to feel guilty about deleting this email without even taking a cursory looking at its contents for a whole FORTNIGHT!) I am in a weirdly cheery mood. He's fcuking it all up! Maybe it's all going to be ok! Between this and Italian politics' surprise decision not to let the fascists win (yet), it's been a far less bad week than I was anticipating, and in a few short hours I get to go somewhere (hopefully) sunny and (hopefully) pleasant (this is a somewhat underresearched trip, it's fair to say).

I need to pack, I need to shop, I need to MOVE. So, with no further ado, I bequeath you this latest edition of Web Curios, freshly-birthed and still covered in that lovely mucal sheen; hold on a second while I whizz up the infoplacenta and then huff it ALL down in one go - TAKE THIS, ALL OF YOU AND DRINK IT, FOR THESE ARE MY LINKS (they're not mine, they're all other people's hard work, I just hoover them up and to be honest they deserve the credit, not me), FORAGED JUST FOR YOU!

I am Matt, this is Web Curios, and what are you going to do with yourselves on a Friday afternoon for the next few weeks? Work?

By Quentin Shih



  • FB To Test ‘Like’-Count Removal: Muchlike Insta did earlier this year, so Facebook is apparently considering removing the oh-so-meaningful metric of appreciation from public view. Whether as a sop to the ‘s*c**l m*d** is bad for you’ crowd, or as a way of making people feel less self-conscious when noone gives a fcuk about the minutiae of their lives and by so doing encouraging people to post more freely, this is unlikely to become A Universal Thing anytime soon and, beyond that, won’t make any practical difference to anything. So, er, NEWS!
  • Facebook Launches Business Tools for Messenger: These look interesting, particularly the lead generation and CRM-integration stuff (as ever in this initial section, the word ‘interesting’ is doing quite a lot of work here); there are also updates relating to appointment booking and conversion tracking through the platform. On the flipside, though, Messenger stuff will no longer appear in Facebook’s ‘discover’ tab - Mark giveth, and, more often than not, he taketh away.
  • The Facebook Data Portability & Privacy White Paper: Be aware that, unless you have a specific and detailed interest in the future of the ad tech industry and data brokerage in general, this is likely to mean very, very little to you (another way of explaining this is that it meant very, very little to me and therefore I’m sort of hoping that that means it’s a bit niche and obscure rather than something to do with me being thick). This is Facebook’s White Paper setting out its position on data portability and privacy, and all the thorny questions over rights to data and what controls and regulation should be enacted to attempt to de-Wild-West the whole online advertising business - it’s light on actual concrete positions, but from what I’ve read it’s very heavy on thinly-veiled and somewhat-repetitious criticisms of ‘regulators’ from ‘stakeholders’ for not deciding what the laws on all this sort of stuff should be and thereby traducing not only the poor consumers but also the POOR POOR PLATFORMS alike. DEFINITELY nothing to do with the platforms not having given anything resembling a fcuk about any of this ‘til about 18m ago, oh no no.
  • Facebook Dating Launches in the US: Readers in the US, you can now entrust your future romantic journey to the Big Blue Misery Factory! Imagine a cherub with Zuckerberg’s face, flying around, pinging amorous shafts (ahem) off left, right and centre whilst simultaneously attempting to hamfistedly shoehorn product placements into every new couple’s first set of romantic photos - yes, THAT is what Facebook Dating will be like. In my head, at least - for a more realistic description of the platform, click the link and read the blurb. There’s obviously LOADS of ad potential here - at the very least, the ability to advertise at people who’ve just matched with someone on FB dating seems like an obvious one - but what really interests me about this is whether Facebook ends up actually being quite good at the matchmaking thing; after all, it has such an incredible wealth of datapoints about so many of us. Or maybe data is a fcuking terrible way of looking at such an amorphous concept as romantic attraction. Maybe.
  • You Can Now Share Tracks From Spotify on Facebook Stories: If you happen to work in one of the territories where people actually use Stories on FB, congratulations! You can now add music from Spotify to them! I probably didn’t need to write any explanation here, on reflection!
  • Twitter Launches Audience Expansion Options: When you buy ads on Twitter you’ll now also get the opportunity to allow Twitter to automatically expand the audience into lookalike categories. Which is nice. I particularly like the idea that there’s a sliding scale to determine the ‘fuzziness’ of your targeting, from ‘pretty much as specified’ to ‘we’ll decide to show your ads to, thankyou very much’. No clue as to when this will arrive with everyone, but expect it to be reasonably soon.
  • LinkedIn Introduces Insights & Research Hub: It’s writing sentences like that that have caused my soul to with and atrophy to the extent that I can actually hear it rattling around in my thoracic cavity as I drag myself around the city (jk! I sold my soul to the devil when I was 16 in exchange for good exam results!). Anyway, if you’re the sort of person who’d like a quick and easy way to get research and data from LinkedIn about how best to reach specific industries, divided by vertical, or different people within an organisation, then this might be useful - be warned, though, that this seems puddle-deep in terms of what you can get out of it, so I wouldn’t expect it to suddenly solve your ‘insights for the C-Suite’ crisis (another absolutely rock-bottom sentence to close with, there).
  • Insights and Comedy: The top section of Curios doesn’t, as a rule, link out to 200+page academic dissertations, but I will make an exception for this one. Justin Lines is a researcher and strategist who is also doing research with Edinburgh University into the relationship between the insights that comedians bring to bear when constructing jokes and routines, and those that us advermarketingpr scum use when attempting to persuade a client that our idea’s really clever and makes loads of sense, honest, LOOK I’VE TOLD YOU A FCUKING STORY CAN YOU PLEASE JUST BUY THE CAMPAIGN SO I CAN HIT MY NUMBERS THIS YEAR WE ALL KNOW THAT IT’S ALL BULLSH1T ANYWAY SO CAN WE DROP THE PRETENCE AND CAN I STOP PERFORMING NOW PLEASE? Ahem. Sorry. Anyway, as I alluded to, this is VERY LONG, but also contains some really clear, smart and useful thinking around the whole horrible ‘what is an insight and how do I find one and what are they for?’ stuff which, in the main, I am very bored of, but which equally I am mostly very bad at. Readable, interesting and unexpected (at least what I have read of it so far), this is very much worth your time. Anyone who’s ever seen me present anything, ever, can attest to the fact my style veers somewhat towards ‘angry, frustrated, borderline-aggressive bottom-of-the-bill drunk on an open mic night’, so perhaps that’s influencing my opinion here, but still.
  • Create and Strike: The next global climate strike is happening between 20-27 September. A few creative agencies have launched this initiative, encouraging people in advermarketingpr to join the movement on 20 September; this is the accompanying site, explaining what it’s all about, offering information as to where your nearest strike action will be happening, and naming the agencies that have signed-up in support. There are loads of pretty big names on there, and whilst I’m basically of the belief that taking a day off to protest climate change whilst working for an industry whose primary ethos is to get people to consume more is pretty fcuking risible, it’s also better than nothing - so why not send this to your CEO and ask if they’ll join you in standing around doing nitrous all day in the middle of Piccadilly in a fortnight’s time?

