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10 Landmark Moments in YouTube History

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I've really been getting into my Instagram app these days, exploring ways to manipulate it beyond the standard filters that come with it. My most recent experiment is taking pictures of things on my computer screen; the glossy reflection, depending on sunlight and room conditions make for some pretty beautiful patterns and effects. Below you'll find some shots I recently took off YouTube—a pictorial history of sorts.

1. Charlie Bit My Finger

Still my favorite online video of all time, and, judging by the number of views (it's now up to 366,792,355 as of this writing), many others' favorite, as well, "Charlie Bit My Finger" has everything a good homemade video should have: endearing subjects, little-to-no interference from the video's "director" and a heavily anticipated moment of action, in this case, the innocent chomping of a finger.

(YouTube channel page)

By the way, if you're wondering whether or not there's any money in posting YouTube videos, by my crude calculations, this little video has made about $734,000 for the family that uploaded it (based on a blended, average $2/CPM, which is fairly standard for YouTube partner channels). And that's just the one video! The channel has many, popular videos on it.

2. David After Dentist

As of this writing, more than 98 million people have viewed little David struggling to make sense of the world after his trip to the dentist’s office where he had oral surgery, preceded by a healthy dose of some wild anesthetic. Whether the video is exploitative and takes advantage of David for laughs is up to each viewer. But what’s indisputable is the fact that the video has earned its rightful place in the YouTube Hall of Fame.

(YouTube channel page)

3. Diet Coke + Mentos

If you haven't seen the crazy duo behind this experiment on Letterman or Ellen, you're missing part of the fun. Fritz Grobe and Stephen Voltz spent six months developing different Coke & Mentos geyser effects before they were ready to start shooting videos. The big video on YouTube employed more than 100 two-liter bottles of Diet Coke, more than 500 Mentos and was astonishingly shot in one take! To date, the vid has more than 14 million views.

(YouTube video link)

4. Dorkiness Prevails

I remember this video broke on the scene shortly after the mentalfloss blog launched and some of us were wondering if it was worth covering. Then Randy wrote about it a few months later, and, well, it might be the first time we ever wrote about something YouTubesque. Granted, there was a story here, right? This was the video that duped us all into thinking there really was a dorky hot chick, lonely, as her handle announced, vlogging daily from her little apartment. Soon though, we found out it was all concocted by some pretty smart Hollywood-types who had pulled the wool over our eyes and earned their spot in YouTube history.

5. Evolution of Dance

Comedian Judson Laipply made history when he uploaded his version of the 6-minute history of dance, moving seamlessly between eras, styles, fashions and moves. For a long time, this video held the most-viewed spot before Charlie came along. Still, to date it has more than 178 million views.

(YouTube channel page)

6. Yes We Can

This classic, uploaded in 2008, was assembled by and features John Legend, Common and Scarlett Johansson. Together, they made a music video from one of Barack Obama's stump speeches during the 2006 primary campaign, highlighting his now famous slogan "Yes We Can." The timing of the release of the video helped to push support toward Obama at the right time in the 2008 election.

(YouTube video link)

7. Me at the Zoo

“Me at the zoo” was shot by Yakov Lapitsky. It's only 19 seconds long and only shows us Jawed Karim (one of the three founders of the Web site) at the San Diego Zoo. Still, it does hold the distinction of being the very first video uploaded to the site, so its place in history is secured for sure. Today, more than 48 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute.

(YouTube channel page)

8. Kittens Inspired by Kittens

What pictorial history of YouTube would be complete without a cat video, eh? "Kittens Inspired by Kittens" features an adorable 6-year-old inserting her own literal narrative to the photos in a children's book titled Kittens. It's been seen more than 13 million times as of today.

(YouTube video link)

9. JK Wedding Entrance Dance

More than 68 million views later, Kevin and Jill's wedding ceremony is still going strong. The choreographed processional to Chris Brown's "Forever" has allowed them to raise more than $26,000 for the Sheila Wellstone Institute. Yep, they're putting most of the income to charity—something few of us would do. Well, then again, how many of us would create a dance like that in the first place?!

(YouTube video link)

10. RickRoll'D

Rick Astley's 1987 video "Never Gonna Give You Up" got new life in 2008 when a 4Chan user promised a video-game trailer and instead linked readers to Astley's video. The trick, dubbed Rickrolling, has become an April Fools staple, racking up more than 51 million views to date.

(Don't do it!)

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Live Smarter
Working Nights Could Keep Your Body from Healing
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The world we know today relies on millions of people getting up at sundown to go put in a shift on the highway, at the factory, or in the hospital. But the human body was not designed for nocturnal living. Scientists writing in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine say working nights could even prevent our bodies from healing damaged DNA.

It’s not as though anybody’s arguing that working in the dark and sleeping during the day is good for us. Previous studies have linked night work and rotating shifts to increased risks for heart disease, diabetes, weight gain, and car accidents. In 2007, the World Health Organization declared night work “probably or possibly carcinogenic.”

So while we know that flipping our natural sleep/wake schedule on its head can be harmful, we don’t completely know why. Some scientists, including the authors of the current paper, think hormones have something to do with it. They’ve been exploring the physiological effects of shift work on the body for years.

For one previous study, they measured workers’ levels of 8-OH-dG, which is a chemical byproduct of the DNA repair process. (All day long, we bruise and ding our DNA. At night, it should fix itself.) They found that people who slept at night had higher levels of 8-OH-dG in their urine than day sleepers, which suggests that their bodies were healing more damage.

The researchers wondered if the differing 8-OH-dG levels could be somehow related to the hormone melatonin, which helps regulate our body clocks. They went back to the archived urine from the first study and identified 50 workers whose melatonin levels differed drastically between night-sleeping and day-sleeping days. They then tested those workers’ samples for 8-OH-dG.

The difference between the two sleeping periods was dramatic. During sleep on the day before working a night shift, workers produced only 20 percent as much 8-OH-dG as they did when sleeping at night.

"This likely reflects a reduced capacity to repair oxidative DNA damage due to insufficient levels of melatonin,” the authors write, “and may result in cells harbouring higher levels of DNA damage."

DNA damage is considered one of the most fundamental causes of cancer.

Lead author Parveen Bhatti says it’s possible that taking melatonin supplements could help, but it’s still too soon to tell. This was a very small study, the participants were all white, and the researchers didn't control for lifestyle-related variables like what the workers ate.

“In the meantime,” Bhatti told Mental Floss, “shift workers should remain vigilant about following current health guidelines, such as not smoking, eating a balanced diet and getting plenty of sleep and exercise.”