Watch a Mesmerizing Stream of Unwatched YouTube Videos: Astronaut.io Lets You Discover the Hidden Dimensions of the World’s Largest Video Platform

When times are hard, it often helps to zoom out for a moment—in search of a wider perspective, historical context, the forest full of trees…

Astronaut.io, an algorithmic YouTube-based project by Andrew Wong and James Thompson, offers a big picture that’s as restorative as it is odd:

Today, you are an Astronaut. You are floating in inner space 100 miles above the surface of Earth. You peer through your window and this is what you see.

If the stars look very different today, it’s because they’re human, though not the kind who are prone to attracting the paparazzi. Rather, Astronaut is populated by ordinary citizens, with occasional appearances by pets, wildlife, video game characters, and houses, both interior and exterior.

Launch Astronaut, and you will be bearing passive witness to a parade of uneventful, untitled home video excerpts.

The experience is the opposite of earthshaking.

And that is by design.

As Wong told Wired’s Liz Stinson:

There’s this metaphor of being on a train …you see things out the window and think, 'Oh what is that?' but it’s too late, it’s already gone by. Not letting someone go too deep is pretty important.

After some trial and error on Twitter, where video content rarely favors the restful, Wong and Thompson realized that the sort of material they sought resided on YouTube. Perhaps it’s been reflexively dumped by users with no particular passion for what they’ve recorded. Or the account is a new one, its owner just beginning to figure out how to post content.

The videos on any given Astronaut journey earn their place by virtue of generic, camera-assigned file names (IMG 0034, MOV 0005, DSC 0165…), zero views, and an upload within the last week.

The overall effect is one of mesmerizing, unremarkable life going on whether it’s observed or not.

Children perform in their living room

A woman assembles a bride’s bouquet

A kitten bats a toy

A pre-fab home is moved into place

The vision is heartwarmingly global.

Astronaut is anti-star, but there are some frequent sightings, owing to the number of nameless inconsequential videos any one user uploads.

This week a Vietnamese fashionista, a karaoke space in Argentina, and a boxing ring in Montreal make multiple appearances, as do some very tired looking teachers.

The effect is most soothing when you allow it to wash over you unimpeded, but there is a red button below the frame, if you feel compelled to linger within a certain scene.

(You can also click on whatever passes for the video’s title in the upper left corner to open it on YouTube, from whence you might be able to suss out a bit more information.)

A very young Super Mario fan has apparently colonized a parent’s account for his narrated gaming videos.

Halfway around the world, a formally dressed man sits behind a desk prior to his first-ever upload.

Some gifted dancers fail to rotate prior to uploading.

A recently acquired night vision wildlife cam has already captured a number of coyotes.

And everyone who comes through the door of a Chinese household adores the happy baby within.

It’s unclear if the algorithm will alight on any cell phone footage documenting the shocking scenes at recent protests sparked by the death of George Floyd. Perhaps not, given the urgency to share such videos, titling them to clue viewers in to the what, who, where, when, and why.

For now Astronaut appears to be the same floaty trip Jake Swearingen described in a 2017 article for New York Magazine:

The internet is a place that often rewards the shocking, the sad, the rage-inducing — or the nakedly ambitious and attention-seeking. A morning of watching Astronaut.io is an antidote to all that.

Begin your explorations with Astronaut here.

h/t to reader Tom Hedrick

Related Content:

A Playlist of Songs to Get You Through Hard Times: Stream 20 Tracks from the Alan Lomax Collection

Soothing, Uplifting Resources for Parents & Caregivers Stressed by the COVID-19 Crisis

An Art Gallery for Gerbils: Two Quarantined Londoners Create a Mini Museum Complete with Gerbil-Themed Art

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Every day since March 15, she has uploaded a set of 10 micrhvisions of socially distanced New York City. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

365 Free Movies Streaming on YouTube

The wail resounds in every corner of the house, you cannot stop it—the books have all been read, the new releases streamed, every video game played to the end multiple times. I’m bored… You gave up quarantine homeschool weeks ago. Just who did you think you were? Here’s an idea, parent at your wit’s end: sit the kids in front of Lone Wolf McQuade or Over the Top.

Tell them how everything used to look like that when you were young. No second or third screen to turn to when you lost interest. You’d catch a free movie on a Sunday afternoon—streaming in real time, as it were—on one of four or five channels. No pause, rewind, or save for later. (Play it up—maybe you didn’t live this, they don't know that.)




Oh, and there were commercials every ten minutes or so—lots and lots and lots of ads. This is a lesson in media history—you’re an educator! They’ll readily admit how much better they have it as they watch Chuck Norris and Stallone rack up the kills on YouTube, free to stream (and pause, rewind, and save for later), with many fewer ad interruptions than in your day, and with 363 other films to watch and more to come.

