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Magnetic Memory

Elizabeth Technology January 25, 2024

Magnetic Tape

The most well-known version of tape-based magnetic storage is the kind used for media. When tape-based recording was first introduced, it revolutionized the talk show and DJ-ing scene of the time (mostly post WWII) because it enabled shows to be recorded and played later, rather than live in front of the audience. Music recording tech already existed of course, but it required physical interaction from the DJ, so it wasn’t as hands-off as tapes were.

The second-most well-known version is the kind used for computer memory! Data is stored on the tape in the form of little magnetic ‘dots’ that the computer can read as bits. Before each pocket of data dots is a data marker that tells the computer how long that pocket should be, so it knows when one set of data ends and the next begins. The polarity of the dot determines it’s bit value, and the computer can then read all these dots as binary code.

This method of data storage was a massive breakthrough, and other mediums continue to use the format even today! Tapes are still in use for big stuff – parts of IBM’s library rely on modern tapes, which can now store terabytes of information at a higher density than disks and flash drives alike. Other memory types relying on magnetic domains include hard disks and drums, to name a couple. All that separates them is material and know-how: the better the magnetizing material on the outside, the smaller the domains can get. The better the insulation between the domains and regular old entropy, the more stable the data is!

Carousel Memory

Carousel memory was an attempt at shrinking the space that magnetic tape took, but to the extreme. Instead of one very long piece of magnetic tape on a bobbin, the carousel memory system uses several smaller reels of tape arranged in a carousel pattern around the central read mechanism. To get to the right info is as simple as selecting the right reel! This has some issues with it, as you might imagine. Moving parts add complications and an increased risk of mechanical failure to any device, but a device carrying thin, delicate magnetic tape on it is an especially bad place to start.

However, it wasn’t all bad. Carousel memory was actually quite fast for the time because it didn’t have to rewind or fast-forward as much to get to the right area of code. It could skip feet of tape at a time! This advantage declined as tape tech improved, but it still helped companies trying to squeeze the most life from their machines. The bobbins and individual ribbons were all replaceable, so the tape wasn’t worthless if it got torn or damaged. The carousel itself was also replaceable, so the many moving parts weren’t as much of a curse as they’d be on, say, the first hard disks, which had irreplaceable heads.

Core Rope Memory

Core rope memory featured magnetic gromets, or ‘cores’ on metal ‘ropes’, and then those ropes were woven into fabric the computer could read. In ROM (read-only memory) format, if a wire went through the core, it was a ‘one’, or a ‘yes’. If it didn’t, it was a ‘zero’, or a ‘no’. In this way, the fabric is physically coded into binary that the computer can use. ROMd Core-Rope memory involved quite a bit of complicated weaving and un-weaving to get the cores in the right spots.

Core rope memory was chosen over tape memory for the Apollo missions, mainly for weight purposes. Tape was great, but not nearly dense or hardy enough for the mission yet, and neither were the other similar core modules available to NASA. A read-only core-rope memory module could store as many as 192 bits per core, where erasable core memory could only manage one bit per core. Where each core on the final module depended on reading the wires to determine the bit’s state, the erasable model (core memory) read the core’s magnetic state to determine the bit state, not the threads going through it. The final module sent up to get to the moon was a total of 70-ish pounds and read fairly quickly. Tape, core memory, or hard disks available at the time couldn’t have gotten to the same weight or speed.

Core-rope memory has its place. It’s very sturdy, and since it relies on the cores to act as bits, it’s possible to visually identify bugs before the memory’s even used, unlike core memory. Both are sometimes called ‘software crystallized as hardware’ because of the core system. It isn’t seen much today, since it is still incredibly bulky, but at the time of its use it was revolutionary.

Core Memory

Core memory is the older sibling of core rope memory, and it stores less. However, the people who got to work with it call it one of the most reliable forms of memory out there! Core memory works much the same as core rope memory, where the bits are stored in cores.

However, the formats are different. If core rope memory is like a binary-encoded scarf, core memory is more like a rug. Thin threads made of conductive material are woven into a grid pattern, with cores suspended on where the threads cross each other. The computer understands these threads as address lines, so asking for a specific bit to be read is as simple as locating the X and Y address of the core. A third set of lines, the sense lines, runs through each core on the diagonal, and this is the thread that does the actual reading.

When asked to, the computer sends a current down the sense threads and sees if the cores flip their magnetic polarity or not. If it doesn’t, it was a zero. If it does, it was a one, and it has been flipped to zero by the reading process. This method is known as ‘destructive reading’ as a result, however, the computer compensates for this by flipping the bit back to where it was after the reading. Due to its magnetic nature, the core then keeps this info even after power to it is cut!

This link here is an excellent, interactive diagram of the system.

Even though this improved the bit-to-space-taken ratio, core memory still aged out of the market. With the price of bits decreasing rapidly, core memory got smaller and smaller, but the nature of its assembly means it was almost always done by hand – all competitors had to do was match the size and win out on labor. Soon, its main market was taken over by semi-conductor chips, which are still used today.

Magnetic Bubbles

Magnetic memory has had strange branches grow off the central tree of progress, and magnetic bubble memory is one of those strange shoots. One guy (who later developed other forms of memory under AT&T) developed bubble memory. Bubble memory never took off in the same way other magnetic memory styles did, although it was revolutionary for its compact size – before the next big leap in technology, people were thinking this was the big leap. It was effectively shock proof! Unfortunately, better DRAM chips took off shortly after it hit the market and crushed bubble memory with improved efficiency.

Anyway, bubble memory worked by moving the bit to-be-read to the edge of the chip via magnets. The magnetic charge itself is what’s moving the bits, much in the same way electrons move along a wire when charge is applied, so nothing is actually, physically moving within the chip! It was cool tech, and it did reduce space, it just didn’t hold up to semi-conductor memory chips. They saw a spike in use with a shortage, but they were so fiddly that as soon as DRAM chips were available again, they went out of style.

Semi-Conductor DRAM – Honorable Mention

DRAM chips are a lot like core memory, in that the device is reading  the state of a physical object to determine what the bit readout is. In Semi-conductor chips, that physical object is a tiny capacitor, hooked up to a tiny transistor, on semiconductive metal-oxide material. Instead of determining magnetic state, the device is instead checking if the capacitor’s discharged or not. No charge = 0, yes charge = 1. These chips aren’t technically magnetic, but since they’ve killed so many of the other options, here they are!

