Author Archives: vihart

Context for Black Lives Matter

I made this video.


OK. So. There’s some tension goin on in the United States, and most media outlets and politicians are so out of their depth that they’re trying to deal with it by repeating the same old “we need to be united, violence is not the answer.” Which is all very well and good, but being united is an ideal, not a plan. And without a plan, all it translates to is “be united by joining me in doing nothing! Don’t speak out or protest because that’s divisive from my non-plan!”

Meanwhile leaders within the Black Lives Matter movement have concrete plans, plans for increasing police training for deescalation, plans for ways bad apple police officers could be held accountable so we don’t keep seeing non-indictments, plans for changing the incentives and structures around fine collection so that targeting the most vulnerable people is no longer the most profitable thing for police to do, there’s so many good changes that should be made and it’s frustrating to see the media spin it into “what is the exact problem to point at? is it that police are racist? or is it that there aren’t enough body cameras? or maybe the problem is purely socio-economic.” And the media spins it as exclusive ors, as if complex problems don’t come from complex combinations of causes and feedback loops in complex systems.

I know a whole lot of you are still catching up on events, and black organizers of social change don’t have time to give 101 courses to every internet person who is of the opinion that “if you just do what police say you’ll be fine” and “All Lives Matter”. Listening to black people is important, and white people have got to talk to other white people to try and get up to speed and learn how to listen. Hence this video.

Here we go.

Black Lives Matter was founded in July 2013 by three black women, Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi, in response to George Zimmerman being acquitted after killing 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. If Zimmerman had faced consequences for his actions, maybe it could have been spun as a tragic event involving a lone overzealous racial profiling neighborhood watchman, but the system supported Zimmerman, he was acquitted, thus people feeling the need for a movement specifically focused on the problems that make our justice system treat black lives as mattering less than white ones.

And there’s many such problems, but we’re gonna skip to July 2014 when Eric Garner was killed by police and it was captured on video and the world said I can’t breathe. His death alone was cause for protest but the media reaction and statements made by politicians made it clear that black lives were being treated as mattering less, like the absurd focus on how he was selling loose cigarettes, or how he had asthma which made him easier to kill anyway, it was really messed up. His death was ruled a homicide but there were no indictments.

August 5 2014 John Crawford III shot in a walmart while carrying a toy gun that walmart sells, in Ohio, which may I remind you is an open carry state. Someone called 911 reporting that John Crawford was pointing a gun at children, and there’s a chilling video where he’s standing there chatting on the phone with the toy gun point down, no one else in sight, certainly no children, when suddenly the police rush in and start shooting immediately. Once again, no indictments. 

August 9 2014 Michael Brown was shot by Ferguson police. That he was shot, again itself was cause for protest, but the media reaction and police response and outpouring of support for Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot Michael Brown, was all really worrying to a lot of people. And when Wilson was not indicted, that once again sent the message that this was not just a mistake made by bad police, but something allowed by our justice system and supported by a lot of American citizens.

November 2014 Tamir Rice, a 12-year old kid, killed by police. Again there’s a messed up video where he’s playing by himself in a park with a toy gun, also in Ohio, and the cop car speeds up to him and an officer shoots him within two seconds of stopping. Once again, no indictment, and somehow some media outlets saw fit to start reporting on the criminal records of this 12-year-old victim’s parents.

April 2015, Freddie Gray disappears into a police vehicle and comes out with injuries so severe he goes into a coma and dies a week later. Again, there are protests. Freddie Gray’s death was ruled a homicide, and it turned out there was no cause to arrest him in the first place. There’s still some ongoing trials but the only completed trial had the result everyone was dreading, Edward Nero was found not guilty on all charges.

July 2015 Sandra Bland, a vocal supporter of Black Lives Matter, gets pulled over for failing to signal a lane change, and there’s a video where the officer absurdly escalates it into an arrest. The officer involved ended up getting indicted for perjury, but no indictments have been made in connection with how Sandra Bland was found dead in her cell 3 days later. It appeared to be a suicide but an investigation revealed some weird inconsistencies and the results have not come out yet, it’s ongoing.

So many other people I could name, but I’m gonna skip to this past week. 

July 5th, 2016, Alton Sterling, having just been tased, is held down, face down lying on the ground by two officers, and is shot multiple times, and it’s all on video from multiple angles because he was shot to death in front of his friends. It’s so clear, so unspeakably sickening, and yet the media starts to talk about well he shouldn’t have been selling CDs anyway and let’s hear both sides of the story, maybe it’s ok to shoot someone who you think has a gun in their pocket, maybe it’s ok even if you’re already holding them down after tasing them, isn’t that such nice balanced news coverage.

The very next day, July 6th, Philando Castile gets pulled over for a broken tail light, his girlfriend Diamond Reynolds is next to him, kid in the back. They comply with everything the officer asks and they inform the officer that he has a concealed carry permit and is carrying a legal firearm, and the cop shoots him multiple times. She starts streaming video and the contrast between her trying her best to calmly comply even as the cop is screaming and pointing a gun at her and her dying boyfriend… realize how absurdly inappropriate it is that some media outlets followed this up with an accounting of how many tickets he has gotten, because that’s the worst dirt they could find to excuse his death. Do not let anyone make excuses for this man’s death. Do not let them excuse it with tickets.

All those events and more led to protests around the world, and some people exploited some of those protests as a chance to loot and cause damage. On July 7th 2016, someone exploited a protest to set up an ambush against police. A lot of media outlets and politicians are trying to spin a dangerously irresponsible narrative where it’s a war between Black Lives Matter and Cops rather than that the sniper was a messed-up loner with a grudge, who was himself military, who said he had no connection with Black Lives Matter, who simply took advantage of knowing there’d be heavy police presence at a protest. 

Pretending otherwise is just an excuse to discredit Black Lives Matter and ignore their very reasonable requests.

The officers who were killed are being treated with dignity and respect as they should be. No one reported about those officers’ past infractions or how many complaints had been made against them or their family members’ criminal records. No politicians spoke out in support of the killer, the NRA didn’t put out a statement supporting his second amendment rights, and televised news didn’t replay the footage of their deaths over and over and over speculating that maybe they would have lived if they’d just taken cover here or had worn different equipment, no one speculated whether a medical condition may have contributed to any of the officer’s deaths. There’s no campaign raising hundreds of thousands of dollars in support of the man who shot those officers, he’s not on national news telling his side of the story in some twisted mockery of fair and balanced reporting, the man who committed these killings was blown up by a robot.

Let’s not forget the thing that makes a black person expressing anger about white people on the street or in a tweet a very different thing from a mainstream politician backed by voters demeaning black people on national TV. Let’s not forget the imbalance of power that makes racism “racism”, rather than just prejudice, and the imbalance of power that makes racial profiling from police doubly harmful. Police are backed by institutional power and many do use this power wisely to protect the safety of American citizens, but when someone backed with that kind of power does wrong, again and again we see them not facing consequences. We can’t force a jury to indict someone, but we can protest, so we protest.

I hear people talk about how white people and people of color besides black people also get unfairly killed by police, or that there’s other crime too, and the system is unfair to other people too, and that’s all the more reason that we’re all in this together. Some people have more at stake, but this is all our problem.

I’ve put this all very mildly. My heart goes out to those who don’t put it mildly, to those who are angry and afraid, who raise their voices and don’t have energy left over at the end of the day to be extra nice to those who still don’t get it. I know there’s a lot of white people out there who are afraid or unsure of whether or how to engage with any of this because they’re afraid of doing it wrong or being called racist when they’re just trying to help, and, I sympathize, but you’ll live. So go listen and learn and good luck everybody.

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.