But say you find this content objectionable, or… well, bad. You could certainly do much worse, believe me, as you’ll see in a cursory look at the many feature entertainments available to stream free with ads on YouTube. But, in all seriousness, you care about your children’s education, and with some careful digging, you’ll find quite a lot to give them a real cultural lesson, and to enlighten the grown-ups, too.

Learn, for example, about the Wrecking Crew, in a documentary of the same name, the famous cohort of studio musicians who played on hundreds of the best pop, rock, soul, etc. records in the 60s. As the Funk Brothers were to Motown, Booker T. & the MGs to Stax, so were the Wrecking Crew to the West Coast Sound (and the sound of Elvis, The Beach Boys, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, the Mamas and the Papas, Sonny & Cher, Simon & Garfunkel, and so on).

And as the Wrecking Crew were to the West Coast so was Muscle Shoals to the deep South. The tiny Alabama town and its FAME Studios featured some of the greatest R&B, soul, and country rhythm players in the world, major contributors to records by Dylan, the Stones, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, and so many more. There's a film about them too. (We can’t embed the full movies here, but you’ll find them in the links below.)

There are many other quality educational entertainments about pop music history, like the Dave Grohl-directed Sound City. You’ll also find documentaries like Super Size Me, Capitalism: A Love Story, and Freakonomics. (An economics course!) Many other platforms have introduced free streaming movies with ads. In YouTube’s case, as AdAge notes, the move to streaming free films comes as a way to recoup advertisers who increasingly found their ads running “inside offensive videos, some with terrorist propaganda and hate speech.”

The company is cleaning up its image, and in the process becoming something like the TV channels of old, only with all the digital ease that makes streaming so convenient. “They are now a TV network,” says an executive for one video ad technology platform, moving away from low-quality, user-generated content and toward high dollar series and the goldmine of old movies. Advertising is everything, so, there’s another lesson for you—even in the new media business, history repeats.

See a list of recommended films available to stream free on YouTube, with ads, below. Enter the general collection here. And feel free to explore our collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

Super Size Me

The Wrecking Crew

Capitalism: A Love Story

Freddie Mercury: The King of Queen

Muscle Shoals

Freakonomics

Bob Marley: The Roots of Man

Sound City

George Harrison: All Things Pass

All Things Pass (Documentary on Tower Records)

The Bird Cage

Related Content:

Watch 99 Movies Free Online Courtesy of YouTube & MGM: Rocky, The Terminator, Four Weddings and a Funeral & More

60 Free Film Noir Movies 

Download 6600 Free Films from The Prelinger Archives and Use Them However You Like

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Free M.I.T. Course Teaches You How to Become Bill Nye & Make Great Science Videos for YouTube

If I had my way, more academics would care about teaching beyond the walls of the academy. They'd teach to a broader public and consider ways to make their material more engaging, if not inspiring, to new audiences. You can find examples out there of teachers who are doing it right. The heirs of Carl Sagan--Brian Greene, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Bill Nye--know how to light a spark and make their material come alive on TV and YouTube. How they do this is not exactly a mystery, not after M.I.T. posted online a course called "Becoming the Next Bill Nye: Writing and Hosting the Educational Show."

Taught at M.I.T. over a month-long period, Becoming the Next Bill Nye was designed to teach students video production techniques that would help them "to engagingly convey [their] passions for science, technology, engineering, and/or math." By the end of the course, they'd know how to script and host a 5-minute YouTube show.

You can now find the syllabus and all materials for that course online at MIT's OpenCourseWare site. This includes all video lectures and class assignments. Or, if you prefer, you can get the video lectures straight from this YouTube playlist.

Becoming the Next Bill Nye will be added to our meta collection, 1,500 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

Related Content:

Carl Sagan Presents Six Lectures on Earth, Mars & Our Solar System … For Kids (1977)

Watch the Highly-Anticipated Evolution/Creationism Debate: Bill Nye the Science Guy v. Creationist Ken Ham

Neil deGrasse Tyson Lists 8 (Free) Books Every Intelligent Person Should Read

Discover The Backwards Brain Bicycle: What Riding a Bike Says About the Neuroplasticity of the Brain

Like most of us, engineer Destin Sandlin, creator of the educational science website Smarter Every Day, learned how to ride a bike as a child. Archival footage from 1987 shows a confident, mullet-haired Sandlin piloting a two-wheeler like a boss.

