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Q&A with Grey

Hello Internet,

Here we are: 500,000 subscribers -- well, actually… by the time I finished this video it's a bit more than that -- but who knew that after I promised to do a Q&A that the pope would resign?

Anyway...

When I uploaded my first explanation video just over two years ago now, I would never have expected this: over half a million subscribers and 16 videos with over a million views. Who knew rapidly spoken educational videos could be so popular?

Thank you, Internet.

Now, as promised -- though slightly behind schedule -- it's time to answer some of your questions.

"What's your educational background?" Rodrigo, Campo Grande, Brazil

I went to school in New York where I earned two college degrees, one in physics and one in sociology. After that I moved to London and earned a PGCE in Science Education, and became a qualified physics teacher in England.

"How long does it take to create a video?" Tracey, Ohio

I've tracked my time to get an accurate answer and every minute of final video you see takes me between 10 and 20 hours of writing and animating to make. So a typical 5 minute video is 50 to 100 hours of work.

While that's a lot, it doesn't include the research phase which is difficult to quantify -- some of the videos I've made I'd been collecting notes on for more than a year before starting.

"What was you favourite video make?" Brittany P, UK

The 2012 video was the most fun by far -- mainly because I didn't have to do a lot of complicated research and I got to complain about things I don't like.

"What change would you make to the education system?" Lumbajack Gangsta, Austin, TX

Instead of grouping kids by age, I'd group try grouping them by ability instead.

The idea that just because a kid is 14-years-old they're ready for trigonometry is weird. No other part of human society organizes itself this way and for good reason: it artificially slows down the best and brightest.

"What is do you think should be in the curriculum but isn't?" Jamaal, Arizona

Computer programming. I was kind of shocked and horrified when I started teaching in the UK to discover there were no real computer programming lessons.

Of course, there are only so many classes in the day, and everyone wants their pet subject taught in schools, so the equally important question is what to get rid of to make room for computer programming and, without the slightest hesitation I'd ditch the foreign languages classes -- after all, computer programming is getting us closer and closer to a universal translator anyway.

"What do you do when you receive pennies?" johnjac, Owasso

I die a little inside thinking about how political systems can distribute tiny costs across large numbers of people to the benefit of a few.

"What's your favorite element?" Rasmus, Denmark

I don't have a favorite but I'm irrationally fond of Tungsten mainly because my wedding ring is made out of it.

"What's the story behind your logo?" Joshua B.

It's basically a personal flag for my love of science and technology.

When I first started this channel, I thought that I would make videos mostly about those two things, but for various reasons, that hasn't happened yet.

And besides, it's not like there's a shortage of good science channels on YouTube.

By the way, If you really like the logo, you can get it on t-shirts and now coffee mugs -- which is particularly appropriate as coffee is the fuel that without which these videos could not be made.

"What do you do in your free time?" Sam L, Higginsville, MO

I like to horseback ride through the mountains.

Nah, it's mostly just Reddit.

Speaking of which...

"Would you rather fight 100 duck-sized horses or 1 horse-sized duck?" techtakular, Alex, va

One horse-sized duck. The cube-squared law means the legs of a horse-sized duck probably wouldn't be structurally sound. Easy fight.

"Are there going to be more "politics in the animal kingdom" videos?" Oli

Yes, I'm sorry, I know this playlist is unfinished and, if any of the videos videos I've ever made can be said to be important, it's these.

I promise at least one more about the single transferable vote, but I don't make any promises about when that will happen.

"Do you think third parties will ever gain ground in the United States?" Kerl, Florida

No.

The problem isn't politics or voter apathy, it's the system that creates the politics and voter apathy.

The US election system is pretty much the worst in the civilized world -- often voting for a 3rd party isn't just a waste it's also a vote against your own best interests.

3rd parties really can't thrive under those conditions.

"What's one technology you wish to see before you die?" zigonick, MO, USA

Immortality technology.

