Killing 6.2 Billion Spiders in a Single Sweep of His Flaming Axe

We love stories, but legends are better.

Four years ago I was playing Dungeons & Dragons with my friends. After descending into a cave, we were beset by bloodthirsty spiders the size of labrador retrievers. Flexing our level-three muscles, we drove them off. One character was wielding a flaming axe. John, controlling that character, rolled a natural 20 on an attack (the highest possible attack roll) and the game master decreed that the sweep of his flaming axe was so powerful that it vanquished not one but two oversized spiders.

Later, the characters were boasting about their exploits. And John made a fateful claim: that he destroyed three spiders with one strike. Later, the number was four, five, seven, ten. As the rest of us piled on, the figure quickly climbed to unrealistic proportions. Every time the legend was recounted, it grew. A long-running joke that we still remember years later, the official tally stabilized at 6.2 billion spiders.

When people tell stories about you, they will get details wrong. Sometimes those details make you look worse, which makes it tempting to step in and correct the record. But in some ways errors in the other direction are worse. And the internet loves to exaggerate.

It's flattering to see your achievements bolstered. "Almost" becomes "over." "In the first week" becomes "on launch day." But it's also disconcerting to watch your high-water mark creep higher beyond your control. And eventually you might catch yourself expecting to kill 6.2 billion spiders every time you swing your flaming axe.


Mind the Gap

NFL players are ridiculously fast. Prospects measure their speed in a 40-yard dash when trying out for the league. I went out to a football field with a friend to try this test of explosive speed.

Let's take my friend as a baseline. He was a successful collegiate D3 varsity cross country runner. That said, he was out of season and has little formal training or practice in sprinting.

He ran the 40-yard dash in 6.5 seconds.

I have some advantages over my friend. I am taller and broader with much thicker legs. I have well-developed fast-twitch muscles from a lifetime of martial arts. I was also more invested in the experiment, so I tried the sprint three times.

My best time in the 40-yard dash was 5.83 seconds.

The active roster of the NFL has over 1600 players, some of whom weigh in excess of 300 pounds. As far as I could tell, my 40-yard dash time was slower than every single player on the NFL's active roster.

In the NFL, 11 players have run a 40-yard dash faster than 4.3 seconds.

The gap in ability between recreational and professional also exists outside of athletics. I try to keep this in mind when comparing myself to others.

And who is recreational or professional is situational. DK Metcalf, one of fastest active players in the NFL with a 40-yard dash time of 4.33 seconds, recently competed in a heat of sprinters, attempting to qualify for the olympics in the 100-meter dash. He finished last.


Recruiters are Getting Creative

The job market is on fire and recruiters are doing weird stuff to attract candidates.

A European company called MacPaw, which makes software that claims to improve the performance of Apple devices by eliminating cruft from, well, somewhere, hired Kansas City rapper Mac Lethal to create a minute-long rap of a job posting and publish it on his YouTube channel.

I like Mac Lethal. I love a few of his songs. And he is a good candidate for this type of sponsorship: he has an audience of 3 million YouTube subscribers though his view counts are a bit low in comparison. A few years prior, he did a 2-minute ad for a dental product called BYTE, so fans are used to sponsored songs as part of his brand (indeed, the YouTube comments were incredibly positive, for YouTube comments). I have no idea how much they paid him, but I imagine this video was well within their marketing budget while a similar plug from Eminem would not be.

However there is one weird thing about this transaction: it seems as though the role, and most other roles at the company, are in Ukraine. Maybe Mac Lethal has outsized popularity there? Maybe importing custom American rap has its own cultural caché and the actual rapper doesn't matter? Either way, it is a creative idea, and has the side benefit of generating general press for the company and their jobs which I am happily giving them.


The Next Book

When my mother asked me about my sales the other day, I said that it is a slow summer but things will pick up "with the next book." I realized as I spoke that the answer came to me genetically.

My grandfather (her father) was an author, and at times a commercially successful one. He never quite rose to the fame of his friends (e.g. Kurt Vonnegut), and his work is not read often today, but he is survived by Wikipedia and IMDB pages. He supplemented his royalties with a long career of university teaching positions, or perhaps the income from the former supplemented the latter.

To his credit, my grandfather was a sufficiently industrious writer as to be described as "prolific" in a Washington Post Obituary. He published a couple of dozen times over his career, often enough that there was always another advance around the corner.

Indeed, "the next book" became an answer to many financial problems, and eventually other problems as well.

I didn't know my grandfather well; I only met him once or twice in my life. But I am very clearly his grandson. I have some of his best traits. Some of his worst ones. We'll see which type of trait faith in "the next book" turns out to be.


Twitter Loves Meta

A week ago a fake Cormac McCarthy tweet from a falsely verified account racked up over 120,000 likes before the account was suspended.

As someone casually familiar with McCarthy's work—we read The Road in high school English class—the tweet was stylistically convincing. It had no punctuation and used fancy words like "infernal." The writer for The Verge clearly paid more attention in class and was able to point out how out-of-character the tweet was.

The tweet and its follow-ups did display a level of meta humor incongruous with claims of unfamiliarity with Twitter. The tweet's actual author, operating behind a misspelled handle (@CormacMcCrthy, missing the "a" in "McCarthy") understood something key: audiences love themselves.

Even though the content of the tweet implicitly demeaned the very audience that poured viral attention, the adulation poured in. We believed that the great novelist would actually step on stage through the shattered remains of the fourth wall. That by walking among us he acknowledged our platform and community as important.

We who are in the business of getting attention online have a lot to learn from this tweet. Above all else, audiences love themselves, and you can demonstrate you share that love through appropriate use of meta humor.