Flash forward to the present day, when a welder friend threw a major wrench in Sandlin’s cycling game by tweaking a bike’s handlebar/front wheel correspondence. Turn the handlebars of the “backwards bike” to the left, and the wheel goes to the right. Steer right, and the front wheel points left.

Sandlin thought he’d conquer this beast in a matter of minutes, but in truth it took him eight months of daily practice to conquer his brain’s cognitive bias as to the expected operation. This led him to the conclusion that knowledge is not the same thing as understanding.

He knew how to ride a normal bike, but had no real grasp of the complex algorithm that kept him upright, a simultaneous ballet of balance, downward force, gyroscopic procession, and navigation.

As he assures fans of his Youtube channel, it’s not a case of the stereotypical uncoordinated science geek---not only can he juggle, when he took the backwards bike on tour, a global roster of audience volunteers’ brains gave them the exact same trouble his had.

Interestingly, his 6-year-old son, who’d been riding a bike for half his young life, got the hang of the backwards bike in just two weeks. Children’s brain’s possess much more neuroplasticity than those of adults, whose seniority means habits and biases are that much more ingrained.

It couldn’t have hurt that Sandlin bribed the kid with a trip to Australia to meet an astronaut.

Did the arduousness of mastering the backwards bike ruin Sandlin for normally configured bicycles? Watch the video above all the way to the end for an incredible spontaneous moment of mind over matter.

Related Content:

The Physics of the Bike

The Mysterious Physics Behind How Bikes Ride by Themselves

Science Behind the Bike: Four Videos from the Open University on the Eve of the Tour de France

The Neuroscience of Drumming: Researchers Discover the Secrets of Drumming & The Human Brain

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday

1,000,000 Minutes of Newsreel Footage by AP & British Movietone Released on YouTube

Both Faulkner and the physicists may be right: the passage of time is an illusion. And yet, for as long as we’ve been keeping score, it's seemed that history really exists, in increasingly distant forms the further back we look. As Jonathan Crow wrote in a recent post on news service British Pathé’s release of 85,000 pieces of archival film on YouTube, seeing documentary evidence of just the last century “really makes the past feel like a foreign country—the weird hairstyles, the way a city street looked, the breathtakingly casual sexism and racism.” (Of course there’s more than enough reason to think future generations will say the same of us.) British Pathé’s archive seems exhaustive—until you see the latest digitized collection on YouTube from AP (Associated Press) and British Movietone, which spans from 1895 to the present and brings us thousands more past tragedies, triumphs, and hairstyles

This release of “more than 1 million minutes” of news, writes Variety, includes archival footage of “major world events such as the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, exclusive footage of the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S.” And so much more, such as the newsreel above, which depicts Berlin in 1945, eventually getting around to documenting the Potsdam Conference (at 3:55), where Churchill, Stalin, and Truman created the 17th parallel in Vietnam, dictated the terms of the German occupation, and planned the coming Japanese surrender. No one at the time could have accurately foreseen the historical reverberations of these actions.

Another strange, even uncanny piece of film shows us the English football team giving the Nazi salute in 1938 at the commencement of a game against Germany. “That’s shocking now,” says Alwyn Lindsay, the director of AP’s international archive, “but it wasn’t at the time.” Films like these have become of much more interest since The Sun published photographs of the royal family—including a young Queen Elizabeth II and her uncle Prince (later King, then Duke) Edward VIII—giving Nazi salutes in 1933. Though it was not particularly controversial, and the children of course had little idea what it signified, it did turn out that Edward (seen here) was a would-be Nazi collaborator and remained an unapologetic sympathizer.

This huge video trove doesn't just document the grim history of the Second World War, of course. As you can see in the AP's introductory montage at the top of the post, there is "a world of history at your fingertips"---from triumphant video like Nelson Mandela's release from prison, above, to the below film of "Crazy 60s Hats in Glorious Colour." And more or less every other major world event, disaster, discovery, or widespread trend you might name from the last 120 or so years.

The archive splits into two YouTube channels: AP offers both historical and up-to-the-minute political, sports, celebrity, science, and "weird and wacky" videos (with "new content every day"). The British Movietone channel is solely historical, with much of its content coming from the 1960s (like those hats, and this video of the Beatles receiving their MBE's, and other "Beatlemania scenes.")

Movietone's one nod to the present takes the form of "The Archivist Presents," in which a historian offers quirky context on some bit of archival footage, like that above of the Kinks getting their hair curled. The completely unironic lounge music and casually sexist narration will make you both smile and wince, as do Ray Davies and company when they see their new hair. Most of the films in this million minutes of news footage (and counting) tend to elicit either or both of these two emotional reactions---joy (or amusement) or mild to intense horror, and watching them makes the past they show us feel paradoxically more strange and more immediate at once.

