43 minutes reading time (8655 words)

Web Curios 09/08/19

Web Curios 09/08/19

HAPPY FRIDAY EVERYONE! What's that? It's not a happy Friday? You feel strangely anxious about the state of, well, everything, and it feels ever-so-slightly like things might be becoming, well, perhaps a tiny bit much?

WELCOME TO THE MODERNITY CLUB! In which every week you're entitled to a surprise FREE GIFT of HORRORNEWS, which occasionally, as in weeks like the one just past, we get delivered in bulk! Membership is free - at least materially; the emotional cost is, well, incalculable! - but the only way of dissociating yourself from the organisation is through the discovery of time travel or death. Have a time!

Also, enjoy this week's Web Curios - a fine selection of links which in the main will serve as some sort of soothing balm on the flayed skin of your psyche, and almost certainly won't act in the same way as lemonjuice on papercuts, oh no siree! Just to warn you, by the way, there's a small chance that there won't be a Curios next week as on Sunday I am taking a WHIRLWIND trip to Rome for 48h to wish my Grandmother a happy 100th birthday; sadly, it being Italy, there's no letter from the Queen; on the plus side, though, Nonna Angela can bask in the strange symmetry of Italy being a largely fascist nation as she reaches her centenary, much as it was (almost) when she was born! Anyway, as a result of that I might not have time to give the internet sufficient attention - rest assured, though, that normal service will be resumed in a fortnite at the latest. 

In the meantime, though, vafammocc a chi t'e mort' to anyone who voted for That Man in the recent Tory leadership elections - no, please, DO translate it, I mean every fcuking word you utter fcuking cnuts.

This, is ever, is Web Curios - you asked for this, don't forget. 


Right, now on with the webspaff!

By Matthew Grabelsky



  • Yes, That’s Right, Telly Through Facebook!: Well, some telly. In America. But it’s still pretty big news; users in the US will be able to buy access to certain shows, from places like Tastemade and College Humor, through Facebook, with the platform taking a cut. Obviously makes all sorts of sense from a commercial point of view, but I’m pretty dead set against anything that a) gives the Big Blue Misery Factory more money; or b) keeps people locked within its ecosystem, and so for that reason I’m...er...going to rail ineffectually against it to no discernible end whatsoever!
  • Instagram Rolling Out Easy ‘Instant Video’ Promo Creation: Indefatigable s*c**l m*d** sleuth Matt Navarra, a man so plugged into the networks that I am starting to wonder whether he’s cloned himself and has several of said clones installed under the floorboards in Menlo Park, spotted this new feature the other day; it’s not, seemingly, a universally-available thing, but following the Snapchat ‘we’ll make it as easy as possible to make half-decent ads because we know that for some reason most people still don’t quite ‘get’ the concept of vertical video in promos yet’-feature last week, it seems sensible that Insta would do something similar (plus ca fcuking change, eh?).
  • Twitter’s Billboard Ad Campaign: This isn’t interesting or important - SO WHY ARE YOU FEATURING IT THEN? FFS Matt, this sort of attitude is why you’re not Ben Thompson, rolling around lasciviously on a bed of crisp fifties, dictating this newsletterblogthing whilst being fed peeled grapes by acolytes. It is, though, emblematic of how lazy all this stuff is; Twitter’s latest real-life ad campaign is all about the difference between people behave on Insta (all polished and fake) and how they behave on Twitter (all GOOFY AND FUN), using real-life Tweets to illustrate the example. This is annoying for two reasons: 1) anyone who has used Twitter at all over the course of the past three years or so can attest to the fact that ‘goofy and fun’ is not necessarily the overriding vibe of the platform these days; and 2) this is basically exactly the same creative as Snapchat’s recent anti-Insta campaign, all about how ‘real friends’ are on Snap, not Insta. GET SOME NEW FCUKING IDEAS FFS. Also, I thought Insta was all about authenticity and stuff in 2019? I don’t understand anything any more.
  • TikTok Adds Giphy Integration: It is now “possible to import Giphy GIFs, specifically its animated Stickers, into TikTok posts, and at the same time, to be able to create new GIFs for Giphy based on what you are doing in TikTok”. I can’t be bothered to explain the exact mechanics of how this will work - look, trust me, read the original explanation and you’ll understand, it’s not exactly interesting - but it’s worth being aware of this as another reason to potentially get involved with Giphy as a platform, if you’re a brand or organisation which lends itself to gifs.
  • Live AR Directions Now(ish) on Google Maps: I am SO excited to try this out, but this particular update is yet to reach me; we will all soon be able to get AR directions in Google Maps, thereby (in theory at least) ensuring we will never again be in situations like I was yesterday afternoon when I got very, very lost trying to find Barnet train station after a pitch. The idea with this is that you can hold your phone up and see AR overlays pointing you in the direction of your destination; the reason I’m including it in here is to get you thinking about all of the inevitable ways in which you’ll eventually be able to buy ads in this space - because you will, obviously.
  • Pinterest Adds a Couple of New Features: You can tell I’m sort-of phoning this section in this morning, can’t you? Sorry, I promise I’ll muster up more enthusiasm once we’re done with the worky-type stuff. Anyway, this is news that Pinterest is getting an updated product recommendation service, as well as offering retailers a...oh, here: “Pinterest is adding an updated shopping section below Pins from certain businesses, which will showcase expanded brand catalogs based on the items you've shown an interest in.” There. Happy? Of course you’re not.
  • Voyant Tools: One of several things in here sent to me by Josh this week, for which THANKS, Voyant Tools is an interesting site which lets you conduct corpus analysis on any website or set of website you care to feed it, giving you snapshot views of main words used, frequency and the like. It’s *quite* wonky, but it could be useful for doing toplevel analysis of specific clusters of sites around certain topics.
  • Cities Talk Back: Lyft is still trying to compete with Uber, and has obviously decided that ‘we’re a lot less awful than they are and we care about stuff’ is the strategic route to go down; hence this site, putting it squarely in the anti-Trump camp by celebrating the many, many immigrants that make up its driverbase, and telling their stories through this nicely-made, if *slightly* cheesy, site (scroll out on landing - OH LOOK IT’S THE IMMIGRANTS ALL MAKING UP THE AMERICAN FLAG DO YOU SEE WHAT THEY’VE DONE THERE?!?). The company’s also donating to immigrant friendly organisations, and is inviting riders to round up the cost of their fares to do the same, which is generally A Good Thing.
  • The Love Island Job: Look, I am not going to judge you - I know that for one of you this is the absolute DREAM gig. Would you like to be ‘Head of Client Partnerships’ for Love Island at ITV? Would you like to be the person negotiating the deals with Boohoo and...er...whatever other brands want some of that sweet Love Island action (I am so far outside the target demographic for this that I can’t even conceive of what they would be. Clairol? Kleenex? A variety of regional lip filler clinics?)? Would you like to be within touching distance of the next set of pituitary meatheads to be held up as the Platonic idea of love (as imagined by Mattel)? YES YOU WOULD! The application process closes on Monday 12 August (if you’re reading this via the Curiobot on Twitter then you are sadly too late), so if you have ‘Experience of working in a Senior Account Management/Account Director role either Advertising Agency/Creative agency or media owner’, and a ‘Passion and interest for Love Island as a format’ then FILL YOUR BOOTS.

