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 I am proud and disgusted

I mentioned yesterday– or at least I think I did, play along if I’m wrong– that after work I had to go to a parent-teacher conference for my son. This was a regularly-scheduled event and not one of those “your kid is a shithead, you need to come in now” sorts of things, and I wasn’t expecting any particular surprises from it– my kid does well academically but is, I think, a moderate behavioral challenge when the mood strikes him, and most of his teachers have tossed a “he could get better at paying attention” type of line at us from time to time. And they’re not wrong; he could. And this is a thing that we work on; he’s not perfect. So I wasn’t expecting all candy and roses but I wasn’t expecting an unpleasant conversation either.

I have spent a decent chunk of the last couple of weeks administering a standardized math test to my students that we take three times a year. 90% of my students are done within two class periods and the rest of the time is catching kids who were absent or the occasional one who needs more time. This test is given nationwide and the norms are referenced nationally, so a kid’s percentile score, for example, is against all kids who took that across the country and not just the ones at my school or in my district.

And as it turns out, the kids at Hogwarts took the same test this year, for the first time. The teacher introduced it somewhat hesitantly, admitting that she wasn’t completely familiar with the data she was given, and … well, I don’t have that problem, both by training and by inclination, since I’m a huge data nerd and I love this shit. So, yeah, I know exactly how to read this report that you’re handing me.

And I was simultaneously thrilled and disgusted by the results. A bit more background: the way this score is tested is that all grades are scored on a continuum, so there isn’t really a maximum or minimum score but they expect an average 8th grader to have a score of around 230 or so and an average 2nd grader to be in, I dunno, the 180s or so. But it is possible for an 8th grader to score below that second grade level and it is possible for a 2nd grader to score above the 8th grade level.

And my kid outscored about 80% of my fucking 8th graders, in both reading and math. He was in the 99th percentile in achievement in both reading and math, and he was in the 98th percentile in growth for math and 80th percentile in growth for reading. So he killed this fucking test. My reaction was not quite “You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me,” but it was close. I knew the boy was bright, but … shit. And the fact that his teacher showed me these results and then immediately began apologizing because she doesn’t think she’s challenging him enough … lady, if the boy showed up at the 98th percentile in growth, it means he’s hoovered up every single fact you’ve thrown at him all year long. I would kill for results like this from my students. And she’s acting like she’s embarrassed by it.

If my kid isn’t showing growth, then maybe the teacher has at least a justification for an apology, although as the teacher of a number of kids who are failing to show growth (and, to be fair, a larger number who are; my overall numbers weren’t bad at all relative to the other teachers in my building) I’m not about to be making a bunch of phone calls. But if the kid is improving by leaps and bounds like mine apparently is then it is a hundred percent fair for the teacher to crow about the job she’s doing with him a bit.

And it’s weird, because as a dad I’m proud of him, but as a teacher I kind of want to break things, because now I have to swallow the sentence “My second grader took this test and beat your score by thirty points” with a lot of my kids, and … gaaaah.

I just wish everybody could get the education he’s getting at Hogwarts, and I wish enough of my kids gave a shit that they had a chance of getting that type of growth from me. I had one kid in the nineties in growth, but she barely spoke English when she took the first one, so it’s not exactly a surprise. It’s a whole damn different world over there.

Happy Thanksgiving

So it turns out that the iPhone’s Portrait mode works really well on cats, too, to the point where I’m figuring the people who coded it set it up that way on purpose. Dude still doesn’t have a name. Ten minutes ago I thought he had a name, and was ready to announce it, but he does not. Soon, though! He’s ours legally now, and we’ve got an appointment to get him fixed on Monday, so he really ought to have a name by then. Yesterday was the day the fifteen-day hold officially expired, though, so he’s ours.

Maybe that’ll be his name. We’ll just call him Ours. Sure.

I do not typically have Difficult Family Holidays, and do not actually have the crazy racist uncle that so many of us seem to have to tiptoe around on the holidays– or, if I do, he’s made certain to never be such in my presence or at my house. I wanted to make a joke here, the first was about my mother-in-law and the second was about my sister-in-law’s husband’s vague resemblance to Saddam Hussein, but both of them are landing rather poorly so just pretend I said something funny here.

So while we’re splitting Thanksgiving over two days this year– the Electric Boogaloo version is tomorrow– neither should be especially stressful, especially since I seem to be using my lingering illness as an excuse to go Full Metal Masculine and not be helpful in any real way at all.

I’m going to have to cook the whole goddamn meal next year to make up for this year, is what I’m saying.