By Giulia Andreani



  • The Enigma Machine: Absolutely sublime little webtoy which lets you play around with an interactive version of the Enigma machine, specifically one which is laid out so as to show you the insane complexity of the codes it generates and how it goes about generating them based on any given input you choose. Type in whatever phrase you like, and watch as you’re shown the encryption process in beautiful, soothing animation; this does a superb job of demonstrating the basic principles behind this sort of system, and the way in which it works to encode information. So, so lovely.
  • Datehackr: ‘The apps’, as I believe people on the dating scene call them, aren’t really working for anyone, are they? Does anyone seem to actually enjoy dating any more, or is it just a chore that people go through inbetween sitting nervously at home biting their fingernails, taking CBD medication and watching infinite repeats of soothing television they recall from Better, Simpler Times? Perhaps one of the reasons why they’re not working any more (other than the aforementioned possibility that treating people as swappable, tradable commodities is perhaps not a fantastic route towards self-actualisation) is because of stuff like this. Listen to the blurb: “If you're not getting matches on dating apps, it's because your profile isn't being displayed. We create multiple dating profiles with your images to increase your match rate instantly. By creating multiple profiles, you will be displayed more often and get many more matches!” First off, lads, THAT IS NOT THE REASON YOU ARE NOT GETTING MATCHES. Second, WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO WITH ALL THESE PEOPLE YOU MATCH WITH? I am not 100% convinced that the likely users of this service are going to have the immediate rapport and sparkling repartee to necessarily forge any sort of personal connection here. The most-depressing thing about this, though, is that part of me has a sneaking suspicion that there’s no tech behind this at all, and in fact all of the ‘automatic swiping’ here is being done in one of those now-legendary engagement farms somewhere in the far East - or, even worse, is just being Fiverr-ed out by some poor kid in the Philippines for 10p an hour, creating yet another layer of invisible servitute sitting just below the taut, shiny skin of the beautiful future we all inhabit.
  • Hong Kong Protest Livestreams: A collection of streams from whatever is going on in Hong Kong right now, this page automatically updates with new feeds whenever any of the currently-streaming ones gets shut down by the Government, and is another example of the incredible, odd, oh-so-future nature of the HK protests.
  • Leon Sans: This is ‘just’ a font, fine, but it’s one of the most beautiful web experiences I’ve seen all year; the site cycles through a variety of different styles and applications of the Leon Sans font (so named after its designer, Leon Kim), all presented through a series of beautifully-designed, beautifully-animated transitions. Seriously, this is mesmerising and I quite want to commission Kim to make a 3m film of this sort of thing using words and phrases of my choosing that I can have as a looping artwork at home (to note here: I neither have the sort of home where this would look anything other than ridiculous, or anything to display it on other than a crap 20-odd inch non-smart TV, lest you think I’m getting too fat off all the sweet, sweet Curios dollar).
  • Zao: I couldn’t not include a link to this week’s momentarily-viral-and-then-REALLY-SCARY Chinese face-fiddling app Zao - so here it is! You all, I’m sure, heard about this this week; huge spike in popularity based on the (genuinely impressive) faceswapping tech, which enables anyone to plant their fizzog into scenes from popular films, animes, etc, with a hugely-impressive degree of seamlessness, subsequently-followed by MASSIVE PRIVACY PANIC when everyone a) remembered it was a Chinese app and we are all convinced that China wants to capture ALL OUR FACES and b) read the Ts&Cs. Did we all forget the Faceapp thing from a few months ago already? We did? Oh, right, ok. Couple of things to note about this, from my point of view; firstly, that the app’s a very clever toy but not much more - the impressive nature of the results is down to good tech, true, but also due to the fact that it only does a relatively limited set of things (you can only insert yourself into stuff that the app has pre-loaded, meaning that a lot of the heavy-lifting is done in advance when it comes to the graphics, computation and stuff); and secondly, that the person who properly wrote up this up first in a Twitter thread (Allan Xia) had much of what they wrote lifted wholesale by many of the publications writing it up, which seemed a bit sh1tty to me. Anyway, put your face in an anime and train the Chinese AI army! Or something like that, maybe.
  • Faceswap: Seeing as we’re doing face stuff, Faceswap purports to be ‘the leading free and multipurpose open source Deepfakes platform’. If you’re seriously interested in messing around with this stuff, I’d start here - though be warned, you need some pretty decent processing power at your disposal and a rudimentary (at least) understanding of coding and, probably, a bit of maths. Don’t expect to be churning out anything Will Smith/Matrix-like, basically.