By Hans Vandekerckhove



  • Hey From The Future: This is an interesting idea that feels like it could have been a project for a charity or campaign, but is seemingly simply a hobby project which makes me like it more. The concept is simple - anyone can log onto the site, pick an age, and (presuming you’ve registered an account) leave a message for anyone else, giving advice to people of that age that you wish you’d known at that point in your life (not quite sure who the methuselan (it may not be a word, but it should be) people are living life tips for 81 year olds, but you GO you hoary old scholars of existence!). You don’t have to write anything - you can just browse the advice left by others, which range from the irritatingly trite to the genuinely moving, and overall the whole project is gently, quietly, almost sadly lovely. It’s a genuine shame that I can’t imagine any actual teenagers ever stumbling across this site, as there’s some solid advice in there for the 365 Stories: What a wonderful project this is. Matt Zurbo is an author who is also a new father, and who in the first flush of love and excitement at his new daughter decided that he would, selflessly, embark on a mission to write 365 short children’s stories and place them online for free for anyone else to find and read. These are perfectly ready to read as they are, but Zurbo has also included art direction alongside the stories, to allow either for parents with an artistic bent to potentially create illustrated versions for their kids, or for kids themselves to get a bit of a framework should they want to do it themselves. SO CUTE, and the sort of thing you could perhaps co-opt if you were the right sort of kid-facing brand (or, alternatively, we could accept the lovely selflessness of Zurbo’s vision and maybe stop trying to turn everytyhing good into advermarketingpr, thereby ruining it forever. Maybe that’s better).
  • Squad: A NEW TEEN SENSATION IN APP-LAND! Well, maybe - I can’t vouch for the veracity of this claim, what with not in fact being a teenager or being in regular contact with any, but I’ve seen it mentioned a few times this week as being the HOT THING, especially for girls, and so feel honour-bound to mention it to you. Squad’s gimmick is that it allows for live screensharing with your mates, the idea being that you can collaboratively watch stuff, shop, etc, in social fashion with your SQUAD. Or, and maybe I’m just being cynical about kids and what they are like, engage in some really spectacularly cruel bullying by collaboratively working on the best ways to torture people in DM conversations and the like. No obvious commercial use for this for brands, at least not that I can conceive of right now, but interesting as a potential trend.
  • The ONS GeoDataViz Gallery: Another one from Josh (THANKS JOSH), this is a quite wonderful and slightly silly VR/FPS-style gallery website put together by the Office of National Statistics, presenting a virtual space in which you can wonder round and check out a variety of cartographic works that have been commissioned by their Dataviz team. I have literally no idea why this was created, or indeed why the developers saw fit to include a very weird and slightly shonky ‘footsteps’ sound effect to accompany your passage through this non-existent museum of cartographical wonder, but I am very glad it’s a thing. Why is there a digital bin in there? WHY???
  • Favejet: This is a really interesting idea, and potentially useful for journalists looking to snoop on famouses PROBLEMATIC FAVES (is that still a thing that we care about? Possibly, in celebrityland at least). “When you follow someone on FaveJet you follow their faves: tweets they're faving, starring or liking (it’s all the same). And in turn, they can follow yours. There’s no recommendation algorithm telling you what you’ll like — just a stream of interesting tweets, made easy to follow.” Useful for picking diamonds from the stream of effluvia that is the TL, or indeed for keeping a gentle eye on who’s attempting to gently chirpse who.
  • Some Words For Me: Have you ever thought “Ooh, I ought to keep a diary, that’ll be something interesting to read back in a few years and maybe I can track my moods and be all mindful about stuff” and then realised that bothering to keep a diary is in fact really hard and requires a not-insignificant degree of commitment and dedication and, frankly, life’s too short? Well NO MORE! This is a really clever service; you simply tell it to email or text you at a specific time each day; you then reply to that message with whatever you want to say, and it will magically be compiled into a journal for you, which you can access at any time. Regardless of the fact that I think that this is being touted as some sort of appalling WELLNESS thing (I hate wellness and embrace sickness, fundamentally, like some sort of really rubbish goth who didn’t quite get the wardrobe memo), it’s a very neat, simple idea and worth a look if you either fancy keeping a diary or want something to send you a daily, nudge-y reminder to JUST FCUKING WRITE SOMETHING.
  • Earbuds: This feels like it could potentially be huge if the sports people get on board. The gimmick behind Earbuds is a really simple one - wouldn’t it be awesome if you could hear all the playlists that your favourite famouses were listening to? NOW YOU CAN IT’S SO EXCITING. It’s been set up by a former NFL player amongst others, meaning that there are a few US sporting famouses on board already, sharing their pre- and post-game/workout/concussion mixes with their adoring fans - the idea of being effectively stream your playlist live is the smart bit here, with the obvious gimmick of allowing fans to experience the same pre-game buildup as their heroes (transpose ‘pre-game’ for ‘pre-gig’, ‘pre-premiere’, ‘pre-awards’, ‘pre-lipo’, etc etc). Will be interested to see if it takes off.
  • Certified Artificial: Do any of you notice the RUNNING GAGS that pepper Curios each week? Do any of you care that there are several that I have been doing for LITERALLY A DECADE? No, you don’t, do you. FFS. Anyway, those few of you who do pay close attention to the tortured prose every week may have noticed that I have taken to annotating mentions of AI with the regular bracketed caveat ‘NOT IN FACT AI’, to convey my...skepticism about much of what is being passed off as THE MAGICAL POWER OF THE MACHINE MINDS. This is a joke website which makes a semi-serious point - to whit, that there’s absolutely no accepted definition of what ‘AI’ is in a variety of contexts, and as such it means any old charlatan can claim to be using it for snake-oil gain. The gimmick is that Certified Artificial will independently verify the artificial nature of the intelligence behind your company and give you an actual proper badge to display online - all for a mere $1500! Genuinely do hope they get a few sincere enquiries.