DRAM stands for Dynamic Random-Access Memory, and it means that the memory can be accessed randomly instead of linearly. As long as the computer knows where the data’s stored, it’s able to pull it without pulling other files first. They’re still being sold today!

Magnetic Disk (Hard Disk Drive)

Hard drives work more like tape than core memory. A Hard drive is a platter (or a stack of platters) with a read-write head hovering above it. When you want to save data, the hard drive head magnetizes areas in binary to represent that information. When you want to read or recover that data, the head interprets these areas as bits in binary, where the polarity of the magnetized zone is either a zero or a one.

The zones of magnetization are incredibly tiny, which makes hard drives one of the more demanding memory forms out there, both now and back then.

Early hard drives could suffer from ‘de-magnetization’, where a magnetic disk’s domains were too close and gradually drew each other out of position, slowly erasing the information on the disk. This meant that the disks had to be bigger to hold the data (like everything else at the time) until better materials for data storage came along. Even though they held more capacity at launch, they were passed over for smaller and more stable stuff like tapes and core memory. The very early drives developed by IBM were huge. Like, washing machine huge. They didn’t respond to requests for data very quickly, either, which further pushed reliance on tape and core technology.

Over time, hard disks improved dramatically. Instead of magnetic zones being arranged end-to-end, storing them vertically next to each other created even denser data storage, enough to outcompete other forms of media storage entirely. Especially small hard drives also come with a second layer of non-magnetizable material between the first layer and a third layer of reverse-magnetized ‘reinforcement’ which keeps the data aligned right. This enables even more data capacity to be crammed into the disks!

Some time in the 80s, hard drives finally became feasible to use in personal computers, and since then they’ve been the standard. SSDs, which don’t have any moving parts whatsoever, are beginning to gain ground in the market, but they can’t be truly, irrevocably erased like hard drives can due to different storage techniques. Hard drives are going to stick around a while, especially for the medical and military industries, as a result!

Sources:

https://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-history/space-age/software-as-hardware-apollos-rope-memory

https://www.apolloartifacts.com/2008/01/rope-memory-mod.html

https://electronics.howstuffworks.com/vcr.htm

https://www.apolloartifacts.com/2008/01/rope-memory-mod.html

http://www.righto.com/2019/07/software-woven-into-wire-core-rope-and.html

https://www.computerhistory.org/revolution/memory-storage/8/253

https://nationalmaglab.org/education/magnet-academy/watch-play/interactive/magnetic-core-memory-tutorial

https://www.rohm.com/electronics-basics/memory/what-is-semiconductor-memory

https://cs.stanford.edu/people/nick/how-hard-drive-works/

https://psap.library.illinois.edu/collection-id-guide/audiotape

https://www.engadget.com/2014-04-30-sony-185tb-data-tape.html?guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly9lbi53aWtpcGVkaWEub3JnLw&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAAC5GC2YOKsvhOs9l4Z2Dt1oHX3-YxjPyJC60qfkq6_6h8zyckkBK9V9JJC9vce3rCmcgyehT-RB6aORBfzB9b5oiBoF1Fbic_3653XVM8fsUTHHnTgxKx4piCeEl65Lp54bkbMcebEEddwlq-EDnAcM7zuv49TXYHcgq9lmnrBln

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carousel_memory (all primary sources regarding carousel memory are in Swedish)

Internet Of Things Items Can Create Vulnerability

Elizabeth Technology January 23, 2024

Internet of Things items are convenient, otherwise they wouldn’t be selling. At least not next to regular, non-wifi-enabled items. They don’t even have to be connected to the internet, and they should stay that way!

An Internet of Things item, or an IoT item, is a device that has a WiFi- or network-enabled computer in it to make the consumer’s use of it easier. This includes things like WiFi-enabled/networked washing and drying machines, ovens, fridges, mini-fridges, coffee makers, lamps, embedded lights, etc. anything can be an IoT item, if it’s got WiFi capability.

Network Entry Point

Internet of Things items, when connected to WiFi, represent a weak link in the chain. They’re poorly protected, they’re designed to favor user friendliness over all else, and they’re usually always on. You likely don’t unplug your fridge or washing machine when you go to bed – that computer may sleep, but it’s not off. You probably don’t disconnect the internet when you go to bed, either. Some devices take advantage of this, and only schedule updates for late at night so you don’t notice any service interruptions. Unfortunately, their strengths are their weaknesses, and an always-open port is a dream for hackers.

Outdated Password Policies

Internet of Things items are rarely password protected, and if they are, many users don’t bother actually changing the password from the factory default. This makes them excellent places to start probing for weaknesses in the network!

Assuming someone’s hacking into a place to ding it with ransomware, there are a number of worthy targets: corporate offices, nuclear facilities, hospitals, etc. are all staffed by people, and people like their coffee. A well-meaning coworker bringing in an internet-enabled coffee machine for his coworkers is suddenly the source of a critical network vulnerability, an open port in an otherwise well-defended network!

If the coffee machine, or vending machine, or the lights are IoT items, they need to be air-gapped from the networks supplying critical data within the center (or cut off from the network completely), the same way outside computers are. The devices are simply unable to protect themselves in the same way a PC or phone is – there’s no way to download a suitable antivirus. If something gets past a firewall, and that password’s still default or nonexistent, there’s effectively no second layer of protection for IoT devices.

Malware

For example, hacking into a fridge is not nearly as hard as hacking into an old PC. Even great antivirus can struggle with traffic coming from inside the network, and IoT devices are often missed in security checkups. After all, when McAfee or Norton or Kaspersky recommends you scan your computer, are they offering to scan your lightbulbs as well?

Once they’re in, the entire network is vulnerable. Ransomware events with no obvious cause, malware that’s suddenly deleted all the files on a server, stolen data and stolen WiFi – all of it’s possible with IoT devices. There’s more to gain than just bots for the botnet, which is why hackers keep going after these IoT items.

IoT devices are also much easier to overwhelm to gain access, even with firewalls and effective load balancing. DoSing an IoT item can be as simple as scanning it. No, really. A team in the UK found that they could shut down turbines in a wind farm by scanning them. The computers inside weren’t equipped to handle both a network scan and their other computing duties at the same time. Many user devices are in the same spot or worse!