  • Commerce Cream: A really horrible name for a website, but the idea’s nice - Commerce Cream collects examples of really pretty sites built on Shopify, along with occasional interviews with the designers who made them. If you’re after a repository of design inspiration - albeit design inspiration with a VERY particular sort of aesthetic, because Shopify really does cleave quite closely to a very particular sort of interiors magazine aesthetic.
  • Commute: We all know about the pollution we experience on the average London commute - the clogged breathing, dulled-grey skin and particulate-encumbered hair we find ourselves with upon arriving at the workprison each morning testifies to this. We don’t, perhaps, consider the question of the aural pollution we’re subjected to - helpfully, this site exists to remind you that that’s a problem too. This is a ‘visualisation and sonification of the noise pollution in our daily commutes’, taking data from routes along the Paris Metro and letting you visualise and listen to an aural representation of it through a couple of separate views, wave and spiral. For something which is meant to represent the grinding, noisy horror of traipsing from your sock of an apartment in the unfashionable end of the 19th to your office across town in the 7th, this is surprisingly easy on the eye and ear; I would LOVE to see (hear) this done for London, with different audio styles for each line; I think the Northern would be grindcore and the District some sort of distressing Gilbert & Sullivan-style medley.
  • This Erotica Does Not Exist: The rather sparse, sober description on the ‘About’ Page reads, simply, “This website contains samples of text generated from GPT-2, fine-tuned on text from Literotica.” It doesn’t quite do justice to the beautiful, mad filth that’s contained within it, though - this is technically NSFW, but it’s also all-text, so unless someone’s actually bothering to read over your shoulder then you should be fine (also, HELLO OVER-THE-SHOULDER-READER YOU SHOULD GET YOUR OWN SUBSCRIPTION TO CURIOS YOU FREELOADING FCUK!). You can pick from either randomly generated filth, or stuff that’s been prompted with seed text from classic works, like Hobbes’ Leviathan (surprisingly sexy), Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations (so much thirstier than I would have expected), or Agatha Christie (I do NOT remember Poirot doing that). Genuinely funny, though does also quickly lead one to conclude that erotica writing must be a deeply tedious pursuit; how many new euphemisms for genitals can one come up with? And how do you remember where everyone’s got their hands?
  • The Bartender’s Library: Oh wow - if you’re into booze (but in a socially-acceptable, ‘interested-in-mixology’ sense rather than my rather more specific ‘has a problem with the Casillero’ sense) and cocktails and stuff, this is a treasure trove. This site collects old texts on cocktails and bartending, digitised and held in the Internet Archive, in one place - you want to find actual, proper old recipes from the 20s and 30s? You want to know how to mix a gimlet in the manner in which Bertie Wooster would definitely have approved? GREAT. Definitely worth keeping in mind next time you’re having a party and want to appear sophisticated for at least 10 minutes before someone breaks out the ket and it all goes downhill and then the crying starts.
  • The Future: I don’t EVER feature single memey-type stuff on here, but I’ll make an exception for this - seen on Insta, it’s a wonderful grid of potential options for the future of humanity, based on where on the ‘hyperhuman/unhuman’ and ‘deceleration/acceleration’ axes we end up heading. Click and pick which one YOU like the look of most; personally-speaking, I’m pinning my hopes on ‘Fully-Automated Space Gay Luxury Communism’, but, as they say, TAG YOURSELF!
  • Reigns: Reigns, if you’ve not played it, is an excellent mobile game in which the premise is that you’re the ruler of a fictional kingdom and need to stay alive as long as possible through making a series of binary decisions, through which you swipe, Tinder-like, til you’re inevitably skewered by a resentful courtier or eat a bad goat or something. This is a Kickstarter seeking funds to make a physical, card-based version, which I imagine would work wonderfully and which is worth a look if you’re a player of games.
  • GPX Jewellery: I’ve featured people on here before who make slightly-abstract map-based jewellery, but I think this is the first place I’ve found that takes data from things like Strava and uses that as the basis for a design. Upload the GPX data from the route-tracking device of your choice and turn it into rather beautiful, geometric-ish pendants. Currently they only ship to the US, but the site indicates that they will consider international shipping if you ask nicely; if you have a friend or partner who’s unaccountably attached to a particular cycle route, say, this might make a lovely and unique present.

