Getting physical

We like to think Spell the Beans can help keep your mind sharp and agile, and this time of year on the site we like to recommend a few people and places on the internets who keep us thinking, wondering and learning, too. If you haven’t already, check out these two venerable video veterans who never stopped valuing the concrete versus the virtual.

The thing’s the thing

First off, Brady Haran’s Objectivity, a YouTube channel focusing on the actual physical objects and records involved in the history of science and math. We’ve discussed another of his channels, Numberphile, previously. Here, Brady himself steps in front of the camera to travel the material world and introduce us to the apparatus, documents and ephemera of the pursuit of knowledge on its many fronts. A recent visit to the legendary Adam Savage’s Cave had the two reveling in the authenticity and attention to detail in a veritable gallery of gushworthy gadgets.

A frequent destination has been the Royal Society in London, a repository royale of such math and science archives. A kindred appreciator of randomness, Haran has often featured “The White Gloves of Destiny,” in which a star mathematician or other luminary dons white curator’s gloves to randomly pluck an entry in the Society’s physical card catalog of instruments, specimens, journals, correspondence, etc..

Random harvest

Once items are tracked down, the gloves are off (for paper documents), and the referenced artifacts have their own long-forgotten stories to tell between the lines of ornate handwriting and pressed leaves of tea. As it is after all random, there are mundane duds and magnificent diamonds, but that just objectively reflects life in general, it would seem. No cherry-picking in Brady’s bunch of arcane typewritten 3-by-5’s.

Hardware man

Another popularizer who appreciates quality in tools and machines is Tim Hunkin, creator of “The Secret Life of Machines” TV series explaining the history and workings of everyday machines. Perhaps particularly for those not mechanically minded, Tim manages, with clear talk, graphic demonstrations, whimsical animations and quirky British humor, to draw us in to understand and want to know more about the conveniences we take for granted.

Hunkin has also designed and built numerous offbeat, often Rube Goldbergian public artworks and amusement arcades full of truly one-of-a-kind experiences and interactive games. They’re brilliant combinations of entertainment/competition, humor, gears and circuits. As the maker movement got off the ground this century, the cartoonist/engineer/inventor/communicator was an in-demand speaker at seminars and fairs.

Spell the Beans spilling machine (detail)
Part of the Spell the Beans Spelvinator

Nuts and bolts

Most recently, after making his remastered 1980s TV series available on YouTube, Hunkin has produced the YouTube series “The Secret Life of Components.” From his workshop and installations, he explains his design processes and use of tools and parts, his purpose to share as much as he can with anyone who might benefit. You don’t need to be a maker to make use of this well of wisdom. Whether Haran or Hunkin, these hands-on hosts have got the goods for object lessons worth watching.


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