  • Alulu: Kickstarter baffles me. This is absolutely the sort of project I expected to be 10x funded, and yet here it is with under a week to go, staring down the barrel of failure (fine, their $300k goal was perhaps a bit punchy, but DREAM BIG KIDS!). Anyway, me linking this here is likely pointless as a result of the not-insignificant shortfall in funds they’re currently facing, but the idea is wonderful. Alulu is a camera which prints in black and white on thermal paper (the sort that receipts are printed on), creating a lo-fi effect reminiscent of the late, lamented Berg’s Little Printer project from a decade or so back (which I have, in searching for it, just discovered has been sort-of resurrected! Huzzah!) - I LOVE this, and am genuinely sad that it will probably never exist.
  • Frankenbook: This is a project from last year, but which exists online in perpetuity for anyone to try out - Frankenbook was a collaborative reading project launched by Arizona State University, and which lives on as a website collecting the full text, along with the notes and annotations of other readers, which you can explore and add to as you wish. The interface is simple but really, really clean, letting you toggle people’s annotations on and off at will so you can read the text uncluttered if you will; I love this, and sort-of like the idea of there being a future in which we could in theory read all books like this, with access to the marginalia of every past reader, kept forever.
  • Amazon Can Now Mimic Human Speech In Newsreader Style: “At AWS re:Invent 2016, we announced Polly, a managed service that turns text into lifelike speech, allowing customers to create applications that talk, and build entirely new categories of speech-enabled products. Zero machine learning expertise required: just call an API and get the job done! Since then, the team has regularly added new voices, for a current total of 29 languages and 59 voices. Today, we’re happy to announce two major new features for Polly: Neural Text-To-Speech, and a groundbreaking newscaster style.” This is quite incredible; the way it nails the cadence of newsreader speech - the slightly exaggerated inflection and emphasis - is uncanny. It still sounds fake but...only just.
  • ADIFO: Or, as it really ought to be called (Christ’s sakes, lads, LISTEN TO THE PR HERE) “THE FLYING SAUCER YOU ALWAYS DREAMED OF!” ADIFO is a Romanian (I think) project which has created an actual, honest-to-goodness working, miniatture flying saucer, controlled by remote control. This is a video of it flying and OH MY GOD it is so cool. Fcuk drones, basically, is my takeaway from this (that and ‘can someone please source me one of these?’) - just IMAGINE the fun you could have doing twilight flybys with one of these.
  • Ownersman: I don’t know why you’d need a website which collects complete scans of owners manuals from a variety of different cars, but, just in case you do, this is that very website. If nothing else, you could probably use this to train a neural net to write a car manual for you, though why on earth you’d want to is beyond me.
  • Eiko Ojala: Eiko Ojala is designer working between New Zealand and Estonia, and whose work has a wonderful, distinctive style, using layers and cut-outs to give weight and depth to his creations. Honestly, this stuff is wonderful and I would commission stuff by them in a heartbeat.
  • The Banana Hill Avatar Design Contest: Banana Hill was a very odd, semi-internet-famous cartoon from a few years back, which mined that very particular Adult Swim/Cartoon Network style of surrealism to reasonable effect (it’s not really my sort of thing, but your mileage may vary). Its creator is planning on making a sequel - here’s the synopsis: “Banana Hill 2 is an adult sequel/pilot episode I plan on releasing by midnight 12/31. We follow 3 friends as they surf the deep cryptic depths of a virtual internet explorer known as WoobWorldz in search for an ancient relic.” As part of the ‘virtual internet explorer’ vibe, they are asking people to create avatars for such a virtual world, which will be included in the final animation to create the sort of early-00s vibe required. If you’re an artist or designer this might be a nice, fun side-project - if nothing else, the Twitter thread linked to at the top of this entry showcases some pretty odd submissions from others which are worth scrolling through.
  • Vole: STEPHEN! Ahem. Vole (or, to give it its full name, Vole.wtf) is a site by Matt Round which collects a bunch of silly internet projects in one place - a text generator for websites that uses song lyrics from old kids’ tv shows, a silly little ‘Knight’s Move’ game featuring David Hasselhoff...basically it’s just a bunch of 30s internet amusements, which is EXACTLY what the web was invented for (don’t @ me, Tim).
  • Decent: Another Kickstarter, but this one’s met its goal with 9 days to go. Decent is a really interesting idea, and I’m fascinated to see what it ends up looking like - it’s a men’s magazine, created by women, which aims to present a different, more nuanced idea of masculinity than that normally showcased by the more traditional mens’ press. Thank Christ - if I see one more fcuking magazine telling me how Steve McQueen is a style icon, which whiskies I ought to be into as a REAL MAN, what gadgets I must have (because I am a MAN and I love technology and STUFF), and what the one massively overcomplicated dish is that I should master to demonstrate my culinary skills in order to get laid, it will be TOO SOON. Their manifesto sounds genuinely appealing - take a look “We promise you won’t find luxury watches, expensive cars, or protein ball recipes. Just a coffee-table magazine (for the lack of a better buzzword) packed with inspirational people, candid conversation and interesting, fresh perspectives.” About time tbh.
  • Subway Nut: Have YOU always hankered after “a website that is dedicated to rail based transit systems and trains in the United States and Canada, and whose goal is to have a photo essay of every station on every system”? ME TOO!