By Chelsea Gustafsson



  • The Institute of Urban Arts: “The IOUA is a social enterprise that was founded in 2019 to document and expose pioneering work from the urban avant-garde through projects, publications, film, and exhibitions.” It doesn’t yet have a physical location, and details are sketchy (you can read a little more elsewhere on Imperica), but it’s worth keeping an eye on and signing up to if you’re interested in the idea of attempting to preserve, support and showcase urban art.
  • Email Love: Who doesn’t love email? Well, most people, it seems, seeing as we’re always talking about how we want to KILL IT and replace it with stuff like Trello or Slack or Messenger or Workplace. Well fcuk that noise, I like email; I like receiving them (although, fine, not at work) and I like reading them and I like writing them, so THERE. Anyway, for any others amongst you who feel the same way, Email Love might be a useful site to browse through; it’s a collection of resources and information for people who work in or around email including examples of great templates, good newsletters (the omission of Curios can only be a temporary oversight), interesting email design, a blog… It’s a one-person labour-of-(email)-love, and its creator, Rob Hope, plans to add more tutorial and how-to content over time; if you’re a newslettermong like me, it’s an interest place to have a dig around.
  • Himalaya: Have we solved the podcast discovery conundrum yet? I know they’re now googleable, but that doesn’t necessarily help with the ‘I like podcasts like x, where can I find more?’ issue which I presume plagues those of you who listen to the bastard things. Himalaya attempts to solve this issue by sorting them across 29 categories, each with their own subcategories for you to browse. There’s limited information beyond the title of each show, which is potentially a pain, and someone really ought to come up with a specific category for ‘people talking far too self-indulgently about stuff that not even their mates would bother listening to for 45 minutes and dear fcuking christ did you have to record this on your fcuking headphone mic?’, but I can imagine this being at least a bit useful to a few of you.
  • Free To Use Sounds: Well this is quite something. The ‘free’ bit here doesn’t feel entirely accurate - the site attempts to get you to part with cash suspicously-regularly for something that touts itself as free, but given that it appears to be entirely created and maintained by a (very enthusiastic) German bloke named Marcus and his partner Libby you can’t really begrudge them wanting to make a few quid. They’re seemingly travelling the world, recording sounds and adding them to their burgeoning online library of ambient noises and FX; you want Vietnames pigs? You got it! You want nearly 100 different toilet flush sounds? LUCKY YOU! Charmingly, lots of the sound libraries have little blogs attached talking about how they recorded the audio, what equipment they used, and the occasional whimsical anecdote; leaving aside the slightly-aggressively-grifty UX, this is kind-of charming.
  • Medieval Lions: I have, for many years, had something of a thing about poorly-drawn or poorly-sculpted animals in classical art - this Twitter thread basically had me in tears for a good few minutes when I found it earlier this week. LOOK AT THEIR FACES!
  • The Phonetic Reverser: Or, more prosaically, a website that lets you type in anything you want in English and which will in return spit out a phonetic pronunciation guide so you can say the phrase backwards, phonetically. Try it out, it will make marginally more sense once you’ve seen how it works; now, keep it loaded on your screen and refuse to speak to the person across the computer from you unless it’s via the medium of backwardstalk. They will, I guarantee, find it HILARIOUS. This is also useful in case you want to do one of those ‘record it backwards so that when you play it in reverse it looks like it’s going forward’ music videos and need to learn what shapes to make as you lipsync, which I am sure is how at least three of you were planning to spend your weekends.
  • Find Lectures: I don’t know about you, but every September I’m filled with a very real sense of regret that I’m not embarking on an exciting new journey of academic discovery and will instead continue to sit slumped in front of a computer, willing the minutes to pass so I can go home and drink myself into a state of calmness whereby I can finally sleep. If YOU feel a bit like that too, why don’t you spend this month IMPROVING YOURSELF by watching one or more of this incredible collection on English-language lectures from around the world? “FindLectures.com allows you to discover interesting topics that you might not think to look for, including collections of approachable academic lectures, conference talks, interviews, documentaries, and historically significant speeches. Generally, transcript talks and the speaker’s bio are searchable, so that you can find presenters who have a unique angle on their content. Video and audio content is scored for a variety of quality measures, including length, audio quality, presentation style, speaker authority, and more.” HUGE collection of stuff, with a bias towards North America but loads of stuff from the UK too, this is a combination of video and audio and has content on almost every topic you can imagine if you feel like indulging your back to school memories for a while.