But: while still ailing, I remain at least nominally alive, which is still an improvement over earlier this week, and I had mashed potatoes today and did not deliberately eat myself into a food coma, which may be a sign that I’m getting smarter as I get older but is probably just a sign that I remember I get two of them this year. So now I get to spend two days stressing about grading and a day actually grading, and then there’s a two-and-a-half week run to Winter Break, and then I can fall into a damn coma for all anyone cares.

Which, y’know. That’s the dream.

More– possibly lots more– tomorrow.

In which I saw SEE

So it turns out that if you buy an iPhone nowadays you get a free year’s subscription to Apple TV+, a service I’m not fully certain that I knew existed until discovering that I had a free year’s subscription to it. And it also turns out that if your brother and sister-in-law are spending the night at your house and the boy has been put to bed and you stare at each other long enough, you’ll end up watching that new Jason Momoa show that all of you have vaguely heard of but nobody really knows anything about. Because Jason Momoa is really, really pretty, and it doesn’t matter much what he’s actually in so long as you get to look at him while he’s in it.

(Jason Momoa is one of a very small number of exceptions to my otherwise lifelong heterosexuality. He’s my goddamn imaginary boyfriend and I dare any of you to make a thing out of it.)

Here are some good things about See, which has had four episodes released, and which I have watched two episodes of:

  • It is well-acted. Not only is Jason Momoa in it, but another main character is played by Alfre Woodard, who I would watch reading a phone book. All of the characters are compelling and interesting.
  • It is absolutely god damned gorgeous to watch. Lay aside my Momoasexuality; I don’t know where this show is filmed, but I want to live there, and the people who designed the sets and found the locations deserve whatever the highest awards in their fields are, preferably more than once. This is one of the most beautifully-shot TV series I’ve ever seen, and I don’t know what the budget is for it but I suspect it’s an awful lot.
  • It is well-directed across the board and when it wants to be it is wonderfully spooky. A character called the Shadow is introduced in the second episode and the way the Shadow moves and is filmed is a fucking masterclass in creating suspense out of basically nothing at all; she literally just walks around or stands in a corner and she’s the creepiest damn thing I’ve ever seen.

Here is the less good thing about See:

  • It may have the single most ludicrous premise of any entertainment product I’ve ever encountered, and I am the person whose review of Snowpiercer is literally the number one result on the Internet when you search for the words “Snowpiercer stupid” on Google. It is bone-shakingly, astonishingly, unbelievably, paralyzingly dumb on a huge number of levels, and the fact that it manages to be compelling enough that I’m probably going to watch at least another episode or two is a fucking miracle and a testament to the three items above.

Here’s the premise of the program, which is a distant future post-apocalyptic fantasy show: a virus wiped out all but two million people and blinded literally everyone who was left. All future descendants of those people were also born blind. Now, “centuries” (it doesn’t say how many) later, one man has been born with sight and impregnated a woman with twins, and the twins have also been born able to see.

The show is far enough in the future that there are no remnants of human society left– everything is broad expanses of wilderness, with no ruined buildings or rusted cars or anything like that, although we have seen one (1) pile of tires and there appear to be enough plastic water bottles left that a guy is able to make a point of using three a day to send messages down a river in a scheme that is so stupid that I refuse to describe it here. There is a dam left that appears to provide a small amount of hydroelectric power to the people who live near it, and there is at least one working record player and one copy of Lou Reed’s Perfect Day available on vinyl so that a lady can masturbate to it while she prays.

Yeah, that’s what I said. This woman is supposedly a queen and she “has to pray” twice in two episodes and both of them involve orgasms and one of them is juuuuust a little rapey. Where the show is not stupid it is absolutely batshit nuts. This is one of those places.

It is far enough in the future that the very concept of vision has been reduced to a heretical idea that nobody really believes in any longer, but clothes are still dyed and one weird religious thing features everybody in matching black robes and jesus my worldbuilding questions about clothing alone could take up another thousand words. Needless to say, while I’ve only watched two hours of programming and there is plenty of time to get deeper into worldbuilding later, these folks have no manufacturing, no agriculture, they cannot hunt because no one on Earth can convince me that a society of blind people can capture enough meat to stay alive, and their technology level appears to be firmly set right around Hollywood Viking, except with guide ropes stretched everywhere.

(Writing has evolved into a sort of Aztec quipu thing, with lots of knotted ropes that people “read” with their fingers, and the big religious ritual scene has huge knotted ropes hanging from the wall, which is a cool way to approach scripture, but there are no children anywhere other than the two infants, which makes me wonder about how education works.)