Security

Besides turbines, items like cameras and door locks probably shouldn’t be connected to the internet just yet. A terrifying string of hacks let strangers view doorbell and baby monitoring cameras, for example, because the cameras themselves were difficult to defend even though the network was protected by a router. This is terrible for obvious reasons and class action suits were filed soon after. It even happened accidentally; Nest users would occasionally end up viewing other people’s cameras accidentally, a bug in the system that was only fixed after complaints were made. A consistent pattern is forming, here: security patches are only issued after vulnerabilities are discovered by the consumer! Any other type of programming wouldn’t get away with this without some public outcry – you shouldn’t have to become a victim of a security flaw to get it fixed.

And then there’s things that physically interact with the security features of a house, like electronic locks. There’s nothing wrong in theory with a password lock. However, electronics are not inherently more secure than physical locks, and adding in WiFi only gives lockpickers another ‘in’. Hacking the lock could lead to being locked out of your own home, or worse. Besides, a regular lock will never unlock itself because its battery died, or because you sat down on the fob while getting on your bike or into your car. If you do want a password lock, it’s better to get one that’s not network enabled.

We aren’t quite at the point where hacked self-driving cars are a legitimate issue, although the danger is growing on the horizon. Cars are also poorly protected, computer wise.

BotNets

The fridge doesn’t need a quadcore processor and 8 GB of RAM to tell you that it’s at the wrong temperature, or that the door’s been left open and you should check the milk. The voice-controlled lightbulbs only need enough power to cycle through colors. IoT items are weak. However, that doesn’t mean they can’t be used for things like Botnets, even if your main PC wards off botnet software.

Botnets are networks of illegitimately linked computers used to do things like DDoSing, brute-forcing passwords, and all other kinds of shenanigans that a single computer can’t do alone. By combining the computing ability of literally thousands of devices, a hacker can turn a fridge into part of a supercomputer. No one ant can sustain an attack on another colony, but an entire swarm of ants can!

This is another reason tech experts are worried about IoT items becoming widely used. Their basic vulnerabilities give skilled hackers the ability to ding well-protected sites and fish for passwords even if the network they’re targeting doesn’t have any IoT items on them. It’s a network of weaponizable computers just waiting to be exploited. Remember, password protect your devices!

Source:

https://eandt.theiet.org/content/articles/2019/06/how-to-hack-an-iot-device/

https://cisomag.eccouncil.org/10-iot-security-incidents-that-make-you-feel-less-secure/

https://www.courtlistener.com/docket/16630199/1/orange-v-ring-llc/

Food Content That was Never Really Food Content

Elizabeth Technology January 18, 2024

Fake Recipes

The final frontier of Chat GPT on social media seems to be mindless content generation just for the sake of having something to put ads in. Human imagination is being harnessed by machine imagination. Fake recipes are a part of this.

It’s not only the robots, either. Have you ever tried a recipe you saw on Facebook or TikTok only to discover it didn’t work at all like it said it would? Some are so bad they come out inedible. The demand for clicks used to lead to people and companies shoving recipes out the door before they’re strictly ready and foolproofed, but now they’re lucky if something comes out edible.

Robotic Cooking

While content generators like Chat GPT can convincingly talk like people, they have no clue what “gluten” is or what it does. There is a deeper conversation to be had about what that means for art and writing, but for recipes, it just means the robot is scraping up as much information as it can and simply mimicking the shapes it sees in the shadows on the wall for you. It doesn’t know why people knead dough for bread, only that they do in every recipe for it. As such, creative choices within a recipe are due to hallucinations and not an understanding of the underlying principles. It tries to sound human; most humans write something like ‘cream the butter and sugar together, and then add the eggs’ for cakes; it tells you to ‘cream the butter, sugar, and eggs together’ as a result. Someone copies and pastes this somewhere it won’t be challenged, like Facebook, or a mysteriously fresh blog that talks like it’s been online for years and has hundreds of followers. Eventually that page is able to make ad revenue or take sponsorship deals.

Despite the lack of understanding, this rarely results in something that is totally inedible, especially as Chat GPT gets better and better at maintaining a ‘train of thought’ and connecting the beginning of it’s work to the end. That’s assuming anyone even bothers to make what it suggests. Quite a few content aggregator pages simply push generated or incomplete content out because they know their readers won’t bother. Why paint the back of the movie set? While the AI’s work is derivative, it can often achieve mediocrity just by the law of averages. Humans don’t even need to write the fake recipe anymore.

Unrealistic Expectations

Misusing Chat GPT in these scenarios is almost more common than using it ‘correctly’ and adding a disclaimer that it was involved. Noting that AI was involved in written content tends to push some potential viewers away. They don’t want to read fake recipes because they know Chat GPT isn’t a chef, just like they don’t want to read generated books or look at generated photography because it wasn’t made by a human writer or a human photographer. How do you whip up something convincing enough to sell with ads? You give it the trappings of a real recipe, with pictures and a blurb “from the cook” ahead of the recipe itself, just like the humans do.

 Copyrighted work is annoying to work around, so many organizations selling recipe books or posting to recipe websites will often take their own pictures of a finished product. There’s still some manipulation – perhaps a single cookie will be perfectly centered on a cooling rack, or maybe the colors of a gingerbread house will be boosted in edit just a bit – but the picture itself was taken of the thing that was made. The evidence of the recipe working is in the image of the final product. Thus, recipes with pictures are generally trusted to be recipes that work.

Content farms will buy a picture and let you assume it’s the finished product. Worse ones will just steal one.

All it takes is an afternoon with Chat GPT and some Google Image searches, and voila, it looks like this random Instagram page knows what it’s doing when it comes to food. Beautiful, polished pictures of dishes with ‘their recipes’ beneath them blend in with the hundreds or thousands of other pages doing the same. Again, people usually aren’t making the recipe – with the sheer quantity of recipes shared online, nobody could possibly test everything that comes across their dashboard. When some unsuspecting follower does make a recipe, they tend to assume they did something wrong when it looks nothing like the picture. After all, that Instagram page looks coherent enough with its ‘borrowed’ photos!

Stunt Food

That’s not to say humans aren’t also making clickbait. Stunt food, as coined by TikTok, is food made as a stunt. It’s often made by humans just because it’s sheer ridiculousness can’t be cobbled together by Chat GPT’s knowledge of ‘real’ recipes. It uses a number of brightly colored ingredients, there’s usually some bizarre step where you have to soak Cheetos or something else you’d never normally do, and it’s often somehow disturbing. This is because that gets comments and controversy, both of which can be converted into money. There are no recipes for Pringles mashed potatoes created for flavor.