  • Online Courses: I think I featured this a few years ago, but it’s updated for 2019 - this is Open Culture’s motherlode list of open, free online courses which are open for registration in September - there are nearly 4000 of the things, from academic institutions across the world. Want to enroll in a Harvard course on Shakespeare’s life and work? Fancy exploring the History of Rock & Roll through the University of Florida? GREAT! I know I always say how everything is awful and it’s all the web’s fault, but things like this make me momentarily think that perhaps it’s not all terrible (even though deep down I know it mostly is).
  • Visualising Bon Iver: A beautiful promo site for Bon Iver’s latest, made in conjunction with Spotify, which pulls data on the number of streams the album’s received and lets you scan back through how that’s changed since early-August; all the while, the site plays tracks from the record, and a mesmerising series of ASCII-type animations, all made of the character ‘i’ (because the album’s called ‘i, i’, DO YOU SEE?). Very nicely done.
  • Touchy-Feely Tech: Have you ever thought “I quite like DIY and tinkering with things, and I also quite like sex toys; why don’t I combine those two passions into a single hobby?!”? No? Shame, because if you had then this site would basically be perfect for you. “Touchy-Feely Tech is a creative technology studio working at the intersection of electronic hardware, art and education”, and they are currently working on developing their first project, a build-it-yourself vibe kit designed to teach the rudiments of making, electronics, programming and sex positivity, all-in-one! The idea is that eventually it will develop into workshops and talks and a movement of sex-makers, but at the moment it’s just a website and pre-order list; still, this sounds like a great project; certainly as good a way as any to get a horny teen to get busy with a soldering iron.
  • Drilldo: Of course, you might not want to bother with all the faff of crafting your own sex toy; you might, instead, just want to jam a dildo onto the end of a power tool and be done with it. BUT DON’T DO THAT IT IS ALMOST CERTAINLY VERY DANGEROUS! Instead, get Drilldo - the safe attachment that lets you attach your rubber dong to the end of an actual, proper Black & Decker. I am honestly incapable of imagining what this might be like as an experience - and god knows, whether I like it or not, my brain has been trying to make me ever since I found this link - but if anyone wants to do a product review I am ALL EARS (I am not all ears, please never, ever contact me with this information). This is a BIT NSFW, but it’s worth the risk to see the frankly terrifying product range on display (there’s no nudity, but an awful lot of massive latex wang).
  • 15 Wishes: Last up this week, and VERY different from the last link, is a lovely, gentle little block-breaking game (think Breakout, for the older people among you), all about the feeling of missing someone. Gorgeous piano soundtrack and some genuinely heartstring-tugging copy means you might shed a smol tear as you play.

By Tony Toscani



  • GifMK7: Satisfyingly-chunky and oddly-squeezable 3d animated CG gifs. Occasionally featuring statuary, for no discernible reason.
  • Stationery Compositions: Satisfyingly-composed images consisting of artfully-arranged stationery, and the second week in a row I get to call out design & office supplies emporium Present & Correct for being great (and as an aside, if you want an example of an excellent retail Twitter feed, this is it - SO good, perfectly on-brand, fulfils a great function (interest/design utility), consistent and well-curated...honestly, you can learn a lot from it if you’re the sort of poor bastard who has to do things like write Twitter ‘strategies’ for a living).
  • Earthglance: Aerial shots of the earth. Actually I think I nicked this from Present & Correct too. FFS.
  • Lvl374: An odd-but-wonderful Tumblr, collection a series of short animations, all evidently set in the same imagined world, each looking as though they are taken from the cut-scenes of a long-forgotten 90s Japanese shooter. The aesthetic is PERFECT, though I would love to know if there’s some sort of hidden narrative behind it all. Regardless, beautiful work.