There is a big battle scene between Jason Momoa’s village and the “Witchfinders,” who introduce all sorts of questions on their own, and it’s fascinatingly shot but if you’re already wondering how you tell who is on your side when you’re at war and everyone is blind, you shouldn’t expect great things in the answer. There are also occasional little hints about some characters having what boil down to supernatural senses of hearing and smell, and possibly a touch of magic scattered here and there, but they haven’t gotten into that much.

Oh, and Jason Momoa kills a bear. Just before he kills the bear he is carrying two babies around with him on a tray. That’s not a joke or an exaggeration. He drops the tray when the bear attacks him, but the babies are still on the tray when he finds them again after the bear gets killed.

So, like, if you happen to have Apple TV+, which I suspect not many of you do, I think you should watch this, because I want to have some people I can talk to about it, but get a beer and some popcorn first and be prepared to mock the hell out of it when you’re not in awe at the scenery or the direction. I’m committed to watching the four episodes that are out now, and we’ll see how long I stick to it once episodes are weekly.

In which this may as well happen

Every class I have came at me today. I have had rougher days in my career, certainly– much rougher, in fact– but this was still a pretty goddamn rough day.

My 7th hour is my toughest class, by a longshot. They are also my last group of the day, which is not a bad thing for your worst group of the day to be. I had to start each of my 8th grade classes reading them the riot act about an epidemic of cheating and copying assignments that’s been going on lately, and went from that directly into the lesson for the day. Honestly, it was going well, not just “going well for 7th hour” but actually going well, until one of my kids randomly decided to lose his fucking mind because he thought somebody threw something at him. The big problem with this class is that they’re always on a razor’s edge and the slightest little thing can throw the room into complete chaos, and by the time I got the mind-loser out of the room (cussing and swearing the entire time) I literally had five or six of them on the fucking floor laughing.

So, more riot act. Amazingly, they more or less pulled together again, and even some of the floor-rollers came up for help on the assignment and actually paid attention while I was explaining what they needed to do and corrected a couple of misunderstandings. Like, I’ll take it, right? I had to toss somebody from damn near every other class I had today; if I get through my roughest group with only one kid out I’ll call it a win.

And then someone asked to go get some water. There’s a drinking fountain immediately outside my classroom so so long as I’m not actively instructing the answer to this question is almost always yes. I tell him he can go get some water and move on to the next thing, and the next thing I know there are five kids clustered around the door for some reason.

I investigate.

“The door’s locked.”

“The door doesn’t lock from the inside, guys. Quit screwing around, and everybody who doesn’t have permission for water go sit down.”

“No, really, the door won’t open.”

Uh.

So I go check. And I discover two things: one, no, the fucking door won’t open, and two, the kid who I sent out of the room and thought had gone directly to the office has instead gone outside of the classroom, sat down, and started quietly doing his assignment, like, when the hell did you calm down? And at first I think he’s sitting against the door or has a foot in front of it or something (there’s a window in the door, to be clear) but he sort of backs away and holds his hands up and he’s obviously not doing anything.

I call the office.

“You’re gonna love this,” I say. I hear a pained sigh from the other end. “I’m in my classroom, and–”

I get interrupted. “Let me guess,” the person on the other side says. “Your door is locked and you can’t get out.”

“I have many students in here with me,” I say, temporarily suppressing my urge to say how the fuck did you know that. “Please come rescue us.”

They dispatch a custodian. Who is unable to extricate us from the room. He starts popping the pins out on the hinges.

You can probably imagine what the kids were doing.

The bell rings. We are unable to go anywhere. The hinges are unpinned but we still can’t get the door open.

One of the kids suggests calling 911. All of them have goddamn cell phones. I squash this idea with a quickness.

It is ten minutes past the bell. There are now multiple adults outside trying to get the door open. Everyone in the room is now massively late to class and I am waiting for either a fight to break out or someone to decide that they need to pee.

(Honestly, it is shocking that “I need to pee and I am the center of the universe so my need to pee is the only thing anyone can discuss” is not part of this story.)

And then– after this has been going on for twenty minutes, and I have repeatedly vacillated between this is actually kind of hilarious if you think about it and bone-shaking anger, and while I am finding myself genuinely grateful that I decided to go on brain drugs when I did, there is a new ruckus. A ruckus happening at my desk.

As the door between my classroom and the science room next door, the door that I had utterly forgotten about because I put a cart with my printer on it in front of it and it is never used for any reason, the door that the janitor had also clearly forgotten about, the door that none of the 30-some-odd kids in the room has noticed, as that door opens up, shoving the cart and my printer out of the way, and the science teacher, with a giant shit-eating grin on his face, sticks his head into my room and says “Hey, guys, whatcha doing?”

And then there was a stampede, and I’m pretty sure no one died.

I have a stupid job.

The end.