Where do you get your ideas?

It's been my experience that creative projects are self-sustaining. The more you write, the more things you want to write about and the more you program the more programming ideas you have.

For me each video spawns more videos. The daylight saving one, for example, originally contained spots for information about longitude and time zones and the seasons that got cut but will probably become their own videos at some point.

Also, I listen to a monstrous number of audiobooks and podcasts. If you're interested, you can see some of my favorites here. These help me keep in touch with the wider world and expose me to ideas and information that I would not have come across on my own.

"If you could live at any time in history when would it be?" Bonnie, Scotland

I wouldn't.

Allow me to summarize all of human existence with this single graph.

"What's the best way be successful on YouTube?" Joe Kowalski, 44074

Make videos people want to watch.

I'm not trying to be glib here but when asked this question I see many YouTubers talk about the importance of upload schedules and managing your social media and collaborations, and my experience says that's completely backwards.

If you're videos aren't interesting, no one will care that you upload them regularly. And twitter followers don't get you views, views get you twitter followers and people who want to collaborate with you.

I know it's not very helpful advice, but it's the most truthful advice I can give.

"What is the most interesting fact you've ever been told." Stu1278, England

It's difficult to pick just one from an entire lifetime, but last year Veritassium visited me in London and walked me through the process by which trees get water from their roots to their leaves.

That sounds really boring but it was one of the most mind-blowing conversations I've had in a long time.

"How often do you engage with professionals while you research?" theLarom, Washington, DC

For me, being confused and frustrated with a topic is a vital part of figuring out how to explain it to others so I'd say 95% of research I do on my own.

If I'm really out of my depth on a topic -- like the debt video and the pope video -- I try very hard to find an expert to look over the final draft of my script but time constraints and finding trustworthy experts is sometimes a bit difficult.

"What is your favorite internal organ?" trint99, DFW, TX

The Brain -- because it's the one that's me.

"Is there any part of science do you want to be proven wrong?" Jrod N, Massacusetts

Yes, the current interpretations of the ultimate fate of The Universe all make me sad.

"Can you answer 10 questions in under 30 seconds?" YouReadMeName

1: "What is your favorite scientific study ever published?" Marie, Reno, NV

Unskilled Are Unaware: Further Explorations of (Absent) Self-Insight Among the Incompetent.

Link in the description.

2: "Hogwarts house?" Zeinoun Awad, Lebanon

Ravenclaw. (I'd hope)

3: "Celsius or Fahrenheit?" Kubez

Fahrenheit.

4: Kirk or Picard

Picard.

5: "Do you wear glasses?" Spartacus McFancy Pants

Uh, yeah.

6: "Favorite empire?" Caleb Glickman, USA

The second one. Those monks were awesome.

7: "How can a country be totally self sufficient -- as in no imports or exports?" Amberjack1973

Simple, resort to a medieval level of technology.

8: "Favourite sport?" soccernhlfan, Canada

No.

9: "Should science play a bigger role in politics?" Dip, London, UK

What, you mean the method by which we determine truth? Yeah, I think it should.

10: "Can you answer 10 questions in under 30 seconds?" YouReadMeName

Apparently.

Alright, thanks to everyone who submitted questions -- it's been fun, Internet.

Credits:

Music by: Broke for Free.

Digital Aristotle: Thoughts on the Future of Education

Blog

Ever since I started working as a teacher seven years ago, the future of education has been on my mind. I'm not sure that my most recent vlog has well articulated my thoughts on the matter, but it's a start.

I'm the first to admit that I do a bit of handwaving at the end of the video about Digital Aristotle -- near-artificial-intelligent software doesn't just pop into existence. But I'm comfortable with the handwaving for two reasons:

  1. Technology evolves much faster than people expect.
  2. Real AI isn't necessary for my vision of Digital Aristotle anyway.

There is a lot to be done with just simple testing across massive groups of students and this is something that the people at The Khan Academy, among others, are working on.