Or, if you see right through those ones, there are still stunt foods trying to grab your attention in a slightly more legit way, although they’re often overly expensive or ask you to run through several dozen steps to get to an end product. Wagyu beef fat candles, for instance, require Wagyu beef fat – but the thing that chefs love about Wagyu beef is not the fat itself, but the marbling, so condensing the tallow into a candle does nothing for the flavor that some good quality meat from a cheaper cow couldn’t do. It’s a byproduct that restaurants use as a novelty, not something that a home chef is meant to make for the sake of the candle itself. Less expensive but still time consuming are the Hundred Hour Brownies, which were rated well but largely considered not worth the effort by the people who successfully recreated the viral dish.

On the milder side of the stunt food spectrum, there are things like window cookies – yes, you can put a Jolly Rancher into a cookie with a hole cut out of it and melt it to get a stained glass effect that is totally edible, but the resulting cookie is pretty difficult to eat because the hard candy re-solidifies just as hard as it started. Even though it’s completely recreatable by even a beginner home chef, it’s better as edible decoration. Low-end stunt food looks good in photos, tastes middling IRL.

Find Someone You Like

Not all bad recipes come from generators and content farms! Even the best chefs in the world make mistakes or forget to clarify. Some recipes that work in Carolina stop working in Colorado thanks to barometric differences, and it’s not the Carolinan’s fault. The reason we’re seeing all of these weird recipes today is because there are only so many ways to make white sandwich bread, or chocolate chip cookies, or brownies – rather than risk sinking into an ocean of similar recipes, making 100 hour brownies or garlic white sandwich bread gives a blog more traction, and makes their success a bit more likely in the face of the surrounding content flood.

Legally Writing From a Copyrighted Base

Elizabeth Technology January 16, 2024

You can’t profit off of fanfiction. Or can you?

Fanfiction, fiction written about fiction by the fans of said fiction, has existed for as long as fiction itself. Many folktales could be considered fanfiction. If someone besides Aesop comes up with a fable using Aesop’s characters, that’s in the general spirit of fanfiction.

Fanfiction straddles a border between the right to be creative and draw inspiration, and the right to own one’s own creations under copyright. For a long time online, it was a fight simply to allow fanfiction to exist where others could read it, works crafted simply for the love of the original series and the other members of the fanbase. Ann Rice was famously litigious around any fanfiction of her Interview With a Vampire series. Remnants of this period are unfortunately few, but when you see something like “I don’t own these characters and don’t make profit off of this work, please don’t sue me”, you’re seeing a response to the environment created in the wake of overly strict copyright enforcement.

Today, fanfiction is allowed simply to exist on the open web, but its creators are not allowed to draw profit from it. Larger websites like Archive of Our Own are strictly nonprofit, and explicitly forbid their authors from using their works to promote their Patreons because this could be interpreted as profiting off the work, which is still a legal minefield.

Little Tweaks

However, that’s not to say that fanfiction can’t be used to make money, full stop. Outside of its obvious usefulness as practice for totally independent works, a completed fanfiction is in itself a work of art. In the right hands, a pre-existing work of fiction can be molded into something totally different, while only retaining the core characters. There’s a trope within fandom spaces of the “Coffee Shop AU” – AU stands for Alternate Universe, as in an alternate universe where it makes sense for Scully of X Files fame to be working in a coffee shop, and see Mulder as one of the regulars. Or, hey, what if SpongeBob was in Star Wars as Luke, and Squidward was Darth Vader? The SpongeBob Star Wars AU? What would they get up to? The limits of fanfiction are nonexistent – the only limit is the human imagination. If someone were to slightly tweak the names, the setting is already completely different. It would become a different work of fiction, one that could be sold without violating copyright laws.

This has already happened, in fact – at least two separate books that imagine Rey and Kylo Ren from Star Wars getting together under better circumstances have been published by separate authors, free and clear of copyright issues. While the source material was the same, and they both in theory feature a character similar to Rey and a character similar to Kylo Ren, the two are wildly different from both the source and each other. Every fanfiction is, barring actual plagiarism, because even mainstays such as the Coffee Shop AU are interpreted totally differently by each individual writer taking a crack at it.

Many of these writers found a fanbase because they were able to publish their fanfiction for free on websites designed for the purpose. People could access their work, for free, because publishing it was necessarily free. The author was able to connect to people who were looking for something to read because they love a particular show or book series, and out of that, build something familiar but new. This system, where completed works can be uploaded for public comment, couldn’t have existed just a decade prior – the copyright system is a bit of a mess, but at least fanfiction’s right to exist at all in public is being defended. If it wasn’t, many great writers would never try to publish anything at all for a lack of practice or reassurance that there are people willing to read what they write.

Content Mills and Fan-Fiction Theft

Elizabeth Technology January 11, 2024

If you’re online at all, it’s possible you saw a sudden spike in interest around plagiarism recently. A Youtube creator known as HBomberGuy released a longform video demonstrating how a couple of other big creators on the platform were plagiarizing content. This in itself was a huge reveal, and a giant rugpull for all of the people who were fans of the creators being put on trial, but the secondary result – a swarm of content mills also being called out for plagiarism – is now shaking out between a bunch of online archives and Youtube.

Stealing Fanfictions

Fanfiction is a tricky area, legally. Fanfiction’s right to exist was (and still is) heavily contested, but we’re in a place now where large nonprofit archives (such as Archive of Our Own, one of the largest) can host fanfictions and creative writing projects for others to read, so long as the creatives don’t make profit off of the work elsewhere (such as Patreon or via donations made specifically for access to the work). This is itself an interesting system, but the point to focus on for this article is that profit part. You cannot profit off of characters you don’t own the rights to if they aren’t public domain. To make any profit off of the work, an author must at least change the characters’ names and the setting. Again, interesting, but not the point.

User AConstantStateOfBladeRunner on Tumblr (alongside a few others) have started hunting down Youtube channels plagiarizing the work of fanfiction authors. The channels generally either generate or take an image relevant to the fanfiction, put the fanfiction itself through an AI voice generator as a script, and then simply upload the image plus the audio directly to Youtube as a listenable video. Some channels bother to frame the content as a “what if?”, where the premise of the fanfiction is used as a title instead of the actual title of the fanfiction. Others just steal the title and add keywords so it’s easier to find by searches.  

These channels are scooping up ad revenue where fanfiction authors are legally forbidden from doing so.

