Author Archives: vihart

On Knives and Files, Freedom and Fascism.

I made a video! It’s called On Knives and Files, though it’s also about other human tools. And what follows is an account of how I came up with it, and some thoughts on a certain sort of response I’ve gotten to it.

Part of my job is to research and understand the tools humans use. Sometimes this means tools invented relatively recently in human history, like mathematics. Or tools that have barely been invented, like computers and virtual reality.

To better understand these modern tools, I’ve been trying to think more about older tools, like knives, and language, and rules. So with all that on my mind, I’ve been starting to see more connections between the tools I use in my daily life, or see other people use. Who I then subject to my musings.

I clearly remember being perched on the stone wall at my grandmother’s farm, drinking in sunlight and learning the rules of pocket knife use. The inspiration for this topic struck while perched on the kitchen counter drinking a glass of mead and watching someone pare the skin off a ginger root, which suddenly connected with a conversation we’d had a few days earlier about proper file use, which connected with the many conversations on human tools I’ve had recently with Alan Kay.

A kitchen-counter ramble to my captive cooking audience turned into a long email drafted to Alan, which I put so much work into that I decided I might as well polish it up and film it. And the more I wrote the more my brain connected it to other things that are often on my mind, so that’s how that happened.

Interestingly, despite how explicitly I stated the opinion that it’s important that we should be allowed to cut towards ourselves when we think it’s worth it (though hopefully after understanding the risk, and learning from our mistakes), more than a few commenters decided to interpret this video as an anti-free-speech fascist nanny state thing.

How does even?

Part of the point of the video is how easily we push our values to extremes, and I can’t say I’m very surprised to see such commenters asserting their values, but what’s interesting is that the extreme they’ve decided to sort me into is the one opposite themselves. They could have decided to interpret my video as backing up their beliefs through agreement, but chose conflict.

I wonder what made those commenters think we have opposite views; surely it couldn’t just be that I suggest people consider the consequences of their words and actions. My working theory is that other markers have placed me on the opposite side of a cultural divide that they feel exists, and they are in the habit of demonizing the people they’ve put on this side of their imaginary divide with whatever moral outrage sounds irreproachable to them. It’s a rather common tool in the rhetorical toolset, because it’s easy to make the perceived good outweigh the perceived harm if you add fear to the equation.

Many groups have grown their numbers through this feedback loop: have a charismatic leader convince people there’s a big risk that group x will do y, therefore it seems worth the cost of being divisive with those who think that risk is not worth acting on, and that divisiveness cuts out those who think that risk is lower, which then increases the perceived risk, which lowers the cost of being increasingly divisive, and so on.

The above feedback loop works great when the divide cuts off a trust of the institutions of science, or glorifies a distrust of data. It breaks the feedback loop if you act on science’s best knowledge of the risk, which trends towards staying constant, rather than perceived risk, which can easily grow exponentially, especially when someone is stoking your fear and distrust.

If a group believes that there’s too much risk in trusting outsiders about where the real risk and harm are, then, well, of course I’ll get distrustful people afraid that my mathematical views on risk/benefit are in danger of creating a fascist state. The risk/benefit calculation demands it be so.

Pi Day Rant, 3/14/16

This year, Pi Day is especially round.

The tradition of the Pi Day Rant continues, this time debating the merits of last year’s glamorous “Super Pi Day”, 3/14/15, vs this year’s more accurate but rounded Pi Day, Practical Pi Day, Engineer’s Pi Day, 3/14/16.

This video was inspired by the 2016 presidential primaries.

There’s a YouTube playlist of all my previous Pi-related endeavors here.

Anyone can express righteous anger on the internet, but sometimes I get to do it on the radio! I’ve got some sound bytes on today’s NPR Morning Edition [which is now archived here].


You may have noticed a new video on my second secret YouTube channel:

The soundtrack is on soundcloud:

How did this happen? Do you wish to see behind the curtain? The mundane truth behind the art?