By Katherine Le Hardy



  • The Brick Experiment Channel: I got a message from a friend of mine the other day, who’s on holiday with his wife and kid and extended family, saying something along the lines of “if I have to hear that fcuking YouTuber’s fcuking voice one more fcuking time I swear to god my sister’s kid’s are going to die by my bare hands” (I’m paraphrasing, but only slightly). If you too are staring down the barrel of summer holidays dominated by the endless jingle of whatever YT horrorshow your sticky little darlings are currently obsessed by, why not consider showing them the Brick Experiment Channel, which does all sorts of incredibly cool LEGO builds and which are BLISSFULLY free of any annoying voice-over work whatsoever. Practically zen-like, this stuff.
  • A Visit to Mount Fanjing: A wonderful collection of images of the UNESCO World Heritage site at Mount Fanjing, which encompasses several temples and some jaw-dropping views. No, really, I promise you this is utterly incredible.
  • Mark E Books: A Twitter bot which uses a GPT-2 network trained on some Mark E Smith lyrics and which churns out some pretty wonderful approximations of The Fall every hour or so. You may think this is nonsense, but if you’ve ever spent any time listening to The Fall you’ll get quite how wonderful this is - “It is a new rite of spring… / And I am.... / I am...lympic gold medallist” could well be off Hex Enduction Hour, for example.
  • The Hathi Trust Library: Another raft of books from the past century recently entered into the public domain through one of those occasional quirks of copyright law; as part of my reading around that this week, I stumbled across the Hathi Trust Library, which is slowly amassing an incredible collection of out-of-copyright texts, here collected in full. There is SO MUCH in here - literally thousands of texts, full novels to textbooks to cookbooks - and if you’re a bibliophile I urge caution because you could easily get lost in here and never emerge. The Hethi Library will continue to be updated over time; this one’s very much worth bookmarking and returning to periodically to see what new gems they’ve uploaded.
  • Typography Resources: You want typography resources? YOU GOT TYPOGRAPHY RESOURCES! Lots of useful stuff here for designers in a helpfully-curated series of lists.
  • The Big Face Project: This is all in Japanese, and, whilst you could use the magic of Google to render it comprehensible, I personally think it benefits from being seen entirely bereft of context. WHY IS THE PERSON BEHIND IT OBSESSED WITH CREATING THINGS THAT MAKE THEIR FACE BIGGER? Regardless, if you’ve ever wanted instructions on how to make an oddly-geometric giant papercraft mask of your own face, or a FACE ENLARGING HELMET-BOX (and which of us hasn’t?!), this is very much the website for you.
  • Misskin: You probably don’t need or want to know this about me, but I am pretty much littered with moles, including one particularly-fetching example slap-bang in the middle of my ‘damp toilet paper draped over a toastrack’ chest, giving the impression of a third nipple, or an excellent target for the epi-pen should I ever overdose. If you too are a VERY MOLEY PERSON, this app might be useful; if helps you track your blemishes, letting you monitor their size and track changes in their appearance to guard against the skin cance. Sadly doesn’t feature the ability to map all your moles and then play a game of virtual ‘join the dots’ on your own body, but perhaps that’s version 1.72.
  • By The People: I love crowdsourced projects like this - the LIbrary of Congress in the US is seeking help transcribing all its old documents in order to be able to better digitise and preserve its archive; this website links out to all the different individual projects currently going on as part of this initiative, and lets you leap in to reading and transcribing documents from the US Civil War, the woman’s suffrage movement and a whole host of other moments in history. It’s interesting, as an aside, that despite the huge advances in automation that have been made in terms of digitising large corpuses of work, things like this that deal with handwritten materials are still slightly beyond current ML capabilities.
  • Tiny Animals on Fingers: Your new favourite subReddit. So many VERY SMOL animals! SUCH TINY LIZARDS!