Potential Landmines

Stealing another person’s work is scummy. It’s plagiarism. There are plenty of tools within academics dedicated specifically to sussing out plagiarism, because it has a degenerative effect on whatever field it’s happening in. However, when the product is published for free, there’s an inherent lack of leverage between parties. A school could deduct points for not submitting via Turnitin to avoid the plagiarism detectors. A judge can penalize you for submitting poorly cited work as a lawyer. A paper could decide not to continue using your services if it turns out you’d been stealing reviews from other, smaller papers. But when it comes to fanfiction, written for free and consumed for free using copywritten content as a base, what happens to a thief?

One particular creator in HBomberGuy’s video was directly copyright claimed by Mental Floss, which owned the right to publish the article that the creator had used as a script. You can’t necessarily do that with fanfiction – the path from ‘copyright owner’ to ‘theft of copyrighted work’ is not nearly as linear. Obviously, it’s scummy to take someone else’s work and not give them credit, but they don’t own the characters either, just anything unique they added to the fanwork.

The only clear part of the equation is in the profit – the video is making money, which is expressly forbidden, but the fanwork original is not. If this draws attention from the wrong company, the channel might get copyright stricken for pulling in a profit on the content they stole. At the very least, they may be demonetized. This is such a potential minefield that a handful of the channels pointed out by AConstantStateOfBladeRunner would rather just yoink the video as soon as it’s noticed by the author than even try to win at the YouTube copyright takedown system. It’s imperfect, as just as many argue in favor of their theft or try to make the author go away by ignoring them. Because the content is transformative of the original copywritten work, that could only be countered by getting to a real human at YouTube rather than their automated copyright system. The copyright laws of today will be outdated by tomorrow – every day, someone finds a new way to jack content and re-label it as their own. This whole subsection of content farming wouldn’t have been possible before AI generated voices got better, because just reading these things out and editing that audio clip is much more work than it’s worth. Finding fanfiction on the open web was also difficult until very recently. Who knows what tool will be misused tomorrow?

Buying A Personality and Identity

Elizabeth Technology January 9, 2024

Being from a group of people has been coopted into another way to sell you stuff.

Frogs, Possums, Rats, and Pigeons

 There’s a particular collection of animals that people love to see online, just not in person. Animals that are funny, a little bit charismatic (not a lot) and accessible, but only with difficulty. Associating one of these animals with your social media account in a specific way will signal to other people from this group that you’re under thirty, perhaps by a lot; online a lot of the time; hip; and generally steered towards positive content made to be cute or funny. You like possums? So do a lot of the Gen-Z and Millennial generations on TikTok and Instagram! Drawing these animals in cowboy hats or high heels is a great skate ramp straight into virality. The off-centered animals are getting their big day of publicity, with a flood of tattoos and clothing following closely behind. With it, so does the attitude that its what cool people get into, and if you want to keep up with the people you follow, you should invest in looking like this is what you like too.  

What does it mean to invest in a meme? Hot Topic has plenty of shirts featuring the hot topic of the day. Pin stores aplenty on Etsy want to sell you stuff. It’s cheap to print and easy to acquire the rights to most modern memes. I still have a Doge shirt bought back when Doge was a representative of online meme culture and not the rocky cryptocurrency market. The shirt’s not in good shape, but it wasn’t made to last for years. Stores like Hot Topic assume you’ll get tired of the joke and toss or donate the shirt long before you have to start patching it. If you want the funny shirt with the frog cowboy on it because it signals to other people that you’re in their niche online community, you’ll spend the 20$ it takes to own such an item, and when that online community moves onto something else, you’ll do it again. And again. Clothing is seen as so disposable now that these ridiculously short-lived jokes give the shirt most of its value in the store, and when the joke stops being funny, the shirt’s not even valuable as a shirt anymore. Tattoos of cowboy animals are also starting to slide into the same territory as tribal tattoos did in the 2000s, albeit easier to cover and less potentially offensive.

Stanley Cups

On the other side of the longevity spectrum, even tough items that can’t justifiably be replaced often are used as flags. For example, Stanley cups. A Stanley cup is an insulated cup, much like a Yeti cup, designed with a small bottom and large top to fit into car drink holders but still hold more than 24 ounces of whatever it is you want to put into the cup. The Stanley cup is a bit pricey, and is meant (at least in theory) to keep your drink whatever temperature it was going into the cup for the rest of the day. It’s also tough, made of stainless steel coated for color. What does this cup signal? You need a drink holder that keeps your coffee warm or your water cold for an entire day – you’re a hustler who makes enough money to justify the purchase of a name-brand item like the Stanley cup that’s at its most useful when you’re out and about. You’re probably older than a teenager, because teenagers use Hydroflasks or drink their coffee straight out of the cup that their café gave them, because they don’t use the coffee brewer at home.

Collecting Stanley cups to match to outfits or cars is even more a sign that you’re very busy and very successful. Those cups ain’t cheap! There’s an almost competitive group of people online who make a point of showing off their collection any time they want to post a get-ready image set or video, because why have all these cups if the full extent of your investment isn’t visible?

How Did We Get Here?

A public consciousness that buying from bad brands with bad practices (think sweatshop labor or deforestation) should make you bad if you could buy something made more ethically has made it possible for brands to flip around and say that buying from good brands with good practices (think inclusivity and a promise to be eco-friendly) makes you a good person, or at least better than the next person who’s still buying stuff from bad companies.

Beyond that, there’s a bigger need than ever to feel like a part of a community, even if that community is still online. In-jokes are what friends share – showing that you get the joke means that you’re in. These flags make the gaps between us all feel a little smaller, even if they don’t turn into conversations or friend requests, and that eases the pain. Isn’t buying a shirt with a cowboy rat on it, or another Stanley cup in an exclusive color, worth the price if it simulates human connection?

Driven By Clicks And Money – TikTok

Elizabeth Technology January 4, 2024

Clicks

What do you know about frosting?

You probably know intuitively that royal frosting is really dense, and meringues are lighter and fluffier, even if you don’t know the exact terms or science behind it. Royal icing and buttercream are good for cookies, buttercream and meringues are good for cakes.

The trick is adding air. More air usually means a lighter, fluffier frosting. But trapped air in frosting is white, which makes decorating cakes with a dark frosting that’s not mason’s mortar is hard. Food dyes have a flavor, so adding more to get to a certain color is trading appearance for taste; even the best gel food dyes struggle to achieve a passable red in buttercream. What is a home chef to do?

One TikToker, Sugarologie, had discovered a hack: by blending the frosting, she was able to improve the color. Many dyes are not fat-soluble, so the butter in a buttercream was actively impeding the dye’s saturation powers; by blending it, she was introducing more of the dye to the water in the butter/sugar mixture. But don’t forget: air has a color too!