  • Richard Parry: Richard Parry’s feed (at least of late) presents a series of beautiful images showing exploded electronics - you know, those views of stuff where it’s all pulled apart so you can see all the internal components? YES YOU DO FFS CLICK THE LINK - he sells prints too, should you like the designs.
  • Donald Topp: A very Supreme-y vibe to these drawings by Donald Topp, where pop culture figures meet tattoo culture. Not violently original, fine, but really nicely done.
  • Dan Kitchener: The Insta feed of street artist Dan Kitchener, whose work is in a variety of places around London and which was drawn to my attention by Josh (THANKS JOSH) because there’s a piece opposite his office. The ‘city-by-night’ effect on a lot of this stuff is magnificent.
  • Precious Mutator: “Canadian upcycling art”, reads the description. YOU HAVE NO IDEA. There are some very creepy things on here (NB - I see that since I found this it’s been picked up by MailOnline - I know I never talk about where I get stuff from, but it WASN’T THERE).


  • Angus The Troll: Apologies for linking to a Twitter thread - but, well, you can unroll it if you need to - but this is EXCELLENT; Marc Owen Jones tells the story of befriending a Twitter troll called Angus...and then watching as Angus cycled through a variety of different identities and political positions over the course of their relationship, seemingly unaware of the fact that Jones could see behind the curtain. This is, aside from being very funny in parts, a really interesting look at the practical realities of how these sorts of sockpuppet/bot accounts work.
  • The Cost of Next Day Delivery: This is an excellent-if-very-long piece, looking at exactly how Amazon is meeting its next-day-delivery commitments in the US, and the costs that these commitments are exerting on the workforce undertaking said deliveries. What’s especially interesting about this is the stuff about how Amazon’s effectively established an entirely new delivery industry around itself, created from the bottom up and designed specifically and explicitly both to fulfil its next-day promise and to circumnavigate the sort of legislation that would have made that fulfilment utterly impossible to do. It’s quite incredible - honestly, the detail about the smaller trucks being used as it brought them below some health-and-safety thresholds is, if you leave the ethics aside, sort-of brilliant - and yet another example of how Amazon is literally reshaping the world around it to attain and cement market position.
  • Musk & Solar City: Solar City is the forgotten bit of the Tesla empire - the solar panels business which was meant to revolutionise energy collection and storage through its invention of solar energy collecting roof tiles and similarly scifi creations. Except it doesn’t seem to be quite working out like that. This is a bit businesswonky, fine, and it helps if you’ve a vague interest in the ‘is Tesla a fcuked company or not?’ question, but even if that doesn’t tickle your fancy, there’s enough in here about Musk and his...idiosyncratic approach to fiduciary duty and, you know, truth to make it worth a read.
  • Call The Robot ‘It’: On the importance of creating emotional distance between children and the current generation of ‘robots’ - voice assistants or programmable toys or whatever. I hadn’t heard of Generation Alpha as a concept before reading this - apparently that’s the first generation to grown up with robots and voice assistants and the like as a standard part of their surroundings - but the article suggests that maintaining a degree of ‘us’ and ‘them’ distance between the machine and the kid is important for ensuring a healthy understanding of the ‘programmer’ vs ‘programmed’ nature of the human/machine dynamic. At least until that dynamic flips, obvs.
  • Killer Robots: A really quite unsettling look at the current state of robot warfare and autonomous systems of mass death delivery - smart missiles, bombs, tanks, drones, all of which can go, identify a target it, reduce it to pate and come home with nary a human command. Except that’s not the case yet, and the article’s at pains to point out that the idea of giving full autonomy to robot killing machines isn’t anyone’s idea of sensible right now. I don’t know about you, but the ‘right now’ there isn’t filling me with loads of confidence. This is yet another piece about scary future tech in which I kept to see, I don’t know, a military or technological ethicist crop up as being involved in the development of all this stuff but, well, NOPE!
  • The Instagram Papers: I love stuff like this - platforms being bent into the shape the users want, regardless of their intended use. This is a great and oddly-heartening piece about how growing numbers of young people are setting up their own newsfeeds on Instagram, curating and packaging the day’s events for their peers in a manner that works for them. Details like this are great: “Within Instagram, there are different ways of reaching audiences and starting conversations. Kanda engages followers via polls on Instagram stories and records videos, like the one she recently posted explaining the scandal surrounding financier and accused pedophile Jeffrey Epstein. “People also tend to reply back to stories with questions or actually wanting to start an open discussion,” she says. “I’ve gotten some really thoughtful insights from people replying to stories.” I know the idea of an ‘insta newspaper’ isn’t new, but let’s forget about that woman from the Standard’s preposterous vanity project and look at the genuinely interesting stuff instead.