  • Octopus Holdings: I really, really don’t get what this is or why it exists - I presume it’s a clever coding thing, but, really, I don’t care; I am just enamoured of the fact that I can now create images of an emoji octopus triumphantly holding up whatever I tell it to. Navigate to the url - now add /XXX to the end of it, where ‘XXX’ is...whatever you like! If there’s an emoji of it, the octopus will now be holding said emoji! Magic! Beautifully, this stacks - try multiple /XXXX/XXXX variants and see what emerges. I have no idea what you might do with this, but if nothing else you can amuse yourself by emailing your colleagues a massive stack of emoji cake or something.
  • The Warfield Autograph Room: According the the blurb on the site, the Warfield is a music venue in San Francisco which opened in 1922 and since then has played host to pretty much every musical act of note over the past century. One of the venue’s gimmicks is its ‘autograph room’, which over the years has become plastered with the scrawled leavings of musicians from all over the world, some famous, some infamous, most of whom you will never have heard of - the theatre offers a wonderful high-def 360 view of said room, and it is very easy to lose yourself panning and zooming and trying to find your favourite’s signatures - no idea who it’s by, but my personal favourite is the one happily announcing that you now find yourself in ‘Buttface County’, but do pick your own.
  • The Ghost in the MP3: I can’t possibly explain this better than the person who made it, so I shan’t try: “"moDernisT" was created by salvaging the sounds lost to mp3 compression from the song "Tom's Diner", famously used as one of the main controls in the listening tests to develop the MP3 encoding algorithm. Here we find the form of the song intact, but the details are just remnants of the original. Similarly, the video contains only material which was left behind during mp4 compression.” This is such an odd, wonderful idea; it creates something that is almost entirely, but not quite exactly unlike the original song, and yet in which you can sort of catch the echoes of Suzanne Vega. Wonderful, eerie, strange, and very much not the sort of thing that anyone will thank you for putting on the office Sonos.
  • The Club: This is very, very odd, and you won’t understand what’s going on. It’s a sort-of surreal MMO-type shared in-browser web experience...thing, which also is a sort of musical project which lets anyone download a sample pack and use said pack to create music which you can upload and which will then be played as part of The Club’s soundtrack...it’s aesthetically not a million miles away from that VR social network playground thing whose name I forget (you know, the one with all the weirdly-racist echidna avatars - WHAT DO YOU MEAN THAT MEANS NOTHING TO YOU?!? FFS), and whilst this is a total mess and quite jarringly weird, it’s also sort-of perfect for those exact reasons.
  • Enby: Enby is the first sex toy I’ve seen that’s designed semi-explicitly for bodies in transition or who consider themselves gender-fluid, and whose shape makes it able to be used in a variety of different configurations depending on what works best for you or your partner. It’s also the first sex toy I’ve seen that looks like a cross between a cute stingray and a bicycle seat, but that’s by-the-by.
  • Rollhill: Fun, timewasting game of the week #1! This is Rollhill, a game in which you play a tire, rolling down a variety of hills, as quickly as you can. Strangely addictive.
  • AI Dungeon: Fun, timewasting game of the week #2! AI Dungeon is a...oh, here you go: “AI Dungeon is an AI generated text adventure that uses deep learning to create each adventure. It uses OpenAI's new GPT-2 model, which has 117 million parameters, to generate each story block and possible action. The first couple sentences of AIDungeon and the action verbs are handcrafted, but everything else is not. For each choice that is made, the initial prompt, the last story block, and the last action are fed into the neural network. The resulting story and action options are then output by the model.” This is in the main nonsensical, but just coherent enough to make it fun to play around in; some of the scenarios or options it throws up are quite wonderfully obtuse.
  • A Small World Cup: Fun, timewasting game of the week #3! Last of the miscellaneous links this week, and it’s a cracker - Small World Cup pits you against the computer or another player - the goal is to score...er...goals, by hurling your miniature footballman at the ball while your opponent does the same, and you both attempt to flail the sphere into the onion bag. This is VERY silly, but practically-perfect as a way of filling in the hour before you can reasonably slope off to the pub.