Air bubbles catch and diffract light. If you look at how hard candy manufacturers make the color white (Lofty Pursuits on Youtube has plenty of good examples of this process), you’ll see that what they’re doing is using their hook to catch air bubbles inside of the translucent, slightly golden molten sugar to turn it white. This also noticeably increases the volume of the sugar wad they’re working with, because added pockets of air add volume.

By blending the frosting, Sugarologie was able to improve the color distribution in the frosting, but in doing so decreased the air in the recipe. That effect also made it darker, but it made the frosting denser too. Users noticed (one large Youtuber known as Ann Reardon made a video demonstrating the problem), but Sugarologie clarified that re-whipping the frosting was easy… and users were still having problems recreating her results. She didn’t include enough detail the first time around, and by leaving out that A) yes, the frosting gets denser and B) only certain frostings can tolerate this treatment, she’d accidentally created a minidrama between her and the people trying things as she described them in the initial video. Ann couldn’t recreate her results because she was using her own preferred frosting recipe. Neither one of them was making fake or bad content – this misunderstanding of where the technique works was creating the difference.

Why not clarify in the first video? Why react as though all of this was obvious when those people testing showed it clearly wasn’t?  

I used to watch a show called “Chopped” on Food Network. You may be familiar with the premise – four contestants have a sum of 80 minutes to make a three course meal, including strange ingredients picked out beforehand. Chef Smartypants (who is still active online to this day!) lost her first round. But, the general air I got was that she was more a scholar of food, and a timed challenge like Chopped was not the right environment for her expertise to shine. There was no “they judged me wrong”. She was still confident in her skill. She is skilled!

Outside of going to a pastry or cooking school, there’s basically no real requirement that you need to meet in order to call yourself a chef, or a baker (outside of SafeServ). To demonstrate skill is to prove you’re worth listening to for tips and tricks. It’s what separates you from the thousands of channels freebooting content or putting out useless garbage. Admitting that one trick is not a universal is not the end of the world, but it does feel like a direct threat to one’s credibility in the moment. Those tips and tricks are what give people reason to listen at all. If a user is dismissed as making low-quality hacks, then suddenly people are less inclined to watch. This need for clicks necessitates being right (or looking right) at least most of the time.

Clicks And Money

What do you know about oats? They’re a crop. They’re often sprayed with pesticides to keep bugs from eating them before harvest, as are most crops in the US. A lot of US commercial bug sprays contain glyphosate, a potential carcinogen. Reading that, you’re probably thinking you should stop eating oats, or at least switch to organic, right? Well – experts disagree, and there’s money in arguing. Organic farms have a financial incentive to push their more expensive but glyphosate-free oats, and non-organic farms using glyphosate pesticides are obviously invested in their customers believing their product is safe to eat. Outside of the farmers, regulatory bodies themselves have placed glyphosates into different carcinogen risk categories: https://enveurope.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s12302-018-0184-7 , largely because one is measuring exposure via food and the other is measuring exposure via food, spraying, and other sources. The FDA in the U.S suggests that there is a safe amount of glyphosate when it comes to harvested crops (https://www.fda.gov/food/pesticides/questions-and-answers-glyphosate), but to trust that, you have to trust the FDA, and not everyone does!  

This is one food. One specific crop. If you don’t trust the FDA or American farmers (and after the last salmonella outbreak, it’s tough to trust blindly) then you’ve got to do this for everything you’re eating and compare research, and then from there decide what level of risk you, personally, are comfortable with. That’s exhausting, but nobody wants salmonella. This creates a demand for experts who can condense the complexities of the US food system into a short clip or article that gives you the info you need to know to make an informed decision.

The problem is that some “experts” are interested in that demand, and don’t have the necessary background or research skills to give advice or condense articles. Because they lack the background, they give advice that’s contradictory, or overly strict, or otherwise out of line with what the real experts recommend. Real dieticians then have to debunk the idea that oats are poison, or that candy bars are poison, or that the human body only really needs celery or raw meat or whichever diet the other guy subscribes to in order to function.

One expert says that eating non-organic foods is bad for you. Another one disagrees, and suggests you just wash fresh produce before you eat it. One expert paces up and down the aisles, pointing to the added sugar content of foods to tell you it will actively harm you. Another one disagrees, and asks you to look at the sugar content of the food you eat over the course of the day as a whole.

To one, a candy bar is fatal. To another, a candy bar can be a part of what you eat in a day so long as it’s not the only thing you eat. To one, raw meat is the only food you need. To another, you’re a human, not a lion or a wolf or a cat.

The only way a lot of people can emulate what they see on screen, sometimes from these “experts” themselves, is disordered eating. Orthorexia and anorexia have spiked in recent years (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7114025/), and this trend of TikTok “dieticians” suggesting that most food is poison takes advantage of that. Body dysmorphia is a very tricky illness to treat: the person suffering from it may lean into destructive habits because it’s easier than trying to recover, even when being treated. If they happen upon a TikTok from an “expert” “dietician” telling them that they actually should only need 800 calories a day, it can justify the complex structure of thoughts slowly killing them. After all, they’re listening to an expert. Right?

This need for clicks goes from petty arguing and misunderstandings to actively harmful. When attention is the currency, misinformation that reconfirms biases confidently is what rises to the top.

Pros and Cons of All Sites Becoming Five Sites

Elizabeth Technology January 2, 2024

The amalgamation of smaller websites’ features into bigger websites comes with ups and downs.

The Pros

1) Hardiness

The way that servers used to work, individual clicks to a site counted towards fractions of pennies of hosting costs, and bigger websites that had bigger requirements got better rates because they paid more overall. If a smaller website got linked to from somewhere bigger, and the ordinary traffic quintupled, the website’s owner could be out of a lot of money. The other option was to simply let the traffic take the website offline temporarily, which was also ugly: it made DDoSing smaller websites for political or social reasons pretty easy. Big websites with big servers and lots of through-flow don’t have to worry about that. DDoSing Facebook, for example, would be almost impossible, and would cost a ton of money in equipment and electricity to even try.

2) Family of Services

Amazon’s numerous smart home devices are undeniably convenient (although it comes with many trades). You can simply ask Alexa to turn on your Smart lights, add frozen onions to your shopping list, ask it what a new air fryer would cost from Amazon dot com, and ask it to order it for you all without getting out of bed. None of that would be possible if Amazon were not a sprawling mass of other, smaller services purchased or created for the sole purpose of supporting Amazon.