Well, my mamma sent me one of those “Original Melting Snowman” kits for Christmas. It’s basically white silly putty and some plastic bits. You’re supposed to roll the putty into balls and stick the parts in to make the standard snowman, then leave it to slowly settle into a puddle of putty.

IMG_20151229_223823   IMG_20151229_001908

I looked at this thing and thought “This is stupid. Well, I should try it once. Well, I should try it twice. Well, I should try it again but this time…”

And so on, until the artistic urges have all come out.

I call this one “Kneeling Nude in Party Hat”:


Usually silly putty would be a terrible sculpting medium for exactly the same reason it’s so much fun in this context.


Henry Segerman was over the evening I was playing with this, and decided to take a time lapse of my next melting sculpture.

As that was going, we got to thinking about melting snowmen and time lapses of melting things, and ephemeral art and evanescence and the temporary nature of all things. Henry showed me this video of chocolate bunnies melting, and he’d also brought up a video of The Snowman a couple days before, so those things were in my mind.

The next day, Henry showed me the looped and time-distorted result of his time lapse:


After staring at it for ten minutes, it was obvious that it needed to be on YouTube looping for a very long time, with music. So I stuck it in premiere, then computed the average between The Snowman song and the Chocolate Bunny song and recorded that in about 15 minutes. The end.


Vi Hart Now on Vimeo, Twitch, and More

105 Vi Hart videos are now on Vimeo. Every single one of them is downloadable, and many are in HD for the first time.

Videos Page
A new videos page to index my videos and their various web homes, along with important metadata like copyright info and original upload date. Clunky at the moment, but, it exists!

The table on the page was generated from this spreadsheet I made of my videos that includes the YouTube ID, vimeo URL, copyright info, original upload date, etc. If you want to do some sort of find and replace thing to change YouTube embeds to vimeo embeds, for example, or generate a page of embedded videos, that csv file would help you automate the process.

I’ve been playing around with streaming on Twitch at Fun new toy, who knows if I’ll keep it up. So far I’ve streamed myself using Nicky Case‘s emoji prototype to simulate Ayn Rand’s classic dystopian zombie novel Atlas Shrugged using emoji.

Planning to do some VR programming streams in the coming week (twitter is probably the best place to get updated on when that’s happening).

I did this webVR puzzle game Float with my VR research team eleVR, which is available free on the web now (you’ll need a Vive to play it though). Here’s a video about it:

And the soundtrack, which I kind of can’t stop listening to:

Shepard Tones

Shepard Tones from Vi Hart on Vimeo.

I had the idea for this one while I was filming a microwave video.

Outside, the San Francisco fog was rising and disappearing off of the hills, then re-condensing as clouds above. It was mesmerizing. The ever-rising effect of this fading in-and-out reminded me of Shepard tones, and I thought, I should film this and then attach Shepard Tones to it, as a quick second-secret-channel video! (of course, first I had to wait another 5 minutes and 56 seconds.)

I didn’t know if there were any copyright-free Shepard-Risset glissandos out there, but I thought I could probably make my own using my voice (I’d done something similar to this effect in Twelve Tones already). And as long as I was using my voice, well, wouldn’t it be funny to have lyrics, that were an explanation of what Shepard tones are? Maybe just a quick definition, repeated over and over.

When I’m using just acoustic instruments, I have a good sense of exactly how anything I imagine in my head will turn out, but I have less experience combining acoustic stuff with digital effects like the frequency shifting used in this video. The first test surprised me with how effective it was, and suddenly the video concept shifted to be the video you see above. The only thing that remained was to write, record, film, and edit the thing. And to stop listening over and over to what I’d recorded so far, long enough to actually do more work. That was the hardest part.

All the audio was recorded and edited in Audacity, using the “Change Pitch” effect for the stuff out of my own vocal range (which meant sometimes singing a harmony a perfect fourth down from where I ultimately wanted it to be, while listening to the audio in the original key, for example, which is fun).

