Staying Nerdy During a Pandemic

How to exercise your brain while sheltering in place

We’re knee-deep in a global pandemic that takes some of us out to the front-lines and keeps some of us cooped up in front of Zoom calls all day. By the time evening arrives, we flip on the TV to Netflix and switch off our brains. Once you’ve finished hollowing out your soul by binge-watching “Tiger King” and “Ozark”, you’re ready for something more fulfilling. You may be eager to learn, so you turn to the Discovery Channel or the Learning Channel only to find that their top shows are “Deadliest Catch”, “My 600-lb Life” and “90-day Fiance”. Sadly no learning or discovery to be found there.

So the question remains -- How do you stay nerdy during a pandemic? How do you keep your brain in shape in the midst of all this? My own answer is the treasure trove of knowledge also known as YouTube. Though it started 15 years ago with pirated videos and skateboarding dogs, YouTube is now the single best source for educational videos.

Some of the best math and science communicators in the world can be found on YouTube. Here I’d like to highlight my personal favorites. Ubiquity Ventures is a proud supporter of each of these YouTubers via Patreon:

3Blue1Brown from Grant Sanderson

Grant has 2 insatiable desires that make 3Blue1Brown my favorite YouTube channel: (1) he is dying to inspire a love of math and curiosity in his viewers and (2) he yearns to find the most elegant explanations of concepts. Given Ubiquity’s focus on machine learning-powered startups, 3Blue1Brown’s series on machine learning is the single best way I’ve found to really understand these ML topics: deep learning, gradient descent, backpropagation, and more, without having to know anything in advance. Check out the first video here:

Here’s another great video where he uses Fourier transforms (he’ll explain what those are) to make any picture you want with just steadily rotating arrows (just watch the first 10 seconds and your interest will be piqued!)

Mathologer

Mathologer host Burkard Polster always starts with a simple question that leads to a surprising answer and uncovers a deep mathematical insight. In this video below, he starts by connecting dots around a circle and quickly arrives at the fractal image of the Mandelbrot set before explaining why:

Numberphile

Numberphile creator Brady Haran explores simple mathematical ideas in entertaining bite-sized videos. There’s usually a bit of simple math on a large brown sheet of paper, but he keeps things simple and digestible. I find this Numberphile video below to be the single most intuitive description of the Golden Ratio I’ve heard as they describe how a sunflower chooses to arrange its sunflower seeds most optimally:

And here is another of my favorites with a very simple proof that the square root of 2 is irrational (it goes on forever without any pattern) - “Root 2 - Numberphile”

Minute Physics

Short, to-the-point, hand-drawn videos by creator Henry Reich that explain a whole host of physics ideas — often in under 60 seconds. In this video below, he explores the very surprising fact that it is WAY easier to get to the sun from Pluto than from Mercury (or Earth):

Veritasium

Veritasium creator Derek Muller explores common science questions with animated explanations and by visiting unique places. This video explores… how video was invented:

Other great Veritasium videos include “Where Do Trees Get Their Mass?” (your first guess is probably wrong), "World’s Roundest Object”, and “Fire in Zero-G”.

SmarterEveryDay

YouTuber Destin Sandlin is a rocket scientist by day and a dad who loves exploring and explaining things in his free time. His videos often utilize very high-framerate cameras to get super slow-motion detail on physical things. In this video below, he explores exactly how a car engine works with a clear see-thru panel in slow-mo:


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Ubiquity Ventures — led by Sunil Nagaraj — is a seed-stage venture capital firm focusing on early-stage investments in software beyond the screen, primarily smart hardware and machine intelligence applications.