It is decided

For our 12th anniversary, my wife and son and I will be attending C2E2, which is a huge show that I attended once as a vendor several years ago. This will be the first nerd convention that I have been to in years where I will actually get to be a fan and an attendee and not trying to hawk books, so it ought to be a lot of fun, although I’ll probably need all of Sunday to recover afterwards. I have important decisions to make during next week now, mostly along the lines of how much money am I going to allow myself to blow at this thing and when I find a giant sword that I want, should I consider buying it, or am I past the point where I should be buying giant swords?

I mean, realistically I know the answer to that, but still.

There will be tons of pictures of cosplayers, of course, and there may be pictures of me taken with a handful of my favorite authors, as John Scalzi, Sam Sykes, and Gail Simone are all going to be in attendance. I will absolutely go meet Gail; Scalzi and Sykes will depend on the length of lines, as we’ll have the boy with us and I feel like C2E2 is not an optimal place to “meet” people who I might want to talk to for more than ten seconds. We’ll see, though.

Finally! A plan!

TikTok talk

So, yeah, I threatened everybody with writing this post yesterday, and as of right now it’s still percolating in my head, so screw it; we’re officially in “my blog” territory here and I strongly suggest that no one bother reading this as I intend to simply dump the contents of my brain into this blank text box and then go about my day.

Y’all might remember a web service by the name of Vine that shut down a couple of years ago. Vine was the Twitter of video; your videos couldn’t be more than something like six or seven seconds long, and somehow even given that restriction Vine was frequently hilarious. It takes quite a bit of creativity and talent to manage to be consistently interesting in six-second bites, and unfortunately I didn’t find out about the service until too close to it going away; I never actually posted any videos (I am funny in certain contexts; seven-second videos is not one of them) but I enjoyed browsing the site before it got turned off.

Enter TikTok. I first downloaded the app … I dunno, a month ago, maybe, thinking that it might be a worthy replacement for Vine. And, well, it’s not, if only because it’s doing entirely different things. TikTok, you see, exists solely to generate memetic content. The interesting thing about the app is that it allows you to copy the audio from any other posted Vine and use that audio with your own visual content. You can also “duet” another video, which plays that original video alongside yours with the audio from the original video; you can add your own text if you like.

What this means is that TikTok is literally the worst earworm generator on the entire Internet. And while it doesn’t have Vine’s restrictions, the videos are usually short, somewhere in the neighborhood of 15-30 seconds, maybe, although most of them are on the shorter end. Huge numbers of TikTok videos are either people lip-synching audio that other people originally recorded or sometimes putting it in another context. It can be hilarious, but when you’ve heard different spins on the “Her Name is Margo” audio from twenty-five different accounts over the course of a single day it’s going to start infecting your dreams, and God help you when a snippet of a song that you actually hear on the radio goes viral. It’ll melt your brain.

There are, near as I can tell, two components to the app. The first is the For You page, which is an endless stream of videos that I assume have been curated by an algorithm and may or may not differ in some way from user to user. The goal of any video is to make it to the For You page, because most people (I believe) interact with the app by mindlessly scrolling through those videos and that’s the best way for any individual video to get a lot of attention. You can like individual videos, which adds them to a list in the app, and you can follow individual creators, which creates a second list that is just of those creators, but doesn’t appear to be sequential or anything like that. It’ll just go on forever, repeating videos if necessary, until you die or close the app. It is terrible for those of us with mildly addictive personalities because it never ends and there’s no way to get shunted off into an article or something that causes you to accidentally learn something and get off the site for a few minutes. Just hours of the same five audio clips repeated until you die.

And then there’s Charli D’Amelio.

Charli is a fifteen-year-old high school freshman who has, as of this exact moment, twenty-seven point nine million followers on TikTok, the current high-water mark for the service, and I don’t believe second place is very close. By comparison, Barack Obama has about 113 million followers on Twitter, a much older and more established service, and oh also he was President of the United States.

