Sixty Symbols is a YouTube channel featuring interviews with scientists speaking about science history, the details of how science is done and what it is like being a scientist, and the latest developments in theoretical and experimental physics, astronomy, and cosmology. There are videos on the peer review process, measuring gravity in previous centuries, the case for string theory, and how to get the most out of our telescopes. It’s worth checking out.
I’ve been distracted by YouTube a lot over the past few months. When I’m too tired to write and don’t feel like reading, sometimes I like to waste time watching old SNL skits, though most of them are so dumb I end up feeling worse than before I started, and then I feel guilty for wasting time on top of it.
Fortunately, when I stay on YouTube long enough, following recommendation after recommendation based on what I’ve viewed, eventually I find some gems. In the past few months, I’ve been watching amateur scientists do backyard experiments. Most of the experiments are done knowing ahead of time exactly what will happen, but in many cases the specific details are new and they are adding to the general knowledge of the world.
The Backyard Scientist explodes melons with molten salt or casts delightfully artistic sculptures by pouring molten aluminum into them. He also works on a lot of mechanical projects. My favorite video is his explanation of how he made a Nerf dart break the sound barrier.
The Slow Mo Guys use a powerful slow-motion camera to capture extremely brief events, such as the shattering of a Pyrex cup, the spinning apart of a record, the overinflating of a football, the collision of fruit with other fruit, and the driving of a truck into a bridge. They have also created a fire tornado, played tennis with jelly, explained how a television works, and dropped ink into water to watch how it dispersed. Very pretty!
The King Of Random plays with dry ice, gallium, tastes gross stuff, boils kinetic sand, and makes art from milk and soap or by mixing superglue and baking soda.
The Action Lab is probably the best in this category. His videos are the most polished, he explains the science behind everything, and he carefully measures his results so that something is learned. He teaches chemistry, astrophysics, quantum mechanics, how to make very dark spots, how the brain perceives colors that don’t exist, checks whether spiders get dizzy, cooks with sound, tries to take the color out of Coke, and explains why you can’t melt wood. My favorite video – and definitely the coolest thing I have seen all year – is his attempt to make black fire.
In addition to these four channels, there are many others who do less precise experiments, with little foreplanning, research, or followup. Their experiments are less scientific but no less fun.
How Ridiculous drops objects from tall places onto other objects to see what it takes to break them and which object is toughest. They have dropped anvils, bowling balls, bicycles, and armchairs onto trampolines, bulletproof glass, and oobleck (a non-Newtonian fluid made from cornstarch and water). They also do dart tricks and play around with the magnus effect (the reason that spinning objects moving through a medium feel a sideways force).
Jogwheel asks, “Is it a good idea to microwave this?” Usually the answer is no. They have microwaved eggs, glowsticks, and compact disks. This is the only channel of this type I was aware of before this year and I went back for nostalgia reasons. They no longer upload on a regular basis.
Sometimes I just want to see something destroyed – and who doesn’t love a satisfying crunch? There are many channels to serve this function and I am sure I have not found them all. They are also very similar to each other to the point that one could probably claim trademark infringement. Most of the hosts do not show their faces or speak and they play the same music while objects are destroyed. They use the same shredding machine often. They often replay the same event from different angles, including from below, and have slow-motion capability. The videos will be labeled as featuring one thing, but then be compilations between ten and twenty minutes long featuring multiple things.
MrGear not only uses a shredding machine, but also sulfuric acid, liquid nitrogen, hot knives, and the infamous thousand-degree metal ball. Watermelons and Nutella jars are favorite objects of his wrath. He also posts many videos showing how to build various things in unconventional ways with limited supplies. He posts crafts, pranks, magic tricks, life hacks (some better than others), and creative ways to tie shoelaces.
Life Hacks & Experiments feeds his shredding machine with toys, food, batteries, bullets, and household items. He also uses a chainsaw, waffle iron, thousand-degree metal ball, hydraulic press (heated and unheated), and hydraulic guillotine. He posts life hacks too.
The Crusher uses many of the same tools to destroy many of the same types of things, plus he will also play the video in reverse to show things come back together. Gojzer does the same. Experiment At Home does the same. Collectively, they destroy pencils, pens, Rubik’s cubes, lighters, phones, a VHS tape, an (American) football, a bowling ball, breakfast cereal, crackers, and Orbeez. Will It Survive? has fewer videos than the others, my favorite of which is Jawbreaker Meets Blowtorch.