The “random Shepard tones” section uses the 12 tone row heard in “The Process By Which Repeated Opinion Becomes Fact“. Most of the recording throughout Shepard Tones was improvisational. So to sound somewhat random to the ear at the beginning of that section, but have it not-random enough that I could remember it while recording each next layer of voices, I chose that row. Familiar enough to my own ear to sing, but not at all familiar to most viewers.

The sound track to the video is downloadable here. The whole video (including soundtrack) is CC-by; feel free to use any part of it however you like.

as i think i am

as i think i am from Vi Hart on Vimeo.

How I made this video:

first I wrote the script

then I figured out the shots I wanted and wrote those down too.

Then I collected plastic teabag wrappers for a year

and old earplugs

and an honest grit of polenta.

I looked at it sometimes, in that year. The script.

At 10:48pm on Tuesday September 6th, 2015, I realized I was free

I was delighted to be able to use these few free hours to realize this video

Truly delighted.

Happy “Happy Birthday” Day!

When I heard the news about the Happy Birthday lawsuit this (yesterday?) morning, I knew it would be hard to resist. As y’all probably know, we cover music and copyright law often over here at Vi Hart headquarters (see “Oh No, Pi Politics Again” and “Twelve Tones“), and I think about the Happy Birthday song more often than I’d like to admit.

This is the video that happened to me:

It happened like this

I read about the ruling in the morning, while drinking a cup of matcha that stained the dry skin on my lips all weird; I should probably not bite them so much

On my walk to work, I rolled around the concept of a video until it was an actual video concept. Only got interrupted by a couple dudes. By the time I arrived at the office I was ready to start writing the script.

Script-writing is always the longest part. It involves research and editing and phrasing and perfecting the tone and pacing around the office. It involves primary sources on the lawsuit, and the Wikipedia article on most common names. Breaks for lunch and office book club. Finished and walked home at about 7:30pm.

On my walk back I worked on the music. I really wanted to be able to finish this thing today and get it up while the news was still current, and that all depended on being ready to record a half dozen unique arrangements of Happy Birthday as soon as I sat down at the piano.

At this point I was pretty tired so I called a friend and arranged to go out for dinner at midnight, as some sort of motivational guarantee to my body that doing this thing would not end in me being starving and crazy. At least not tonight.

By 8:30 piano was done, by 10pm notebook filming was done, then voiceover and vocals, which had to be aligned with the piano and everything, so that took another hour. A bit of editing. Then out for dinner. Settled back in at 1:30am to finish editing, exporting by 2:30, and at the moment it’s 3am and it’s uploading to the YouTubes… but I won’t post this ’till it’s up, which is looking like it’s gonna be a few hours. 5:30am: processing. 6am: live!

Huh, I hope it makes sense. Not like I had time to check.

I am a machine and it is my nature to do these things

Thus ends an account of my day

Jaynes Bicameral Video Experiment

I did this 360 video as part of my team’s ongoing spherical video experiments. Use the WASD keys or mouse on the video to look around, or the native Android YouTube app and just move around your phone. Use headphones and listen with both ears, or just one.

So here’s how that happened:

I vlogged about Koestler’s Bisociation theory and it’s relationship to VR using a spherical camera in a pool (about VR, in VR, about the frame, without a frame, etc), then Emily Eifler replied with a spherical video relating that book to Sousanis’ “Unflattening” (as a non-flat video, an unfinished thought unfinished and fragmented, etc), and then I wanted to reply relating that book to a book I read recently, while upping the ante on metanesss of the connection between the video format and content, hence the bicameral video done by, without choice or thought, acting out my own bicameral voice.

The sheer breadth of different ideas Emily has explored in her spherical-video-a-day project was a big inspiration (“Clear Margins” in particular, for this form). I wanted to do something that takes advantage of the spherical format to better express my thoughts on the Jaynes book, and hopefully people make the connection that that’s what I’m doing, but if not, whatever.

First, I had to make a fake video, a prop, the bicameral god-hallucination that I would listen to and repeat. This was done in typical vlog style, by talking unscripted in front of a video and then editing it to smooth out the “um”s and repetitions. I’m not used to doing this style of video, but luckily I wasn’t actually making a vlog, but just an imitation vlog prop. So. This is not a vlog.