Charli is a dancer. She dances. That’s basically it. She has a bunch of short dances that she’s (mostly? I assume?) made up for various songs (or, rather, parts of them) and she does her little dances and that’s the end of the video. She doesn’t speak in most of her videos. Now, don’t get me wrong, the kid is talented; I know she wants to dance professionally in the future and she’s absolutely going to be able to do that if the Social Media Queen thing doesn’t work out for her.

But I’m not just mentioning her for the hell of it. Remember how this site works. It works by other people taking audio from your videos and then either repurposing it or duetting you, where their video appears next to yours. And every single time Charli releases a video literally millions of people record their own videos either doing the dance alongside her, reusing the audio for something else, or issuing commentaries at varying levels of societal acceptability. And a quick look at her feed reveals that she’s done six videos just today. And every single one is going to end up being memetic content in some way or another. There is an entire account dedicated to finding out where she bought her clothes and posting where to get them and how much she spent. (Her family seems to be reasonably well-off, but the clothes aren’t expensive enough to warrant commenting on, for the record, much less creating an entire account for.)

I did a little experiment earlier, counting videos on the For You page and checking how many were either Charli’s videos or Charli-adjacent somehow. Each time I went through 100 videos, which takes less time than it sounds like it does since it only takes a second or so to figure out if she’s in the video or not. I did some of them logged in as me and some completely logged out to see if the app was deliberately steering Charli videos to me.

Out of a hundred videos, the high mark was eighteen having something to do with Charli– four in a row, at one point– and the minimum was three. Which means that even on a signed-out, no-algorithm account a minimum of three percent of the videos this site was serving to me were from one person, on a site with hundreds of millions of users.

Think about that. This kid is fifteen and she is basically running this entire social media network. TikTok, at least partially because of the way it’s built– you could never have something like this happen on Facebook or Twitter because of the way people interact with them, and while Instagram influencers are a thing nothing Kylie Jenner has ever done has accidentally made it into my feed– has unintentionally (?) created a situation where one user is driving an enormous amount of their traffic– either from people watching her or reacting to her with their own videos. It’s nuts. Babygirl was at the Super Bowl and the NBA All-Star game, for God’s sake. How do I know that? Dozens and dozens of videos of her, from enough users that it literally couldn’t be avoided.

I don’t know if this is a sensible way to create a social media network, but it’s certainly interesting.

In which here we go again

Warning: video game nerd content higher than usual in this post. Please avoid if necessary.

So I’m playing through Nioh again. This game got months of dedicated play when it first came out, and improved my skills to the point that after I beat it I was able to go back and play through the entire Dark Souls/Bloodborne sequence and beat all four of them as well. Nioh is, to my estimation at least, easily the hardest of the five games. You may recall me devoting a post to the day I finally beat Yuki-Onna after literally respeccing my character twice and an unprecedented several months of attempts. And it turned out that the ninjutsu tree was absolutely necessary to get through the rest of the game– the bosses in this game are stupid hard, and I was only able to beat most of them by cheesing the shit out of them with shuriken and kunai. It’s not unfair to say that I didn’t beat a single boss after Yuki-Onna without at least a little bit of blatantly exploiting the game mechanics.

Well, this time ’round I’m using the goddamn odachi, because I’m a glutton for fucking punishment apparently, and I’m reaching the point in the game where I run into Yuki-Onna again and where I hit a wall. The kusarigama/ninjitsu combo I used to finally get past her is all fast burst damage and long-range stagger, and the odachi is … not either of those things. The complete opposite of those things in fact. I’ve managed to blow past three of the bosses in the early game– Hiro-Enma, Umi-Bozu and the Goddamned raven tengu— who gave me hell the first time through, so hopefully I can actually beat her for real this time.

We shall see. I’ve got shit to do this weekend, so I don’t have a lot of time for weeping and gnashing of teeth and throwing controllers. Somebody’s going down, dammit.