By Mark Powell



  • Talking Heads: You want a Tumblr dedicated solely to content about Talking Heads? What? You have no idea who Talking Heads are? FFS, children!
  • Album Cover Cover: This is a lovely project, by art director Bruno Ribeiro, in which he sets himself the task of knocking up a new album cover for a certain album, in the time it takes him to listen to said album from start to finish. I’ve got a real thing for artistic projects undertaken within specific constraints like this, and the pleasingly symmetrical nature of this is very satisfying.
  • Aircon 1000: Photographs of massive aircon units from Japan. Why? If you have to ask you will never understand.
  • Classical Art Memes: The sort of gentle memery which feels oddly out of place in 2019.


  • Homesick Dot Com: I’m sure that many of you will feel there’s a strong whiff of ‘never happened’ about this Insta feed, collecting letters sent home from Summer camp by (often but not always) homesick kids, but I don’t care - lots of these made me laugh like a drain, and many more of them made me think that perhaps I ought to rebook that vasectomy.
  • Gandyworks: James Nolan Gandy describes himself as a ‘drawing machinist’, which as far as I can tell means that he makes intricate pen-and-ink drawings created with Spirograph-style machines he builds himself. I would buy these in a heartbeat (there’s a link to his site on the profile if anyone fancies getting me a present).
  • Wblut: The feed of Frederik Vanhoutte, who I can across as a result of his spectacular geometric animations, where he shows three-dimensional shapes being sliced and spun across various axes to create wonderful, abstract black and neon designs. Honestly, these are SO GOOD.
  • Emperor Wee: Kenze Wee is a game designer and pixel artist; their feed is full of gorgeous little pixel illustrations, created with unusual artistry.
  • Alberto Russo: Russo is a Swiss (I think - or Swiss-based, at least) artist, whose feed is a selection of his works; his style is weirdly familiar, perhaps as it’s reminiscent of several of the people who drew Dylan Dog in the 80s. If that means nothing to you, think strong lines, etched shading and a vaguely 70s Euro aesthetic to the whole thing.
  • Gurme Antepli: Baklava. Lots of baklava.
  • Ipnot: The most incredible embroidery work you will ever see, which may sound like hyperbole but I promise you really isn’t.
  • Hungry: The description here is ‘distorted drag’, which is pretty-much perfectly right if you ask me. Such an amazing aesthetic here, and not a million miles away from the ‘Oligarchs’ CGI video which I featured last week and which you OBVIOUSLY all watched.
  • Jedy Vales: To the ranks of Lil Miquela and the other CG influencers/models so in vogue with the fashion world at the moment we can now add Jedy Vales, the world’s first CG bongo star on Instagram! Created by Pr0nhub (who else? Really, some of the best marketing IN THE WORLD right now - so much so that I am now using it completely straight-facedely as my go-to example when people ask me ‘who’s doing good digital stuff these days, Matt?’, mainly as they tend to get quite embarrassed and then leave me alone). This is...odd, though as Shardcore pointed out over Slack, this is obviously just a precursor to the character appearing in actual bongo on the site. I don’t understand the future any more, and nor indeed do I really want to.


