I don't watch TV - here's what I do watch.
I haven't been a regular TV viewer since the last century! Working from home in the mid 1990's I always had a computer in my front room anyway, so I transitioned from 'lean back' to 'lean forward' media very early on and soon found it quite odd that folk would sit on a sofa having inane programming firehosed at them while there was a whole planet of interesting stuff to go and find.
Mind you, back then, content was spread around among many independent websites. It was quite a while before video became a significant datatype. Bandwidth was at a premium and video hosting could be a tricky business. An announcement of an online video in the mainstream media could trigger a demand spike that would cripple a normal website. My own web design company, Datadial, reacted by providing a dedicating video-hosting outsourcing service that was popular at the time with advertising and marketing companies, as we had servers in the docklands datacentre that could handle a big surge in demand.
I mention this because when YouTube first came out in 2005 my first thought was 'That's a really dumb idea!'. Knowing how video chewed up bandwidth, the idea of having a generic hosting service where anyone could upload a video about anything seemed like a great way to go out of business really fast. Surely hosting costs would never be recouped by a freeview service from the low quality video being uploaded by Joe Public? How wrong I was! Here we are 15 years later and YouTube is one of the Internet's top five websites with over 31 million unique channels and an audience of two billion per month and growing. And I'm the biggest sucker for it! Rarely a day goes by in which I don't watch a video or two from one of the 900 or so channels I'm subscribed to.
So for this week's blog (which is admittedly a bit of a filler because I've had a lot to do), I thought I'd list my top ten YouTube channels.
Ok this is about a guy (called Rich) who rebuilds cars. Simple enough, huh? Except Richie B Kidd only rebuilds electric cars. The channel started a few years back when Richie bought a Tesla model S that had been written off after taking a swim in a lake. He took the car to pieces and put it back together over a fascinating series of videos that showed me for the first time what the inside of an electric car looked like. Subsequent videos have documented his rebuilding of a Model three and converting a petrol driven Rat-rod into an EV using the guts of a second hand electric motorbike. The show is interesting, not only because it illuminates the engineering behind EVs, but it also exposes the politics behind Tesla's aftercare. Tesla is not keen on work being done on their cars by non-authorised mechanics. Rich has done some quite revealing exposés documenting a range of issues from being denied permission to buy parts to having supercharging turned off remotely by Tesla. Another great reason to watch the channel is Richie himself, who is a world class wit, prankster and comedian. Even when he diverts from the narrative to bring a word from his sponsor, the content he delivers remains fresh and funny as though you're not watching an advert but part of the main feature, which is a very rare skill.
In the words of their own blurb, "First We Feast videos offer an iconoclastic view into the culinary world, taking you behind-the-scenes with some of the country's best chefs and finding the unexpected places where food and pop culture intersect." First We Feast is a magazine, YouTube channel and brand that produces a number of video series, one of which is called Hot Ones. Hot Ones has a cult following. The format of the show sees host Sean Evans interviewing a celebrity whilst both he and the star munch their way through ten food items (usually chicken wings or vegetarian options such as cauliflower bhajis) each of which has an increasingly powerful dab of hot chilli source. It's a deceptively simple idea that works incredibly well, partly because the show is meticulous well researched so its questions are deep and probing, and also as the 'scoville' units rise, the celebrities are often caught off guard leading to some really revealing answers. This week the host of 'In The Actors Studio', James Lipton died at the age of 93. Previously his show was the best place to go for celebrity interviews, but Hot Ones has in my opinion taken it's place in the 21st century, as the stars seem to be falling over themselves to be on it. Good guests to look out for include Charlize Theron, Gordon Ramsey and Idris Elba.
I stumbled across this channel when I saw the click-bait title "50 AMAZING Physics Facts to Blow Your Mind!" I was irresistibly drawn to click through and I've been a fan of the channel ever since. Up and Atom is the brainchild of Australian science communicator Jade Tan-Holmes. Her videos cover the full gamut of STEM topics from quantum biology, physics, higher mathematics, logic and even touches on philosophy. What makes the channel such a delight is the presenter's mastery of communication. I don't recall seeing anyone taking a bachelors degree level subject and making it so accessible to the layman. Her joy in both the subject and the action of explaining it is instantly visible in all her work and is dangerously infectious. If you have even the faintest interest in science, watch one of her videos. I'm sure you too will end up subscribing.
