Wednesday morning braindump

This is, rather emphatically, not a review of this book, as it’s eight hundred damn pages long, I’m not quite 1/4 of the way through it, and I have no plans to abandon it at all. This will be spoiler-free, for the most part, and even if I do spoil something, like I said, I’m early enough in the book that it barely counts.

I discovered Sarah Maas had a new series out when I found it at Target, of all places, several weeks ago; buying a book from Target would prove to be only the first of several deeply weird things about this book. First of all, take a look at that cover: what’s the name of the book? If you said Crescent City, you’d be wrong, as that’s the name of the series, currently planned as a trilogy but who knows. The name of the book is House of Earth and Blood, following the modern trend of naming books Noun of Noun and Other Noun. Seriously, look around, there are dozens of them. I feel like somebody needs to have a word with whoever did the cover layout, as that’s … weird.

Second, I’m having some serious issues with wrapping my head around the worldbuilding she’s doing here. For all practical intents and purposes, House of Earth and Blood is set in the modern world, except not: this book is clearly (?) not set on Earth, although people have cell phones and order out for pizza and days of the week are called Tuesday and months are called April, and the main character works in an art gallery, except so far literally none of the main characters are fully human. So it’s sort of urban fantasy-ish, except that it’s not set in the Real World, which is how every other example of UF I’ve ever read works, but even though it’s not set on Earth there is this deeply bizarre mishmash of real, ancient human cultures all over the place: the titular House of Earth and Blood is one of the four Houses of … Midgard, and a group called the Vanir is a thing, and there is slavery in the book, and people who are enslaved have SPQM tattooed on them, which stands for Senatus Populusque Midgard, which might hit you kind of funny if you know anything about Rome.

There’s a character named Maximus Tertian, and there are also angels, most of whose names end in -iel, as you’d expect from angelic names derived from Hebrew, and there was an angelic rebellion at one point, because of course there was, and meanwhile the main character is named Bryce Quinlan. It’s all very schizophrenic and oh did I mention that despite all this the book is shaping up to be a police procedural/murder mystery? Because it is.

My ultimate opinion on this book is really going to depend on whether this ends up feeling like it all makes sense together or is just very very lazy. I really enjoyed Maas’ Throne of Glass series, so she has a ton of goodwill built up, and I’m entirely willing to believe that there is a plan for this, but right now the whiplash is really getting to me.


I probably shouldn’t even talk about this, and I’ve been resisting talking about this, because I feel like there’s no way to do it without coming across as vaguely creepy, but it’s still on my mind two days later and there’s a reason the word “braindump” is in the name of this piece. So let’s get mad at TikTok for a couple of minutes. (TikTok? Tik Tok? How do I not know if it’s one word or two yet?)

I ran into this random video on my For You page a couple of days ago. An older white lady, very very angry, ranting into the camera, which usually isn’t how TT goes for a couple of different reasons. Anyway, she was bitching about how “you” need to stop looking at “her video,” because “she” is “only fourteen” (clearly not referring to herself) and how TT is “promoting child porn” and people should stop going to look at “the video.”

First of all, this is probably a kid doing some sort of booty dance in a tank top, which is about half of TikTok at any given moment. The notion that there’s actual child porn on the site feels … somewhat unlikely. But if you think there is child porn on the site, what the hell are you doing posting a ranty video at people to stop looking at it, with no indication whatsofuckingever of what the hell it is we’re supposed to stop looking at? Like, what am I supposed to do with this information, white lady? You’re very upset about some video, and you don’t want me to look at it, which, okay, fine, but that’s literally all the identifying information you put in your video? That there’s something Out There Somewhere that is so bad you’re literally calling it child pornography, so maybe throw out a user name or something so that the rest of us can block or report it? Because it’s not like the For You page gives us a choice of what we’re looking at, right?