  • Bellingcat and El Paso: It’s impossible not to start this week’s longreads without some reflections on last weekend’s shootings in the US; this first piece did the rounds in the immediate aftermath of the El Paso shooting, and is Bellingcat’s typically thorough and reasoned analysis of how it links in to the recent pattern of incidents born of 8chan and other extremist communities online, and what clues or learnings one can take from the way in which said communities foster, encourage and lionise actors such as these. It’s...bleak.
  • Pandering: Or, to give the piece it’s actual title, “Where listening to the concerns of racists has got us”. An excellent piece of writing about exactly why every time we make accommodations for the arguments of racists, we go one small step towards legitimising the points of view that they hold, and why as a result it is an important and necessary act to demonstrate wherever possible that ‘being a racist’ is not a valid position worthy of debate or consideration.
  • The Savant: Ordinarily I would have put this further down the list - it’s very much on the less-newsy end of the spectrum, more storytelling than journalism - but it fits rather nicely amongst the pieces about last weekend’s Bad Things. US Cosmopolitan tells the...frankly not 100% believable, if I’m honest, tale of a mysterious, anonymous woman living in a nondescript part of semi-suburban America who is some sort of one-woman anti-misogynistic-hatecrime taskforce. The article’s subject spends her time immersed in anti-female communities, monitoring the conversations and keeping a running list of those men she considers most likely to go full assault weapon; apparently she’s been responsible for foiling ‘several’ incidents by dint of her extraordinary nose for these things. This is a very, very strange piece indeed - the tone sort of breathlessly fangirly and hagiographic - but certainly an interesting one.
  • Rituals of Childhood: The last piece this week to explicitly address the shootings, this is a devastating essay by Kieran Healy, about how one of the oddest things about US attitudes to their problem with death-by-firearm is the odd accommodation they have made with ‘kids potentially getting murdered whilst at school’, and how the normalisation and ritualisation of the teaching process around shootings is quite, quite horrific when you stop and think about it for more than approximately 3 seconds.
  • Tulsi Gabbard: I confess to having largely stopped giving much of a fcuk about the US Democratic nomination because a) it already appears to have been going on for several decades; and b) it’s increasingly clear to me that That Man is very likely to win again (I am very much hoping here by skill at predicting the future in 2019 is as on-point as it was back in 2015); and c) there’s quite a lot going on over here as well, frankly. Still, this profile of Tulsi Gabbard briefly reignited my interest - Gabbard’s a candidate whose anti-interventionist rhetoric has attracted a lot of support from a range of sources, but most prominently a bunch of alt-right adjacent Silicon Valley types (that’s basically what we’re calling Dorsey now, right?). As with all profiles of US politicians, the main takeaway from here is quite how far away from being anyone’s idea of a normal person Gabbard seems.
  • How We Got Social Credit Wrong: Tonally-confusing piece from WIRED, this, which on the one hand tells us that everyone in the West has totally overblown the scary, creepy Orwellian nature of China’s social credit system, that in fact there are massive gaps in the panopticon, and that it’s more a load of local administrations messing around with systems to see what works than a whole national-level surveillance-and-control system, whilst on the other making it very clear that all this stuff is very much leading up to something that sounds exactly like the sort of sinister system we all thought it was when we first read about it 2 years ago. I don’t think that the piece is quite the reassuring pat on the arm the author thinks it is, fundamentally.
  • Jeffrey Epstein: Andrew O’Hagan in the LRB, writing a short piece about the Epstein case which touches upon the thing I found most troubling about it; the recent Carl Beech story, and Pizzagate, and the other mad-seeming conspiracies about CELEBRITY PAEDO RINGS IN HOLLYWOOD and the rest, all start to sound a little less mad when you consider that that is apparently exactly what Epstein was doing, in plain sight. It seems pretty much certain now that he really was running some sort of international abuse ring, which suddenly makes a lot of the other stuff seem...well, still quite mad, obviously, but you can imagine the hay being made with this amongst the faction of people who’ll quite happily discuss the Clinton’s vampiric tendencies. Troubling.
  • How Rising Sea Levels Will Affect Asian Cities: Thanks again, Josh, for pointing me at this rather wonderful (and, if you’re an city-dweller in Asia, not a little worrying) longread/dataviz looking at what’s likely to happen to large urban centres in Asia should predicted climate change occur.
  • The Cartographers of North Korea: Another lovely longread/dataviz piece, this time looking at the people who secretly help mapping services get a picture of the murderously-secretive DPRK.
  • Quibi: This was totally new to me, I confess - apparently entertainment mogul Jeffrey Katzenburg is set to launch a new shortform video service called Quibi next year, which he sees as presenting high-quality commissioned episodic content designed to be viewed in bitesize chunks on mobile. This isn’t launching til April 2020, but it sounds...serious: “With $1 billion in the bank and a goal of releasing some 7,000 pieces of content during Quibi's first year, Katzenberg has been on a buying spree for the mobile-only platform. In June and July alone, Quibi has revealed no fewer than 20 new projects from partners that include Tyra Banks, Darren Criss, Rashida Jones and Veena Sud. They join previously announced efforts from Guillermo del Toro, Antoine Fuqua, Jason Blum, Jennifer Lopez and Anna Kendrick.”
  • Not-Alt Meat: An overview of the non-meat industry, specifically Impossible and Beyond Meat, which posits that we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the market for faked animal proteins. The main point here - which I confess I had never thought of before, but which struck me as blindingly obvious as soon as I read it - is that the quality of actual meat currently used in mass-catering (burger joints, hotdogs, Taco fcuking Bell, etc) is so low that these substitutes are already an upgrade in terms of user experience (taste, mouthfeel, etc), and as they become cheaper there is literally no reason why huge swathes of the fast food industry wouldn’t switch them them instead of dead cows or pigs. Might invest (I won’t invest).
