I often work in pomodoro sprints and reward myself with a cup of tea and a YouTube video. I’ve watched a lot of YouTube in 2017 and I’d like to share my favorites with you. I think these folks represent the best of the of internet, and deserve even more exposure.
What would your list be for this year?
Perhaps the most quintessentially and uniquely Dutch channel available on YouTube, Drugslab posts a weekly episode where 1 of its 3 hosts take a different, often illicit, drug to explore its effects. Drugslab exists to make honest and accurate information about drugs available for everybody. As host Nellie Benner put it in their episode reflecting on 2017, “it’s good we’re creating and open and honest society where we can have a discussion about anything.”
Drugslab isn’t just educational, it’s good entertainment. The hosts are charismatic and humorous. And, they are remarkably articulate under conditions where I would be hiding under my bed. The show never positions what it’s doing as cool but rather necessary for society’s education and safety. Drugslab stands for the kind of world I want to live in: one without taboo, one that believes an educated public will make capable of making smarter decisions.
Recommended episode: Nellie completely spaced out on magic truffles (psilocybin)
The Townsends’s YouTube channel combines several of my passions in life: food, history, and learning by doing. Created by Jonathan Townsend of Jas. Townsend & Son Inc., a manufacturer and retailer of 18th- and 19th-century reproduction clothing and accessories, the channel offers Townsend’s research and recreation of recipes using traditional cooking techniques like roasting beef over an open fire, baking in a traditional dutch oven, or even building and baking in an a traditional earthen oven.
Recommended episode: Fried Chicken In The 18th Century? 300 Year old Recipe
#3 Hot Ones, from First We Feast
At its heart, Hot Ones is a celebrity interview show cleverly disguised as a challenge where guests eat progressively hotter chicken wings. If the aim of a great interview is to disarm its guest and encourage them to reveal their true nature, Hot Ones interviews often hit the mark. Much of the fun of the show is to watch the process of eating hot food paired with the finesse of its host, Sean Evans, work their magic.
Guests often start off stiff. Many of them are there to plug something. Before they eat their first chicken wing, you they seem to be asking themselves, “How long before I get back to the hotel?” As the spice-level of the chicken wings increase, magic happens: guests feel they are accomplishing something and feel they are doing it together with the host, and begin to form genuine camaraderie. The line between interviewer and interview erodes. The pain and the resulting endorphin high make guests more open and vulnerable. That’s when Evans starts asking the real questions: that’s when the interview gold emerges.
Recommended episode: Neil deGrasse Tyson Explains the Universe While Eating Spicy Wings
#4 Two Minute Papers
Not all of my viewing is drug or food related. Of all the media I consume, Károly Szolnai-Fehér’s Two Minute Papers is the most important to my work. Szolnai-Fehér brilliantly summarizes the latest in A.I. and computer graphics research. And, he does so with extreme visual flair, “it’s like ice cream for my eyes!” (a common Szolnai-Fehér-ism).
I hope Szolnai-Fehér franchises Two Minute Papers to folks within other disciplines. I would love to watch Two Minute Cognitive Science Papers or Two Minute Ecology Papers.
Recommended episode: AI Makes Stunning Photos From Your Drawings (pix2pix)
#5 Cody’s Lab
Cody Don Reeder is my hero. His YouTube channel, Cody’sLab, is the ultimate in yak shaving. When he wanted to make a ring for his girlfriend, he started from ore he mined himself, from his family’s own land in Utah. When he wanted to make granulated sugar, he started from sugar beets.
Over the years, and 1.3M subscribers later, there is seemingly nothing Cody can’t accomplish. At his best, he reveals to us how something is transformed from raw material to finished product with only modest means. Or, he answers novel questions in chemistry and physics like, can you carbonate honey? When he’s not at his best, Reeder occasionally gives into stunts to grow his audience such as drinking sodium cyanide or standing on mercury. He relies on formidable knowledge and research skills to keep him safe. I hope he doesn’t further erode his safety margin for views. I feel the best from Reeder is yet to come.
Recommended episode: From Rock to Ring
Bonus: #6 Primitive Technology
With nearly 7.0M subscribers, chances are you’ve probably seen an episode of Primitive Technology. It remains one of the best things on the internet. Created by John Plant, a man who remained anonymous for two years after he began publishing his videos on his Wordpress blog. Plant only revealed his identity to file a complaint with Facebook when his videos were being stolen and re-posted by others to cash in on their popularity.
The beauty of Primitive Technology lay in its inventiveness and the spartan excellence of its storytelling: It’s just one man wordlessly filming himself in the woods, making. His videos have a meditative quality. My neighbor used to watch them to help her fall asleep.