…and this is why I’ve resisted posting this, of course, because tell us the username so we can block and report is functionally exactly the same as tell us the username so that all the dirty old men can go look at the child porn, and now everyone looking at your stupid little video with even a trace of common sense is stuck in this weird limbo between I would like to help you get rid of the terrible thing and I am not a fucking degenerate, and you can’t do one without setting yourself up to be accused of the other, and one more time why the hell did you decide to post this? Because, again, functionally speaking, what you just posted is I don’t like someone else’s video but I’m not telling you who or which one, but I’m really REALLY mad about it.

Subtweeting on fucking Tiktok, and fuck it I’m just going to spell it differently every time I use it in this post, shouldn’t be a thing. And now I’ve posted about the stupid thing, and I can stop thinking about it.

Anyway. I’m done now.


9:18 AM, Wednesday May 13: 1,370,016 confirmed cases and 82,389 Americans dead.

On the limits of my principles

I’ve mentioned that my wife broke her foot the other day. She does most virtually all of the grocery shopping. While I am perfectly capable and willing to step in and handle that job, the simple fact that I don’t do it means that it will likely take me twice as long to get the job done because I don’t know where everything is, and I’ve discussed my (getting better) issues with panic attacks while wearing masks a couple of times as well. So as soon as we discovered that we could do curbside pickup for our groceries for just $5 extra plus the tip, we decided that at least for right now that’s how we were going to handle things.

Now, they allow you to set general rules for what to do if something you want isn’t in stock. I’m not sure what the options are (she did the ordering) but basically it boils down to they pick substitutes or they don’t. Our son has some allergy issues so she decided that the best move was just to go with no substitutes, and if for some reason we’re denied something that we feel like we need I can always make a run tomorrow for a couple of things.

You may recall also that I wrote a Comprehensive List of Things I am Currently Boycotting a couple of weeks ago. One of my friends mentioned Papa John’s in the comments. Papa John’s is another sort of edge case for me; I generally avoid eating there but that’s as much because my aging digestive system can no longer handle their garlic sauce (which is absolutely essential to the Papa John’s experience; do not insult me by suggesting that I can eat their pizza without drenching it in garlic sauce) than it is because of their politics.

That said, I’ve been craving the damn place ever since reading that comment. It’s a terrible idea, so we haven’t caved, but it’s been lurking there in the back of my head.

We decided on the way home from getting groceries that we’d have pizza for dinner, as there were supposed to be two pizzas in our order. Then we got home and discovered that one of them wasn’t there, presumably because they were out of stock on that specific kind of pizza.

Damn. We briefly discuss other options, and Papa’s comes up, and I shoot it down, because it’s a terrible idea. And then I interrupt the conversation to go use the bathroom, and while I’m in the bathroom I hear my son yell for my wife from our other bathroom. And when I come out, she tells me that I have something I need to deal with in the other bathroom.

And, well, a minute or two later, after seeing what I had been summoned for, I sent this text:

If you’re thinking “Okay, this sounds like that happened, but the size of a baseball? It has to be something else.” No, it doesn’t. That’s what happened.

I have about an hour to get my affairs finished off for the evening before I begin paying for dinner.


8:45 PM, Friday May 8: 1,283,846 confirmed cases and 77,178 American deaths.

A thing that just happened

A trifle too long for Twitter, so a second short blog post on the day it is!

The boy is working on some language arts homework, and he’s occasionally coming to ask me some questions (I’m in the office) when he hits something he can’t immediately figure out. The theme for this particular assignment appears to be words with double letters and opposites, so we’re trying to find words that have both. I try to give him indirect answers so that he has to figure the words out himself, and his vocabulary is generally pretty good. For example, the first time the initial word was alike and he needed to come up with different.

So he comes back into the office a bit later and this time the task is to find a word that is something to wear. So, dress. I tell him it’s something that is usually worn by girls.

“Boobs?”

Suddenly I have a headache.

“People don’t wear boobs, dude. That’s a body part. They’re attached.”

He thinks about it for a second, and then, while rubbing his chest, asks what the things that “cover the boobs” are.

“That’s a bra. Three letters. No repeats.”

He thinks for another minute or two and comes up with the word dress, and I send him away.

The end.

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.