One last point that I'd like to be clear on: almost by definition a computer program can't teach social skills. There will always be a place where working adults send their kids to be socialized. Because of that I don't think that schools are going anywhere in the long term, I just don't think that the formalized education part of those schools will be anything like what we do now.

Recommended Reading

If you want to see the most sci-fi vision of the future of education, I suggest reading The Diamond Age by Neil Stephenson. The main plot is about 'The Young Lady's Illustrated Primer' a computerized book. Coincidentally, The Diamond Age was the first book I read on a kindle, which made it a doubly enjoyable experience.

Links

Credits

Special thanks to YouTube EDU in general and Angela in particular for arranging the event.

YouTube EDU Artwork by Jessica Fan.

Music by Broke For Free

Images by jbirdjohanlgsfcmike52adgsfcmwicharylobsterstewwwworksx1brettlxn271moyermkfrtzalancleaverdubsarjasonffepugachevurosvelickovic56155476@N08fakeeyes

How to Pronounce Uranus

A few sharp-eyed viewers noticed that in my last video about why Pluto is no longer a planet I said aloud all of the planet names except one: Uranus. This video is sort of a reply to that.

Uranus is unique among the planets for both a natural reason – its horizontal axis of rotation – and also a human reason: it is a Greek God among Romans.

Roman Name Greek Name God of
Mercury Hermes Trade & Travel
Venus Aphrodite Love
Mars Ares War
Jupiter Zeus King of the Gods
Saturn Kronos Time
Caelus Uranus The Sky
Neptune Poseidon The Sea

 

Why the German chemist Bode thought that the Greek name was better than the Roman, we may never know. But it’s interesting to note that Herschel explicitly thought that a Roman name for the planet was a bad idea. In his letter to Sir Joseph Banks in 1783 he says:

In the fabulous ages of ancient times the appellations of Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, were given to the planets, as being the names of their principal heroes and divinities. In the present more philosophical era, it would hardly be allowable to have recourse to the same method, and call on Juno, Apollo, Pallas or Minerva, for a name to our new heavenly body. The first consideration in any particular event, or remarkable incident, seems to be its chronology; if in any future age it should be asked, when this last-found planet was discovered? It would be a very satisfactory answer to say, “In the reign of King George the Third.” As a philosopher, then, the name of GEORGIUM SIDUS presents itself to me, as an appellation which will conveniently convey the information of the time and country where and when it was brought to view.

It was pretty tricky trying to find actual occurrences of The Georgium Sidus or the other names being used in print. Here it is in an 1820 Nautical almanac listed as Georgian. I felt pretty lucky to have stumbled upon the 1823 Encyclopædia Britannica and the article mentioned in the video.

Related to the previous video on Pluto that same edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica lists Ceres and Pallas as planets:

I also tried using Google’s ngram search to compare the frequencies of the different names over time, but since ‘Herschel’ is both a name for people and a name for the planet it’s difficult to come up with a fair comparison:

There are a few other little things that I wanted to fit in the video but didn’t make it:

  • The name Neptune was suggested as an alternative to The Gorgium Sidus as a nod to Great Britain’s’ dominance over the sea.
  • While all the planets have Greek names for their moons, Uranus’s moons have Shakespearean names.

Meta

I originally edited in clips of Bill Nye, Carl Sagan, Richard Feynman and Neil deGrass Tyson actually saying the name ‘Uranus’ but took it out at the last minute because of nerves about copyright. I was probably in the right to use the clips, but I don’t like to rely on fair use which is why almost all the images in my videos are either my own or creative commons attribution.

Anyway, you can go listen to them pronouncing Uranus at the links above while learning things about the planet. Also, though not a scientist, Sir Patrick Stewart makes the name Uranus sound positively regal.

Credits

Images by: Jack Fusco, dennism2 & pikous

Music by: Broke For Free

Special Thanks

The Royal Institution. Go check out their YouTube channel.