  • Five Millennials Changing The World: I know that making fun of millennials is a) not funny; and b) a joke from about 5 years ago, but this piece made me laugh a LOT. Profiling the 5 millennials around the world who really can be said to be making a difference, this is glorious (for about 5 minutes, and then maybe just a bit sadmaking).
  • The Post-Truth World of Influencer Romances: I’m including this in part because it’s interesting to look at the odd world of manufactured romances in general - nothing has changed since Hollywood in the 20s, honestly - but also because it’s yet another footnote for my ‘twenty years of kayfabe’ theory that I am going to keep on wanging on about til Alex gets round to writing that piece.
  • Using AI to Write a Novel: In which the author, Sigal Samuel, explores how working with the GPT-2 AI is helping him write his next novel, and how by using a combination of his own work as a prompt, what that causes the AI to generate, and his own edits of that eventual output, he can find himself creating more creative, vivid and imaginative scenes where he might previously have struggled. This is truly fascinating stuff - less so, to my mind, in terms of the output, but more in terms of this as an emergent discipline; I’ve written here before, loads, about the idea of human/machine ‘centaurs’ being the likely optimal application of AI til it gets REALLY good, and it’s something I know Shardcore is interested in exploring with his art. The really, really interesting things with AI at the moment happen when you start to see how it can work alongside human thinking as the mental / creative equivalent of the motor on an electric bike.
  • Hipster Cereals: On the growing trend for super-healthy, subscription-service, keto-diet-suitable breakfast cereals in the US. This sounds ridiculous - especially that people might pay something like £2 a bowl for stuff that tastes like Cap’n Crunch but which is less likely to give you type-2 diabetes - but, well, here we are. This feels like the sort of thing there might be a market for in the UK (and tbh I reckon if you could make Crunchy Nut Cornflakes with extra protein and less sugar you could probably retire within 12 months).
  • The Counterfeit Airpod Market: Ostensibly a sort-of review of a bunch of ripoff Apple airpods ordered off the internet, this is a far more interesting article which asks some interesting questions about the knock-on effects on the planet of wildly-successful consumer products, particularly something as famously environmentally-problematic as the Airpod. “These fake AirPods will probably work for a couple of months with regular use. Then, they’ll probably start holding less of a charge, and eventually stop working entirely. Just like regular AirPods, they’ll make pretty, symmetric fossils. Fake AirPods will never biodegrade, and they’ll never decompose. These knock-off AirPods are the unavoidable outcome of Apple making culturally important products that are out of most people’s price range. The same capitalist forces that make AirPods possible also make fake AirPods possible.” Feel good?
  • How Waze has Ruined LA: Another week, another ‘hey, look what happens when you build ‘disruptive’ technology but don’t spend enough time thinking about what the consequences of ‘disruption’ might in fact be!’-type article, this time looking at how Waze, the driving / shortcuts app, has basically turned LA into an (even more) undrivable sh1thole. This is an object-lesson in how less-than-thoughtful product development and design, when layered onto the real world, can have pretty remarkable and not exactly unpredictable consequences. You know that whole ‘we live inside a simulation’ idea that gets a new wave of attention every now and again? Well maybe we’re inside the simulation that a bunch of super-intelligent beings are using to test out all their exciting, disruptive new ideas before deploying them in real life. Would explain quite a lot tbh.
  • Mapping the Artists of the Whitney: A lovely interactive project, mapping where the artists featured in every single Whitney Biennale since 1932. Mainly of interest to art fans, but it offers a really interesting journey through trends in North American contemporary art.
  • The Art Gallery in Fallout76: If you ‘do’ videogames, you may know that the latest game in the post-apocalyptic Fallout series was less-than well-received. Still, it hasn’t stopped players doing some fun things in the gameworld, and this account of one player’s creation of an in-game art gallery, in which people can have their own area in which to create an exhibit from the games objects and props, based on whatever themes they choose, is a wonderful example of users stretching systems to the limit of their intended use. Also, the ‘exhibits’ are occasionally GREAT.
  • Weezer’s Blue Album: God I loved Weezer’s Blue Album. It, along with Ash’s first EP (when they were still literally 15 and living in Ireland and before they got famous with Kung Fu), marked me down as having DANGEROUSLY ALTERNATIVE tastes amongst my classmates (Swindon, man, Swindon), and meant I spent an awful lot of time listening to it on a Walkman and dreaming of escaping to a place where SOMEONE would UNDERSTAND me (so, so emo). Anyway, this is a great piece looking at the band’s genesis and painting a not-hugely-flattering picture of any of the people involved, but in a believable rather than monstrous way (though Cuomo does sound like a bit of a prick).