Related Content:

Free: British Pathé Puts Over 85,000 Historical Films on YouTube

New Archive Makes Available 800,000 Pages Documenting the History of Film, Television & Radio

700 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc. 

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness.

12 Interminable Days of Xmas: Hear the Longest, Trippiest Holiday Carol

"The Twelve Days of Christmas" is, of course, already long and repetitive, such that when in recent years I've sung even the first few notes of it at "Ave Maria" speed, I've been greeted with satisfying moans of agony. This year I decided that the thing must be put to tape, with each verse slower than the last. The whole thing now runs to around 75 minutes.

To  make this pleasingly bearable, even if an exercise in Zen-like patience, I crowd-sourced the backing arrangements for the verses among musician-fans of The Partially Examined Life podcast, plus a few special guests, including Camper van Beethoven's Jonathan Segel (who arranged and performed verse 11 and plays solos on guitar, lap steel, and violin in the verse 12 group jam) and New York comedian Adam Sank (who adds a naughty monologue to verse 12).

Here's a quick guide to help you keep your bearings during this strange trip:

-Verses 1 and 2 are my effort, to establish the concept for the album: ignore the melody to set any beat at any tempo you want and throw down a bunch of tracks without second-guessing yourself or redoing anything.

-Verse 3 is Swedish prog-keyboardist/guitarist Daniel Gustafsson, sporting a baroque ensemble.

-Verse 4 is Jason Durso and Shannon Farrell providing some staid beauty while a narrator spouts some epigrams about our experience of time.

-Verse 5 is a disco monstrosity by a being who wants to be known only as Wilson.

-Verses 6 and 7 are electronic, textured pieces by Maxx Bartko and Belgian musician Timo Carlier respectively. Comedian Alex Fossella (@afossella) provides some brief narration in the vein of True Detective.

-Verse 8 is a collage of atmospheric sounds and acoustic instruments by Kenn Busch and Jenny Green, while Verse 9 turns into a tuneful acoustic folk song featuring UK singer Al Baker.

-On returning in verse 10, Daniel Gustafsson establishes a death-metal purgatory, which morphs in Jonathan Segel's verse 11 into an endless nightmare landscape.

-Verse 12 is over 25 minutes alone, with a jazz fusion vibe a la Miles Davis's Bitches Brew and contributions from Kylae Jordan (sax), Rei Tangko (piano), Gustafsson, Segel, Wilson, Carlier, Greg Thornburg, and Sank, over my bass and drums.

An early commenter on the Partially Examined Life site where the "song" was posted (as an exemplar in support of a discussion on Edmund Burke's ideas about aesethetic judgments of the sublime), said that it's "kind of what I would expect a Pink Floyd Christmas album to sound like."

Can you live through the 12 days? What will your mind look like on the other side?

A free, audio-only mp3 version of the song can be found here.

Mark Linsenmayer is a musician who releases his work free to the public. He also hosts the Partially Examined Life philosophy podcast and blog, which you can access via iTunes or the PEL web site.

Norwegian Musician Creates Ice Instruments with a Chain Saw and Sub-Zero Weather

Most professional musicians have a very special relationship with their instruments. Male guitarists treat their favorite guitars like girlfriends—maybe better in some cases. Traveling cellists buy airline tickets for instruments. It’s just too risky to put your livelihood in cargo.

Not so for Terje Insungset, a Norwegian musician who, among other things, carves instruments out of ice. His background is in jazz and traditional Scandinavian music, but he’s built a reputation as an artist who makes music on unconventional materials. Considering where he is from, it’s not surprising that he has turned his attention to ice and its musical potential.

Turns out the sound of an ice xylophone is lovely—soft, deep, tinkly. The ice horn sounds like a lonely beast calling out across the tundra. Insungset collaborates with vocalist Mari Kvien Brunvoll. Together they perform around the world, sometimes indoors and sometimes in the snow, with elaborate microphone cords draped around and beautiful lighting.

There’s even an ice guitar.

Insungset has also built instruments out of arctic birch, slate, cow bells and granite. His interest in ice as a material developed when he was commissioned to play music in a frozen waterfall at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway.

Unlike most musicians, he has to build his instruments in situ, as he did for recent concerts in Canada where the temperature was 36 below zero with a light wind. Perfect weather for ice music.

Related Content:

Harry Partch’s Kooky Orchestra of DIY Musical Instruments

“Glitch” Artists Compose with Software Crashes and Corrupted Files

Kate Rix writes about digital media and education. Visit her website, .

More in this category... »
Quantcast