3) Ease of Communication

While websites that allow for small, closed groups to communicate (like Mastodon and Discord) have an easier time controlling their user culture, bigger sites like Reddit, Twitter, MySpace, etc. can connect people with what they’re looking for much easier. Crowdsourcing an answer to questions that don’t exist on informational pages is something that only forum and blogging websites can do, and only because they’re so easy to access and create an account for.

Social media is so common that some businesses extended their official helplines down into Twitter or Facebook to make it easier for customers to reach them wherever they can be found online.

The Cons

1) Tangled Services

The new Facebook (Meta) app Threads requires an Instagram account to log in. Threads demands a lot of info about you. If you made an account, saw some bad news about Threads, and wanted to leave, you wouldn’t be able to do so without deleting your Instagram account. Threads is holding that account hostage.

When big websites buy smaller websites, the services can become entangled, or watered down for profit-making reasons. If there’s no substitute, then tough luck – you’ll put up with the downsides or you’ll leave.

2) Being Presentable

Trying to bring up a site to meet censorship requirements held by giant access chokepoints like app stores or parent websites can make a purchased website stop working. For example, trying to make Tumblr fit into the Apple App Store’s standards crushed it! Tumblr’s NSFW ban also caught plenty of art and random unrelated pictures in the crossfire thanks to an open-sourced, poorly trained algorithm being deployed to moderate, and a big portion of the userbase left, never to return. Is the website better now? No, but it meets the App Store’s standards.

Similarly, if a web services vendor the size of Amazon decides they don’t like a website and won’t be supporting it any longer due to content concerns, that website may simply vanish as a result. Giving one big company the power to decide what is unacceptable behavior starts getting ethically tricky, very fast.

3) Standards for Banning

Being banned on some sites means being banned from their entire family of services. Meta in particular holds a lot of enforcement power because of the vast array of products it has (Instagram, Facebook, VR services, etc.) and some cost money. Unknowingly violating the ToS of a site could result in being kicked from multiple other places.

This also creates the problem of restricting access to ‘official channels’ of businesses or the government. As said above, some businesses want people to be able to reach them on social media. Oftentimes tweeting at a company gets them to respond quicker. Getting banned for something unrelated restricts access to help.  

4) Genuine Conspiracies

Conspiracies about everything from Flat Earth and Indigo Children to Cambridge Analytica riddle social media. Cults can recruit through Facebook now! On an even larger scale, misinformation campaigns designed to undermine elections or start fearmongering also target users on their favorite websites.

Big sites make a better target for the big, organized attacks using deliberate misinformation, although small sites are not immune to it – on a forum like Reddit, where everyone is a stranger and everyone is on the same standing, arguing something insane and sounding correct can sway people who’d never agree with someone who was standing right in front of them, saying the same thing. One big platform shared equally gives those people a better cost/reward ratio.

5) Trends In Site Design

You may have noticed that Instagram and Tumblr both became more video-focused after the success of TikTok. Facebook launched Threads after it started to look like Elon Musk’s “X” (formerly Twitter) might stop holding the average Twitter user’s attention. Most major social media works with the same handful of advertisers, and most have similar, but not identical, designs. 

When something is trending and working for another big website, the other big websites want to hop on and do the same, whether their original fanbase wanted that or not. If you were on Tumblr because you didn’t like TikTok, that sure sucks, because Tumblr is pushing a TikTok (Tumblr LIVE) tab update out whether you use it or not.

The Awareness of Future Cringe Past

Elizabeth Technology December 28, 2023

The Concept of Cringe

What is ‘cringe’? To cringe is to jerk away from a negative stimuli – accidentally getting a papercut between your fingers, or hearing the sound of nails on chalkboard, may make you cringe.

Sometime in the 2000s, a new definition of cringe arose, and forums sprung up trying to catalog it. This new cringe focuses on secondhand embarrassment over actual, physical discomfort: it’s the awkward text to a crush that gets rejected outright. It’s the kid in a college-level presentation class trying to get their group members to theme the project after an unrelated kid’s TV show. It’s someone wearing something in public that breaks rules everyone else is trying to follow. While shame and embarrassment are useful emotions almost anywhere else, the concept of cringe in the new panopticon created by modern social media and high-definition phone cameras is sucking the joy out of memes. The next generation is not ready to be made fun of by people who they respect.

“Millennial Humor” and “This is What Gen Alpha Will Make Fun of Us For”

Gen Z is effectively building a prison made of cringe and ensuring that nobody will escape it, using social media. One comment, one foot, is calling I Can Haz Cheezburger speak annoying and cringe. Another comment, the other foot, is calling someone the Rizzler, and spamming fire emojis. Both feet are straddling a hole in the ground, an abyss that can’t be looked into because the abyss – Nietzsche’s final, paralyzing frontier of awareness – will look back. That hole contains the phrase “this is what gen Alpha will make fun of us for”.

Some Gen Zers have looked into the abyss. The abyss looks back. The future looks back. They, themselves, but younger and meaner and willing to make a joke at their older selves’ expense, looks back at them and sneers. Their jokes are cringe. Their clothes are cringe and make them look cringe. The way they take their selfies in public is cringe. The easily identifiable way that they speak signals to the next generation that they may say something neocringe if prodded right. There’s no escaping now that phones are everywhere, and everyone seems to be filming. They will, one day, have a haircut that turns cringe. They know all of this because the previous generation, Millennials, are subjected to the same treatment. The introduction of the “Millennial Pause” gave ammo to an audience that cares about age so much that identifying Millennials is a sport now, even for other Millennials. Of course that little pause is no big deal, but it exists. The fire emoji, too, will one day be no big deal, but exist, and signal out to Gen Alpha that they’re talking to someone older than them. There’s some comment to be made about how much Americans love the idea of youth. Now, if someone sticks out with dated humor or an awkward pause, they’re a target – they are expected to look and act young enough to blend in with the next generation (which means understanding the jokes and dressing like them too) or risk being singled out as cringe.

This awareness that trendy things age poorly is so paralyzing that some teens are trying to remove themselves from the memery without fully leaving social media. It’s the final stage of irony poisoning, where doing cringey things ironically is still too close to being cringe, and so is just existing (unironically and contemporaneously) with trends in photos or videos, so the people who’d otherwise be having fun making jokes or dancing their meme dances are instead opting to say “this joke won’t be nearly as funny when it’s no longer fresh” as if that’s a revelation. The other option is posting cringe and making jokes that are only funny for right now; if someone wants to stay young and funny forever, they can’t participate. They try to warn the other people outside their prison that one day they’ll be cringe, as though they can somehow stop the embarrassment of embracing popular trends by stopping the trend itself from manifesting with the power of irony and self-awareness, but it’s always already too late. Mullets are on a comeback, and some day the people who had them will look back at those photos and laugh.