  • The History of the Fleshlight: You all know what a Fleshlight is, don’t you? Yes? Good, well we can continue then. VICE looks back at the device’s history - its genesis as an aid for a man whose wife had been told she couldn’t safely have sex during her pregnancy and so who decided to design himself a solution (we all have a practical friend, don’t we?), its subsequent status as a piece of internet legend and a pop-culture phenomenon (noone knows anyone who owns one, everyone knows what one is), and, latterly, its status as something of a precursor to the world of more gender-fluid and less anatomically-focused sextoys we’re moving towards. Totally SWF, though, well, there are some pictures of the devices in question. Still, could be anything, right?
  • Courtney Love at 55: An article celebrating the Hole singer at 55, and looking back at her (the piece contends) somewhat overlooked status in the pantheon of rock. Reading this, it’s startling to remember quite how much outright hatred and misogyny Love has faced throughout her career; I remember reading music magazines in the mid-90s which even then effectively painted her as a serial groupie and hanger-on rather than an artist and performer in her own right. That said, Love’s never made any secret of her desire for fame and status, which comes through loud and clear here - what also comes through, though, is the extent to which she was a pioneer of strong female voices in modern rock music. Really interesting, and made me want to listen to Live Through This for the first time in YEARS.
  • Eton and Power: I know Sam Leith, the author of this piece, a little bit - he’s lovely, and joins the collection of people I know who went to Eton who I want to hate but can’t. Sam looks back at the very peculiar nature of the Eton experience for this article, and tries to examine what it is about it that produces people with such an odd relationship to power; this is fascinating, and quite horrible at the same time.
  • The Book of Prince: Imagine being asked to write Prince’s book with him. JUST IMAGINE. No, don’t imagine, read this piece instead. This is a lovely, intimate piece of writing - Dan Piepenbring is obviously a huge fan, and it comes across in every sentence; as does the fact that Prince was evidently a very intelligent, very interesting, very singular man who would have been an absolute intimidating terror to work with - go on, read this and then try and imagine bringing notes to Prince: “Yes, er, I mean, I’m just not sure that that metaphor wor…”. No, it’s too awful to contemplate. This is a SUPERB essay.
  • Two Days in the Spa: Do we have 24h Korean spas in London? It feels like a very US thing, somehow. Anyway, in this article the author attempts to spend two days and nights consecutively in LA’s Wi Spa, in which you can pamper yourself, sweat, eat, sleep and just generally hang out. Will our hero attain a state of Nirvana? Will he transcend? Will he get found and kicked out before the 48h time has been reached? This is genuinely funny, a touch like a slightly-less-neurotic early-period David Sedaris, and you will feel ever-so-slightly-cleansed after reading it.
  • Magic Eraser Juice: Beautifully-written account of what it’s like going round saving opioid addicts from overdose in an unnamed part of America. Really, really superb prose, but about as uplifting as you’d expect.
  • Lemons In Winter: Finally this week in the longreads, Mika Taylor writes about her divorce and its aftermath, and going to visit some seals. Gorgeous and sad: “It’s January and I am visiting California’s Central Coast because my husband is leaving me. Has left me. I have never been this sad before. I am forty years old and my marriage is, was, the center of my life. My husband and I have been together almost twelve years, married eight, and separated less than six months. I am not over it. I am not OK. And I do not really see a path through, though therapists and friends assure me that time will help. I know this type of loss is common enough, but I am in no way prepared. At least in California there will be sun, I’d thought. But right now, it’s raining.”

By Sandro Giordano


  1. First up, this is a lovely, spare and sad song, about the end of a relationship or friendship and that feeling of not knowing quite what you’ve done wrong. It’s called ‘What Have I Done?’, it’s by Zoe Boekbinder and it’s for each and every one of you who’ve ever considered unsubscribing:

  2. I really, really like this, and it reminds me very strongly of something from around 2009/10, but I am fcuked if I know what. Anyway, it’s by Melt Yourself Down and it’s called ‘Boot and Spleen’, and it’s sort of shouty, spiky, art-rocky, with horns!   


  4. This is called ‘Bones’, it’s by Free Love, and it’s got a wonderful buildup and sort ofg gently old school rave-ish sensibility which I very much enjo

  5. Next, a lovely, slight, skeletal, skittery, insectile piece piece of electronice by Floating Points, called ‘Last Boom’

  6. I love the vocal on this so, so much (anyone else find it a bit Bjorkish in parts?). It’s called ‘Trying’ and it’s by Aunty Social:


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