Early last month an announcement on the internet caught my eye. The YouTube channel Geek & Sundry (run by Felicia Day, who had some of the earliest success with web video series with the show she wrote and starred in, ‘The Guild’) was looking for 10 vloggers to join their new vlogging channel. “Great,” I thought, “some motivation to actually make some science videos, I’ve been meaning to do that for a while.” And after some thought, a concept emerged: I’d show people how physics underpins everything by connecting together different things in the universe that share similar physics!
Thus my entry “The Fundamental Interconnectedness of All Things” (the title being a cheeky reference to the work of Douglas Adams while I think very clearly explaining what the series was about) was born. Or at least conceived, as planning videos and recording them are too very different things. Whilst filming my first video, linking sodium street lamps to distant stars by talking about absorption and emission spectra, I learnt a few things:
- It’s hard to stay looking at a camera, and unless I’m careful I’ll start explaining Physics to a point somewhere up and to my right.
- It’s far too easy to say something and then decide that you should have used a different tone of voice.
- It can be tricky to record jump cuts if you don’t give yourself nice gaps in your speech where they can go, as otherwise it sounds horrible and jerky.
- There are many more things to learn.
But it was a learning experience (in the positive sense, not using the Douglas Adams definition of a time when your brain says, “You know that thing you just did? Don’t do that.”), and more importantly, it was fun, and I was mostly happy with the video that I’d made. I uploaded it, submitted it to the competition, and didn’t really expect much more. During the voting I tried to rally some support, but ended up with only 66 votes compared to the 2500+ that the top 3o on the leaderboard had. And that, I thought, was that.
The team at Geek & Sundry, however, had other plans for me. Having spent the afternoon on a stall explaining quantum information to school children at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition, I’d finished my slot and was chilling out, waiting to see The Festival of the Spoken Nerd (a science comedy show I’ve had the good fortune to be on the same bill as previously). Then I checked my emails to find out I’d been picked as one of the top 30 vloggers from around 400 submissions, and I was completely blown away. It was so unexpected and so gratifying to know that despite my lack of votes something that I’d done had impressed some people whose work I enjoy sufficiently for them to want to see more of it. After having told everyone about this unexpected success I calmed down (well, ever so slightly) and realised that I now had a week to create my second vlog episode. A week that also included my performance at Science Showoff at the Royal Society, for which I’d not quite finished leaning my set…
Luckily, I actually tend to thrive under that sort of pressure. And I’d already planned my second topic, the Doppler Effect and how it was related to us discovering that the universe is expanding. I made my notes for episode 2, put them to one side until my show was done, and threw myself into preparing for Science Showoff. Which in the end went rather well, although I feel I was always going to be overshadowed by the set someone did on how arsenic poisoning worked. Also I got to chat to geeky people with a drink afterwards, which was nice. But the vlog filming loomed in the morning…
Making the second video was simultaneously easier and harder than the first one. I was now more practiced than I was before, but I felt under a lot more pressure. Having been hand-picked from so many videos, I really wanted to do justice to the trust that the G & S team had put in me. And more than that, I wanted to win. Getting into the final 30 changed the competition from something that I wasn’t expecting to get anywhere in to a competition with a prize that I felt I could actually get. Receiving that email turned it from just trying something new and learning to, well, feeling more like an actual competition. Although not entirely, as the other “competitors” on the G & S forums were and are good people, and so were still very friendly (spending more time there in such a friendly atmosphere has been one of the best outcomes of the competition). Still, it felt like the pressure was on, even if I was the one putting it on, through wanting to do a good job for myself, the G & S team and all the potential viewers, as well as wanting a chance to actually be one of the 10 new vloggers.
As I said earlier though, that pressure can be a help to me as well as a hindrance. I worked hard on the vlog, through innumerable takes, improving slowly until I felt happy with what I’d said. And after that, editing things together, trying to record a good car engine noise, and recording a little bit more based on feedback from my friends.Without the competition, I probably wouldn’t have ended up with the video I did. And I’m proud of it. It’s not perfect – there are so many little things I’d change now – but I think it’s solid and people will hopefully enjoy it and learn from it. Even though it’s not flying high in the voting I’ve had some lovely comments from people I’ve never met, sometimes comparing me to great scientific communicators past (I don’t think I’m anywhere near them yet, but I’m trying), and generally just being positive. Without the motivation of the competition, I might never have got started with doing this, would never have learned the lessons I’ve learned, or helped some people across the internet understand and enjoy these bits of science. So even if the adventure with Geek & Sundry ends with this round of voting, it’s been an adventure I’ve been happy to have taken with them.
But there are always more adventures…
See my videos and vote for me here! http://geekandsundry.com/vlogger/michael-conterio