In a real vlog I’d want to think out my thoughts better, be more in focus, maybe not look like a crazy person, but in an artificial vlog prop, it’ll do just fine. Nice and close to the camera so you’ll be able to track my lips and match them up to the correct audio track even after re-filming with the low-res Ricoh Theta spherical camera.

In Jaynes’ book he talks about the god-voice as coming from the right hemisphere (even if later he changed his mind based on new scientific evidence), so the right sound channel gets that one, left the other. I equalizer’d the two audio tracks to sit mostly in different frequencies so they’d be even easier to aurally separate; deeper for the real me, tinnier for the bicameral voice (though I might have made the wrong choice… the voice we hear in our heads is often deep and round, while those unused to hearing recordings of their actual voice are often surprised how high and nasally it sounds in comparison).

Perhaps I should worry that my hallucination is more popular than the actual video, but then again, my hallucination has more followers…

Of course, if I really wanted to express my thoughts on Julian Jaynes’ “The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind”, I probably would have done it better and more thoroughly as a regular blog post. I barely talk about it in the video, besides a summary and recommendation. But I have so many thoughts about so many things that it takes artsy yearnings or current-event importance before I can be convinced it’s better to spend time talking about old thoughts rather than going off and having new ones.

Infinite Binary Trees

So I thought this week I might remember what it is like to be a Vihart-brand Vi Hart and make a regular ol’ flat youtube video about a math thing. Also I came across this script I wrote last year that was supposed to be the next follow-up to the infinity series, and all it needed was a little editing (and then all the production, but that’s the easy part).

So yes, a little musing on infinite binary trees, the next in the series after:

How many kinds of infinity are there?
Proof some infinities are bigger than other infinities
The Reverse Cantor
Transcendental Darts
and now, behold: Infinite Trees Are Super Weird

That is the thing I did. The end.

360 Video for Tau Day

I made a Tau Day video with a full Tau radians. I don’t usually make Tau Day videos (just the one), but in the past few days people have been asking, and so I found myself thinking: if I were to make a Tau Day video, what would it be? Here I’ve been busy working with VR and spherical videos rather than spending time cultivating video ideas. But wait a second… spherical videos, Tau, there’s a thing!

It felt like about time to post something spherical on my main channel now that YouTube can handle the kind of videos my team has been working on for the past year, and Tau has to do with spheres, so it made too much sense to not do. And it’s about time for a VR reality check, spherical video on my normal YouTube channel with its large and broad audience.

I wanted to be lazy and have a normal person weekend where I don’t burn myself out working all the time and I feel terrible and tired, but it simply had to be done, there was no choice. It fit too perfectly. My body simply wrote, filmed, and then edited this video even as my mouth was like, “Vi, what are you doing. I don’t want to do this. Go lie in bed and stare at the ceiling or something, please. There is no reason to do this. No one is paying you to do this and it will not be satisfying in any way whatsoever and you will regret it. Why, hands, are you carrying around and setting up these items? Why, feet, are you walking up and down the stairs? Truly, there is no such thing as free will.”

Singing is fun, though. Hadn’t even touched my guitar since I got a piano. Music is a thing. While I waited for it to upload (for the second time, because I forgot YouTube spherical functionality is still pretty finicky) I took the opportunity to mess around with the guitar a bit:

Just the Tau Day song is here:

Description on YouTube:

A spherical video for Tau Day! 360 degrees of video, or is it?

I’ve been doing spherical video and VR stuff for over a year now, with Emily Eifler and Andrea Hawksley as the VR research group eleVR. A year ago we had to build our own camera and stitch video by hand and write our own video player but now I can just film with this little camera and post it online, it’s awesome!

We have many videos and spherical vlogs on our channel, and we have lots of research content on our website.

If you’re ever too confused about where I am and what I’m doing, there’s always my twitter and my website.

The original Tau song

I particularly like this remix

Don’t know what Tau is? see “Pi is (still) Wrong”