It was in watching these videos that I was first exposed to the term ASMR, which stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. Apparently, just as most people feel an unpleasant tingly feeling when nails are dragged across a chalkboard, some people feel a pleasant tingly feeling when hearing whispering, crunching, or other sounds, or watch something very repetitive and methodical. It is believed to have therapeutic properties. Unfortunately, it seems to have no effect on me.
Interestingly, there are those who associate the feeling-inducing videos with sexual eroticism, though there are others who deny any connection. It just goes to show that pornography is very hard to define and what might be pornography to one person can be totally devoid of such associations to another. I have also heard for the first time this year the terms “food porn” and “inspiration porn,” which further dilute the definition into total meaninglessness.
Press Tube does a lot of metal casting and also uses a kinetic press to destroy things, meaning he drops a large weight from a tall height. He has also fed his shredding machine real lava!
The best in this category is Hydraulic Press Channel. It is run by a husband-wife team from Finland who place objects under a hydraulic press and crush them. They are the cutest couple ever and bring a huge amount of enthusiasm to everything they do. They have exploded wood and ball bearings. They have made a knife out of compressed toilet paper and a frying pan from compressed aluminum foil. Using a piston head with extrusion holes in it, they have turned hair into powder, gummy bears into gummy worms, found the fastest way to make salsa and coleslaw, unmixed oobleck, and made beautiful worms out of soap, crayons, ballistic gelatin, play dough, and candles.
They also have a second channel called Beyond The Press, on which they seem to like to blow things up. It is just as good. They have a third channel called Anni Vuohensilta, on which they vlog about their life. They are fun people.
Sometimes I’m happy that I wasted time.
It often happens on my adventures that I see an insect or arachnid I would like to know more about, but I don’t know what to call it. It is times like these that I make a lot of internet searches using descriptive words, but sometimes I just can’t find what I’m looking for. This is why I recently bought the Insect Identification app for the iphone. Once open, I can select a photograph from my gallery, center and crop it, and ask for identification. The AI on the servers will do its best to match my photo with another photo it has in its database. It is often right. The photos it pulled up to match the dragonfly above are practically identical. Apparently, it is called the black saddlebags dragonfly.
Even though the app authors recommend identifying insects by taking a photograph of a single one so as not to confuse the AI, it still does a pretty good job when this is impossible. The trio of beetles on the tree it identified as carrion beetles. The photograph it provided was the spitting image of mine.
While Insect Identification works amazing wonders even under less-than-ideal conditions, sometimes it just does dumb things. I don’t know if it is because of a bug in the software or because not all insects are in the database yet or because it simply needs more feedback to refine its algorithms, but some matches are just clearly wrong. The animal on the ground it recognized as some sort of cricket. I still don’t know what it is, but I think it might be some sort of dipluran. The picture the app provided was not even close.
The bottom line is that Insect Identifier cannot be relied on for life-and-death decisions, but it is easier and faster than online identification guides or Google image searches. I expect to use it a lot this coming spring. The twenty-first century is getting off to an amazing start.
I stopped in a local deli on the way back from one of my forest adventures and bought a bottled soda. The brand was called Maine Root. Since I had never tasted it before, and my grandfather had recently spoken highly of the flavor, I bought a Sarsaparilla. I would describe it by calling it watered-down cream soda, only better. It has a light, sweet flavor. It was okay. The company makes several other flavors too, which I eventually bought on a return trip. The Blueberry is very good, as is the Mandarin Orange. They captured both flavors perfectly. You’d think you had bitten into ripe fruit. The Ginger Brew is quite strong, just the way I like it. Awesome! The Root Beer and Mexicane Cola were also good. Every one of these flavors were worth the three dollars a bottle I paid at the deli.
Perusing the company website, I see they also have Lemon Lime and Pumpkin Pie soda as well as a line of lemonades. Their product is made of from fair trade, organic, cane sugar and never with corn syrup, not that I’ve ever cared much about such things before, but I just might have to care given how good their sodas are.
It often happens on my adventures that I see a plant I would like to know more about, but I don’t know what to call it. It is times like these that I take a photograph and text it to my mother. She knows a lot, but sometimes she doesn’t know the name either. This is why I recently bought the Plant Snap app for the iphone. Once open, I can select a photograph from my gallery, center and crop it, and ask for identification. The AI on the servers will do its best to match my photo with another photo it has in its database. It is often right. The photos it pulled up to match the white flower was a spitting image of the one I took. Apparently, it is called a pricklyburr.