EDIT: Got ‘er. Took maybe 10 minutes, half a dozen attempts, and during that time she one-shotted me at least three times. This may be the greatest day of my life.

In which I need a gas mask

A true fact about this cat, who suddenly figured out laps this afternoon and spent about an hour cuddling with the boy, who has been home sick from school for a couple of days: his shit stinks worse than the shit of any other pet, of any species, that I have ever had, and it not only fucks up huge chunks of my house to the point where I feel like we’re going to have to renovate our HVAC system to provide for greater air movement where we’ve got the litter boxes, it clings to him afterwards for a while, so if he uses the litterbox and then runs into the living room to demand scritches you will be able to tell where he has been. It is monstrous and terrifying and we are well beyond the point where I can chalk it up to him having been an outdoor cat and eating rats to stay alive. Dude’s been in the house for like two months now, there ain’t nothing in there but kibble and Fancy Feast. The other cats don’t stink like this. Not even close.

(The other cats are also female? I’m not sure if that matters. He’s fixed, at any rate.)


Today was the first day of this semester that I would characterize as a bad day. Not, like, by historical standards, or anything like that, and I mean a bad teaching day, as opposed to a bad my-mom-just-died-and-I’m-fucked-up-about-it day, but it’s actually surprisingly good news that it took this long. That’s all I have to say about it; there aren’t any interesting stories, really, but I thought I’d mention it.


In other news, in addition to fantasizing about writing another book (a short story! a microfiction! Fucking anything!) at some point in the future and fantasizing about eventually doing a podcast, a desire I have had for a couple of years now without the slightest inkling of a good idea for a podcast crossing through my brain, I have now decided that I want to do Let’s Plays for YouTube. I will never do this; to do it the way I want (discrete episodes, not livestreaming) requires far too much investment into equipment– I am fairly certain I’d need an entire new computer, for starters, because I don’t think there’s a good way to do video capture through my iMac, although I could be wrong– and frankly there is absolutely no demand for 43-year-old video game streamers. So I’m not going to do this, but it’s fun to toss it on the pile of other random creative bullshit that I’m not working on and watch it fester.

Meanwhile, I’m playing through Nioh again, because my career as a YouTuber should definitely start with games from four years ago, right?

Sure.

Adventures in dungeonmastering

True fact: I have been playing Dungeons and Dragons off and on since I was in fifth grade and never once in that time have I actually been a Dungeon Master. Now, granted, my first outing was about as foolproof as it could get– my audience was my wife (inclined to forgive me any errors I might have made) and my son (who wouldn’t know the difference) and I was using a prewritten, off-the-shelf adventure that I only made a small handful of modifications to, but I still think I acquitted myself pretty well. I added a character who wasn’t in the original adventure to sort of guide them through everything and created a couple of encounters before everything got started to help them get their feet wet, and we were off to the races after that. The problem with D&D is that it takes so damn long– the adventure was two pages long as written in the sourcebook and the session took three and a half damn hours. The boy wants to play again tomorrow— he’s second level now, which is just unbelievably powerful, of course– and it’s going to be hard to convince him that Daddy is not going to have this kind of free time every single day for the rest of the winter.

The kid’s a frickin’ fiend with his dice, though– three natural 20s over the course of the session, which wasn’t super combat-heavy so that’s more impressive than it sounds, more than balancing out my wife’s two natural 1s, one of which left her flat on her back at the feet of a mimic that was doing its best to try and eat her face. I wasn’t super inclined to kill either of them, although I made sure the boy in particular knew that if he tried to pull anything particularly reckless or dumb during the session he was going to pay the price, and other than offhandedly suggesting that they kill everyone in the room during an early negotiating session with some gnomes he more or less did a decent job of reining in his more destructive impulses.

All in all, not a bad way to spend a Sunday. I look forward to doing this again.