With well over two million subscribers, Geography Now probably needs no introduction, but if you have not heard of it before, the channel is on a mission to bring you a bite-sized video about every country on planet earth. Working from A through Z, they are up to St Kitts and Nevis at the time of writing. Fast talking host Paul Barbato started the channel in 2014 and shares presenting duties with a small team of regular hosts and guests from the country being featured. The presenting style is opposite to what one has experienced in traditional academia, and is an attention grabbing mix of comic book/pop-art/slapstick. Episodes are divided into four sections, political geography, physical geography, demographics and the friend-zone (international relations). Despite the informal presenting style, the videos are well researched and contain a mountain of facts. Errors do creep in occasionally but corrections appear in a follow-up show to each episode in a counterpart called Fan-Flag Friday. Good episodes to cut your teeth on include Japan, Israel and Iran.
Another channel that has become so popular now you probably don't need me to tell you about it, Ask A Mortician is hosted by the ever engaging Caitlin Doughty who has been delivering death-themed videos since 2011 and now has over a million subscribers. As one might expect from a holder of a BA in medieval history, Caitlin's videos are meticulously researched, but also she has a gift for story telling. This coupled with her dry sense of humour infuses her videos with bitter-sweet quality - it's kind of like Jackanory with corpses! Good episodes to watch out for are "WHAT HAPPENED TO HIROSHIMA'S DEAD?", "The Self Mummified Monks", "Why Do We Get Columbine So Wrong?" and "The Dyatlov Pass Incident".
Ave is a channel primarily devoted to mechanical engineering, a subject which is of little interest to me, however I watch often because the host is endlessly entertaining. Who he is remains a mystery as he keeps his identity private, however he is a French Canadian engineer who clearly has a background in machine-shop, hydraulic systems and electronics. Many of his videos (or vijayos as he calls them) are tear downs of tools or domestic electronic products. What makes the channel outstanding is the host's creative use of the English language. He doesn't talk so much as paint with words. His lexicon is extended with local north-American expressions like chooch and skookum, the meanings of which become apparent through watching his videos. He weaves these in with expletives, rhyming slang and shop-talk almost creating a private language all of his own. Just as Shakespeare had a gift for creating expressions such as 'the milk of human kindness' and 'disappeared into thin air', Ave has a gift for coining novel expressions with a wit and creativity that is truly remarkable. I randomly dove in to one of his videos to bring you an example and within seconds came across a rant where he was battling with his camera's auto-focus: "Eye of the Tiger right out fighting with Jesusless camera for the focusing - fuck!" Sheer poetry!
From the channel's description "YouTuber, ex-philosopher. Sex, drugs, and social justice." Contrapoints is the video channel of Natalie Wynn, a transgender women who is making a name for herself as an astute, left-wing video essayist. Her channel also explores transgender issues and the politics of sexuality. Not the sort of thing I'd normally watch videos about but the production values are so high and the content so well constructed that I find her videos compelling viewing.
Rebecca Smethurst is an astrophysicist with a passion for blackholes. As I write this I can see a common theme emerging among the channels I watch, in that Dr Becky is another presenter who exudes joy in delivering information about her chosen subject. Her enthusiasm is quite infectious. I don't know my parsec from my elbow but I'm learning thanks to watching her weekly content. She only has just over 100k subscribers at the moment but this is climbing and I'm sure she will become the Patrick Moore of the 21st century.
Being a musician myself I watch a ton of channels related to musical education, but Rick stands out as the crème de la crème. He's worked as a college level music tutor, worked for over 20 years as a producer/engineer and has a huge range of contacts in the music industry. He has a number of series within his channel such as 'What makes this song great' where he tears down a famous cut (often working from the original multi-track recording) and he has other series on guitar tuition, music theory and film scoring. If you have any interest at all in how music is made, there will be something in Rick's channel for you.
Fronted by Robert Llewellyn (yes, the Red Dwarf guy). Fully Charged is dedicated to bringing you news about electric vehicles and sustainable energy. I'm far from being a tree-hugger but I see the importance of moving to clean energy, so I watch the show regularly to keep up with the latest developments. Though the subscriber count is little over 640k there is a unique buzz about Fully Charged, a sense growing over time that we really are on the cusp of a green revolution. Contrary to what you might think, the show isn't all about Teslas! In fact the most recent video featured the Top 30 EV models in what is a fast growing market.
So there we are. Let me know in the comments what you think of my picks and let me know if there are any channels you would recommend!
Sunday, March 08, 2020 11:00:00 AM