Even though the app authors recommend identifying flowers by taking a photograph of a single flower straight on so as not to confuse the AI, it still does a pretty good job when this is impossible. The yellow flowers it identified as common tansy. The photograph it matched mine to was virtually identical.
While plant snap works amazing wonders even under less-than-ideal conditions, sometimes it just does dumb things. I don’t know if it is because of a bug in the software or because not all plants are in the database yet or because it simply needs more feedback to refine its algorithms (I believe there is a way to give feedback for registered users, but I have not registered yet), or whether some humans have simply been giving incorrect or inconsistent feedback, but some matches are just clearly wrong. The purple flower it recognized not as an orchid, but as a hibiscus. Except for color, the picture was not even close.
Note: In going back to the app to double-check the names in preparation to write this review, some things had changed. The white flower was identified as a leafy skyrocket, which is about as different as it can get and still be a plant, though other possibilities were listed below, including the pricklyburr. For the purple flower, among the below-listed possibilities were two types of orchids, which were very similar, though not identical, so there is still hope.
The bottom line is that Plant Snap cannot be relied on for life-and-death decisions, but it is more accurate than my mother and easier to use than online identification guides or Google image searches. I expect to use it a lot this coming spring. The twenty-first century is getting off to an amazing start.
What could possibly be better than getting gifts? Unwrapping them of course! Imagine unraveling a ball of strip paper to find a prize at the center and you have just imagined a surprise ball. You might find a finger puppet, a marble, a ring, stickers, or even candy – it doesn’t matter; IT’S ALL WRAPPED UP IN PAPER! Once a fifties fad, the novelty gifts are making a comeback, the current incarnation sold by TopsMalibu.com.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could find compromises between the extremes that give us the benefits of both and the costs of neither? That’s what Carl Milsted attempts to do at HolisticPolitics.org. A former Libertarian, he now develops policy solutions to maximize not only liberty, but nature, morality, and equality. Like professor Johnathan Haidt of the University Of Virginia, he uses a dimensional paradigm for morality that does not take into account trump cards, but can still be very useful as a means of engaging with people to find solutions that most can agree with. There is a huge amount of material on there, including proposals for a negative income tax, which could replace welfare for those who need it yet without destroying the incentive to work and creating parasites. It is definitely worth a read for anyone sometimes dissatisfied by the Republicans and Democrats (most people).
There are many YouTube channels that describe physics and cosmology, but by far the best that I’ve discovered is PBSspacetime. Things are actually explained, including the uncertainty principle, black holes, dark energy, and dark matter. It’s very interesting.
If you like biology, you may also be interested in PBSeons, and if you like random ramblings of history, language, science, and philosophy trivia, you might like Vsauce.
There are many YouTube channels featuring and explaining math, such as Mathologer and
MindYourDecisions, but by far the best that I’ve been able to find is Numberphile. They generally do a good job explaining the derivation of their theorems, but even when they don’t they are valuable for the wonder they induce and for the small tidbits of knowledge that can be combined with facts heard elsewhere to build up a more complete picture of things. It’s fascinating. Many times I have gone online just to watch one or two videos and ended up staying up all night.
Why are there infinite magic squares and only two magic hexagons? What is the longest possible game of tree? What are the spooky connections between the parts of the triangle? How can the same equation lead to such simple order and such complex chaos by only slightly changing one variable? What is a strange attractor? Can we find the digits of pi hiding in the Mandelbrot set? Can we find the Fibonacci sequence hiding in the Mandelbrot set? Why is 41 special?
I grew up in New Hampshire, but my mother grew up in Rhode Island. Every time my parents would take me to visit my mother’s parents still living in Rhode Island, we would make sure to stop at Allie’s Donuts for their glazed crullers. These are real treats. The exteriors are thick with sugar and oil with just a bit of crunch. We never really tried their other donuts, but after you’ve had their crullers there is really no reason to ever eat anything else…maybe with the exception of vitamin supplements…you don’t want to get scurvy. They are best warm. Visiting again is like an adventure in childhood memories.
Allie’s has been in business since 1968 and is famous throughout Rhode Island. As out-of-staters, they used to be our little secret, but we keep meeting people from all over the country with the same secret. They only take cash and have only one location. They make a variety of donuts, including giant donut “cakes” in all shapes and designs. More about them can be found on their Facebook page.
My name is Dan. I am an author, artist, explorer, and contemplator of subjects large and small.