  • Obscure Plug-In Consoles: Not an essay, this, or at least not in the traditional sense - instead it’s a VERY LONG Twitter thread about the weird trend for those ‘plug it into your TV and play a range of shonky videogames’-type controller things that were popular in the 90s/00s; fine, it’s a *bit* niche, but if you’re interested in games and their history, this is a fascinating footnote.
  • The Birth of the Semi-Colon: I love the semi-colon, some (regular readers, my employers, anyone who has to correspond with me for any length of time) would say too much. Regardless, this short piece explains its genesis, and confirms, should any have you been in any doubt, exactly when to use it: “It was meant to signify a pause of a length somewhere between that of the comma and that of the colon” SEE? PERFECTLY CLEAR.
  • Samuel L Jackson and Deep Blue Sea: My girlfriend is obsessed with sharks, to the point that she would quite like to be eaten to death by one (she assures me this isn’t a sex thing, but, well, readers, I have my concerns), and therefore she probably knew all about the iconic ‘Sam Jackson gets eaten’ death scene from the film Deep Blue Sea. I didn’t, though, and had no idea it was some sort of cult thing; this piece is a really enjoyable oral history about how and why it turned out the way it did. Most interesting for me is the light it shines on the sausagemaking process; I had no idea that stuff like this happened when making films, with entire movies being recut to create a completely new, tonally different end-product. Fascinating. Still no interest in seeing Deep Blue Sea, though, sorry Saz.
  • The Egg is Bigger Than Before: Partly about a very odd egg ‘hack’ that did the rounds of the web last week, but more about the very, very strange world of 5-Minute Crafts, the YouTube channel that seemingly churns out hundreds of utterly bizarre yet totally compelling ‘hack’-type videos, featuring ‘tips’ that are best useless and at worst genuinely unsettling. What’s interesting about stuff like this - to me, at least - is the extent to which YouTube is ferreting out quite a lot of mass-humanity psychological quirks; who could possibly have known before the advent of this sort of thing that millions of people would really, really enjoy being shown 27 totally pointless things you can make with Coca Cola?
  • Endlings: As a result of this article I this week learned that the name for the final living example of a species is an ‘endling’. An endling! How INCREDIBLY poignant! Do you remember the film ‘The Flight of the Navigator’? OF COURSE YOU DO! Remember the impossibly-cute big-eyed worm creature thingy that the kid befriends about the ship? Now think of it as an endling (which it was) - doesn’t that make you want to weep a bit? Anyway, this is about the scientists seeking to preserve some of the last examples of particular species of snails and, well, I might have done a bit of a well-up at this one.
  • Lake Duck Pond: A lovely, wholesome example of online creativity, this piece is all about a subReddit about the totally fictitious town and community of Lake Duck Pond, which doesn’t exist and never has done, but has a committed and lively bunch of residents who assiduously roleplay the town’s existence as some sort of weird collaborative online community theatre project. This is wonderful, and the sort of thing that might make you think that the internet is sort-of ok, at least for a few hours.
  • Ivanka Aeternum: One of two quite remarkable personal profiles this week, this one focuses on Ivanka Trump and seeks to scry the woman behind the hair/smile. It’s a pretty brutal piece, full of unnamed sources queueing up to paint Ivanka as a strange, contradictory rich kid desperate for her father’s love and who could end up doing quite literally anything in the world once he leaves office, including, perhaps, running herself. Quite jaw-droppingly strange in places, in the manner only profiles of the very, very rich manage to be.
  • Imran Khan - Sport, Power, Women: It’s a very silly title, but it’s also apt given the tripartite obsession of this profile of the Pakistani Prime Minister - it’s a wonderful series of anecdotes and observations, and paints a wonderful portrait of Khan as a sort of playboy-swordsman-mystic-savant, but MAN does it lay it on thick about the ladies; you can almost hear the author salivating slightly as he enumerates the Khan conquests. Fun, but an odd sort of stylistic throwback too.
  • Coney Island: I’ve never visited Coney Island when in New York, and have no particular connection to the place outside of its mythologised appearances in many of my favourite novels, but this essay about the magic of the place is one of the best pieces of writing in terms of pure style that I’ve read in months.
  • London Swings! Again!: Thanks SO MUCH to Charlotte for sending me this - it is Vanity Fair’s 1997 cover story about SWINGING LONDON, penned in the pre-Blair period when everything seemed exciting and pregnant with promise, and it is EVERTHING. It seems so far away, for a start, and whilst I appreciate the breathless style is an authorial affectation meant to evoke the 60s that the piece is making parallels with it’s also a weirdly effective reminder of just how exciting everything seemed then. Fine, that might have been because I was 17, but it did also feel like everything was just sort-of getting better; fast-forward 22 years and, well, not so much. This is just PACKED full of wonder and joy - and, in the case of the author’s weird fetishisation of the normalisation of cocaine use amongst the non-banking classes in the 90s, a strange precursor of why things maybe wenta bit darker 7-8 years hence. Special shout out to the section towards the end featuring Loaded’s James Brown, where he is basically EXACTLY the same person as Jonatton Yea? from Nathan Barley.
  • On OCD: Finally this week, this is an exceptional personal essay by James McMahon about his struggles with OCD; it’s a very, very good piece of writing, and I recommend it to you unreservedly.

By Mi Ki Kim


1) First up, this sounds like the Pixies which is good enough for me. This is ‘Hertz’ by Black Dresses:

2) I was pretty much convinced to feature this when I saw the band name, to be honest, but it turns out that this 9-minute slice of psychedelic stoner psych-rock is actually pretty good, as is the accompanying short film. This is The Spaceships of Ezekiel, by Mammoth Weed Wizard B*stards (no, really):

3) Would you describe Battles’ music as Math Rock? You might if you were a bit of a pseud from 2013. Still, the beautifully-geometric video for their latest, called ‘Titanium 2-Step’ fits that description too, and this is a wonderfully angular bleepy mess. Enjoy!:

4) Slightly odd mix of styles, this, but it works perfectly (if by ‘works perfectly’ you mean, as I do, ‘sounds like a weird 2019 version of Bodycount except for at the beginning where it momentarily sounds like sort of shoegazey track from about 1993’). It’s by Black Futures and is called ‘Body and Soul’:


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