To be cringe is to be free. Embrace the cringe. Pause awkwardly. Say ‘Rizzler’ out loud. Keep an ugly haircut and a sage-colored couch, and enjoy existence freed from the dichotomy of cringe and noncringe.

Clicks Drive Misleading

Elizabeth Technology December 21, 2023

Clicks for Being Reliable

What do you know about frosting?

You probably know intuitively that royal frosting is denser than buttercream, and meringues are lighter and fluffier, even if you don’t know the exact terms or science behind it. Royal icing and buttercream are good for cookies, buttercream and meringues are good for cakes.

The trick is adding air. More air usually means a lighter, fluffier frosting. But trapped air in frosting is white, which makes decorating cakes with a dark frosting that’s not mason’s mortar is hard. Food dyes have a flavor, so adding more to get to a certain color is trading appearance for taste; even the best gel food dyes struggle to achieve a passable red in buttercream. What is a home chef to do?

One TikToker, Sugarologie, had discovered a hack: by blending the frosting, she was able to improve the color. Many dyes are not fat-soluble, so the butter in a buttercream was actively impeding the dye’s saturation powers; by blending it, she was introducing more of the dye to more of the water in the butter/sugar mixture. But that wasn’t the only factor at play!

Air bubbles catch and diffract light. If you look at how hard candy manufacturers make the color white (Lofty Pursuits on Youtube has plenty of good examples of this process), you’ll see that what they’re doing is using their hook to catch air bubbles inside of the translucent, slightly golden molten sugar to turn it white. This also noticeably increases the volume of the sugar wad they’re working with, because added pockets of air add volume.

By blending the frosting, Sugarologie was able to improve the color, but in doing so decreased the air in the recipe. That effect also made it darker, but it made the frosting denser too. Users noticed (one large Youtuber known as Ann Reardon made a video demonstrating the problem), but Sugarologie clarified that re-whipping the frosting was easy… and users were still having problems recreating her results. She later released a response video insinuating she was not given a fair shot. She didn’t include enough detail the first time around, and by leaving out that A) yes, the frosting gets denser and B) only certain frostings can tolerate this treatment, she’d accidentally created a minidrama between her and the people trying things as she described them in the initial video. Ann couldn’t recreate her results because she was using her own preferred frosting recipe. Neither one of them was making fake or bad content – this misunderstanding was creating the difference.

Why not clarify in the first video? Why react as though all of this was obvious when those people testing showed it clearly wasn’t?  

I used to watch a show called “Chopped” on Food Network. You may be familiar with the premise – four contestants have a sum of 80 minutes to make a three course meal, including strange ingredients picked out beforehand. Chef Smartypants (who is still active on TikTok to this day, go check her out!) lost her first round. But, the general air I got was that she was more a scholar of food, and a timed challenge like Chopped forces was not the right environment for her expertise to shine. There was no “they judged me wrong”. She was still confident in her skill. She is skilled!

Outside of going to a pastry or cooking school, there’s basically no real requirement that you need to meet in order to call yourself a chef, or a baker (outside of SafeServ). To demonstrate skill and share it is to prove you’re worth listening to for tips and tricks. It’s what separates you from the thousands of channels freebooting content or putting out useless garbage. Admitting that one trick is not a universal is not the end of the world, but it does feel like a direct threat to one’s credibility in the moment. Those tips and tricks are what give people reason to listen at all. If a user is dismissed as making low-quality hacks, then suddenly people are less inclined to watch. This need for clicks necessitates being right (or looking right) at least most of the time.

Clicks for Being Believable

What do you know about oats? They’re a crop. They’re often sprayed with pesticides to keep bugs from eating them before harvest, as are many crops in the US. A lot of US commercial bug sprays contain glyphosate, a potential carcinogen. Reading that, you’re probably thinking you should stop eating oats, or at least switch to organic, right? Well – experts disagree, and there’s money behind both sides. Organic farms have a financial incentive to push their more expensive but glyphosate-free oats, and non-organic farms using glyphosate pesticides are obviously invested in their customers believing their product is safe to eat. Outside of the farmers, regulatory bodies themselves have placed glyphosates into different carcinogen risk categories: https://enveurope.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s12302-018-0184-7 , largely because one is measuring exposure via just food and the other is measuring exposure via food, spraying, and other sources. The FDA in the U.S suggests that there is a safe amount of glyphosate when it comes to harvested crops (https://www.fda.gov/food/pesticides/questions-and-answers-glyphosate), but to trust that, you have to trust the FDA!  

This is one food. One specific crop. If you don’t trust the FDA or American farmers (and after the last salmonella outbreak, it’s tough to trust blindly) then you’ve got to do this research for everything you’re eating and compare results, and then from there decide what level of risk you, personally, are comfortable with. That’s exhausting, but nobody wants salmonella. This creates a demand for experts who can condense the complexities of the US food system into a short clip or article that gives you the info you need to know to make an informed decision.

The problem is that some “experts” are interested in that demand, and don’t have the necessary background or research skills to give advice or condense articles. Because they lack the background, they give advice that’s contradictory, or overly strict, or otherwise out of line with what the real experts recommend. Cutting out all of the fat in your diet isn’t actually very healthy, for example, but suggesting it is sounds right. Real dieticians then have to debunk the idea that oats are poison, or that candy bars are poison, or that the human body only really needs celery or raw meat or whichever diet the other guy subscribes to in order to function.

One expert says that eating non-organic foods is bad for you. Another one disagrees, and suggests you just wash fresh produce before you eat it. One expert paces up and down the aisles, pointing to the added sugar content of foods to tell you it will actively harm you. Another one disagrees, and asks you to look at the sugar content of the food you eat over the course of the day as a whole.

Orthorexia and anorexia have spiked in recent years (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7114025/), and this trend of TikTok “dieticians” suggesting that most food is poison takes advantage of that. Body dysmorphia is a very tricky illness to treat: the person suffering from it may lean into destructive habits because it’s easier than trying to recover, even when being treated. If they happen upon a TikTok from an “expert” “dietician” telling them that they actually should only need 800 calories a day, it can justify the complex structure of thoughts slowly killing them. After all, they’re listening to an expert. Right?