Vivek Haldar

Manifesto for my channel

I’ve been putting up a video a week on my YouTube channel since about December 2018, and I suppose I should write out a clear manifesto for why I’m doing that and where I want to go with it.

I started putting out videos for the same reason I have a blog: I want to share knowledge, and learn from the feedback. I have learned so much from stuff other people have published, and I want to put a few drops back into that ocean.

Also, committing to a regular cadence of putting out content (once a week, every week) is a calming antidote to the general chaos of modern life.

Why YouTube? Why videos? Because I feel that’s where the river of attention is. And because it lets me experiment with a new medium. I believe Kevin Kelly when he says that screen literacy is a necessary modern skill, and should be taken seriously. I’m constantly amazed at what a fantastic place YouTube is for pedagogy, and the vast range of creators with their own unique voices and personalities putting out videos that can teach you everything under the sun.

As someone raised firmly within the walls-of-text tradition, it was very uncomfortable for me at first. But this was a different flavor of discomfort: this was unlike a fear a public speaking, which I don’t have any problems with. I can’t quite put my finger on it. My first video didn’t even have a voiceover. My later ones have my talking head in a rectangle in the corner. Maybe I’ll progress to the stage of being comfortable with me taking up the entire frame.

The majority of my videos so far have been part of my “Read a paper” series. I pick a technical paper, and walk through it, highlighting parts as I go along. So far they have all been computer science papers, with a strong bent towards old classics published in the late sixties and early-mid seventies, usually by Turing Award winners. I intend to branch out, both to more recent CS papers, as well as papers outside CS that I’ve found interesting and profound.

Why am I reading papers in videos? It was a format I instinctively gravitated towards. Only later could I shake an articulatable rationale out of my head. The thing is: for the longest time I’ve harbored deep misgivings about popular science and technology writing. I’ve come to the conclusion that if you really want to understand a new technical topic, you cannot rely on a pop-sci reading of it, and must bite the bullet and go read technical texts. And I realize that’s hard and seems intimidating. I want to play the part of someone holding your hand as you walk through a technical paper, beginning to end, without simplifications, with the original words of the author in front of you. I guess this is where my walls-of-text upbringing comes to the fore again: even though these are videos, my goal is to pull you into the text, and stress the primacy of it.

I do eventually want to make more opinionated videos (kind of like the blog), but I need to get more comfortable with this medium before I can do that. Sticking to the straight technical details makes it a bit easier for me right now.

I can’t get myself to beg for likes and subs on camera, but I’ll do it here: I hope you’ll join me on a whimsical journey into real technical details with real technical papers. Please subscribe!