#C2E2 Roundup

We had a good time! Other than having to park a full 27-minute walk away from the venue, that is. That’s a decent length for a walk in the cold, and my watch asked me on the way to and from my car if I was working out or not. No! I’m just trying not to die.

Also, when we got there, there was absolutely no signage that there was a security line or a bag check to go through? Just literally a few thousand people all milling around being confused, because no one knew why they were there but everyone stood in the huge mob because they felt like they ought to?

We had our badges already, and they were already activated, so I literally moved a barrier aside and the three of us went in. Somebody tried to follow us and got sent back, and tried to get security to go get us too, but they didn’t. For some reason I found that hilarious. I didn’t find out until after the show that we’d actually dodged the security line; as I said, no signs at all, just a lot of confused people in a herd. I wouldn’t have jumped out of line if I’d have known that, but … whatever, I guess. I thought it was will call, I swear. 😀

I feel like there were a ton more people at the show than the last time, but more on that in a few minutes. I had goals! Nerd goals! First one: meet Gail Simone and Al Ewing. Well, Al wasn’t at his booth at all on Saturday, which was a bummer. But I met Gail!

So, interesting detail: Gail follows me on Twitter. And the account belongs to Luther, which, remember, isn’t my real name. So the fact that I automatically went into “I’m at a con” mode and told her to sign my graphic novel to Luther took me by surprise. Then I found out she was selling scripts and snapped one of those up too– that issue of Tony Stark: Iron Man contains what might honestly be my favorite single-panel joke in all of comic book history:

Gail’s husband accidentally told me something VERY COOL that might be coming out and I was immediately sworn to silence, but I wasn’t told not to tell you that I know something cool now. Which I do.

Authors! We ended up leaving before Robert Jackson Bennett’s signing, but my wife got Sam Sykes to sign a book, and I got autographs from John Scalzi and S.L. Huang:

By this point, I’d set precedent that books were signed to Luther, so I decided to roll with it. John was nice enough to let me take a picture with him, too:

On the Charizard: the boy put it on the table, and John immediately volunteered to sign it if he wanted, which he declined, not knowing who the hell John was. We only talked for a minute or two but he was very nice– in general, everyone was, unsurprisingly.

Also, I bought stuff:

New leather dice bag! Forgive the vast amounts of cat hair on the piano bench, there; it’s one of Jonesy’s favorite spots and I’m not about to retake the pictures somewhere cleaner.

Leather dice tray! It was either this or a tower, and I went with this instead, because of…

…the super fuckin’ cool obsidian dice I bought, which the salesperson made sure to point out are made of glass, and thus, honestly, are probably not the best choice to make dice out of? The price of the set, plus the box and the tray was frankly ridiculous, but much more reasonable compared to the first set I looked at, which were made of Damascus steel and priced at four hundred dollars. But fuck it: twelfth/third anniversary and we both saved up to buy cool shit at this show and I was ferdamnsure going to buy cool shit.

Oh, and I ran into my friend Verna Vendetta, who I met at Starbase Indy a million years ago:

The only real fail of the show, at least for me, was the sparse number of cosplayer pictures I took. Turns out that 1) it’s way easier to get people to let them photograph you when you’re at a booth, and 2) it really was hugely crowded, so most of the time if I saw somebody I might have tried to get a picture of in other contexts, the ridiculous number of people in between us made stopping to do so practically impossible. So I missed out on, say, the guy in the 12-foot-tall Bumblebee costume, because despite being near him there was no way I was going to get him to stop. So I didn’t get nearly as many pictures as I thought I was going to, but I did get a handful of them:

So, yeah: didn’t get arrested, spent lots of money, met cool people, walked seven miles, Achilles tendons currently really painful. I’ll call that victory! If you’d told me at fifteen that I’d not only eventually attend a nerd convention with a hundred thousand people there but that I’d have my wife and son with me and we’d be doing it on our anniversary, I’d have called you a liar. It’s good to be a geek.

In which I’m planning my nerdery and also I’m stupid

We’re heading to Chicago for C2E2 tomorrow; we only bought tickets for the Saturday part of the show, but we’re going to stay with my brother on Friday night so that we don’t have as long or complicated a drive to deal with on Saturday morning. I spent some time tonight looking around at who was planning on being there and trying to wargame out who I wanted to see and how much standing in lines I thought my eight-year-old might be willing to tolerate. Which is … probably not too much, honestly.

I have a handful of people on my list: two comics writers, Gail Simone and Al Ewing, both of whom should be easy enough to find at their Artist’s Alley tables, Noelle Stevenson, who my wife also wants to meet and who is responsible for the excellent Netflix She-Ra program, and a few science fiction authors: John Scalzi, Sam Sykes, Robert Jackson Bennett and S.L. Huang. I have absolutely no idea whatsoever how difficult it will be to get autographs from these people, and I’m not about to subject my kid to lengthy lines, but is Sam Sykes gonna have a long line? I mean, probably not, right? Who the hell knows. There’s also the minor decision needed about whether I’m gonna bring stuff with me for autographing, which takes up space and requires me to carry said stuff around, or if I’m going to plan on buying things for signatures, which, okay, it’s our anniversary so I’m gonna splurge a bit, but I don’t know how many extra books I need just for signatory purposes. I mostly want to just meet these folks; the signatures are frankly all sorts of secondary to that purpose.

Now, take all that, whip up a bunch of unnecessary COVID-19 related paranoia, and pour said paranoia all over my plans like some sort of infection-based gravy. There have been sixty damn cases of the novel coronavirus in America, and I know how to wash my damn hands, which is the best way to avoid it. I’m just not super eager to be northern Indiana’s patient zero when I contract this shit and then spread it all over a damn middle school. Am I going to let this change my plans? Hell no, although I’m probably going to spend a smidge more time with my hands in my pockets than I might otherwise, and there’s definitely going to be more hand-washing than usual. But it’s in the back of my brain anyway, because stupid, and because oh right I have an actual anxiety disorder and anxiety disorders love this shit. Like, there’s nothing an anxiety disorder loves more than going to a 100,000-person-strong nerd convention during the opening weeks of a pandemic. Loves it.

Unrelated to anything: I am listening to a Kesha album right now, on purpose, and I’m rather enjoying it.

Anyway, I’ll post tons of pictures– pretty sure I can’t be infected with anything through my camera– and the usual end-of-month posts will be happening as usual. Whee!

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.