Live Q&As, Past and Future

On Friday I had a few minutes free, and did an experiment: put my iPhone on a tripod, pointed it at myself, and did a live video on my public Facebook page, taking questions from anyone who happened by. There were some technical glitches, as one might expect from a short-notice happening. The sound wasn’t working when I first started, and in the recording below the video fails (replacing the actual recording with a still image of me sideways, for inexplicable reasons) just when the sound starts working. (I don’t think this happened during the actual event, but maybe it did and everyone was too polite to mention it.) And for some reason the video keeps going long after the 20-some minutes for which I was actually recording.

But overall I think it was fun and potentially worth repeating. If I were to make this an occasional thing, how best to do it? This time around I literally just read off a selection of questions that people were typing into the Facebook comment box. Alternatively, I could just talk on some particular topic, or I could solicit questions ahead of time and pick out some good ones to answer in detail.

What do you folks think? Also — is Facebook Live the right tool for this? I know the kids these days use all sorts of different technologies. No guarantees that I’ll have time to do this regularly, but it’s worth contemplating.

What makes the most sense to talk about in live chats?
  1. I like the general idea. Was torn between voting for accepting Q’s ahead of time (more work for you) vs just talking about interesting topics without prompting for Q’s (I finally selected this one).

    I suggest skipping video, especially skip the Facebook idea. I suggest either soundcloud tracks or alternately blog posts of A’s of either interesting topics you choose or alternately blog posts of A’s to best Q’s.

  2. I do not know much about social media but I like podcasts. Something one can download and listen to offline. I would like to listen to discussions between you and your peers if any were willing.

  3. Would be nice to hear about current and future research topics in Cosmology, Relativity, Quantum realm. The problems and solvability.

    From a student point of view it would be nice to hear study advice, and your personal study history in detail. How you study topics for exams and for work and so on 🙂 What would you do differently as a student if you went to unviersity now?

    Both questions could be answered in detail.

    For your question, I would like all 3 options.

  4. That sounds wonderful! As a ‘kid’ myself, I’d say Google Hangouts is the way to go with these live Q&A things.
    Perhaps you can have set topics and questions before-hand so you don’t really run out of things to talk about while still being open to taking questions during the session.

  5. Sean I’m glad you had fun with this. It does seem the blogs and podcasts and you-tubes work fairly well if the facebook continues in “glitch” mode. That said (depending on your time, timing and passion) I might suggest that “you” pick the “topic du jour” or emerging “hot thought” which may generate more focused (live) comments or questions (perhaps not possible) rather than drifting off into everyones la la land. Actually your findings on, “drifting off into la la land” could be very exciting and challenging.
    All the best, slvrfx

  6. 1. I didn’t vote because I couldn’t. It should be 0.15:0.35:0.5—or anything unitary that is close by. Or, better still, 0.3:0.7 (or 0.4:0.6), if you post in advance a blog post (or a YouTube video) covering the third option.
    2. Many people don’t use social media like FB or twitter.


  7. Sean,
    I caught your live stream… A great idea. I suppose the format and medium depend upon your purpose.
    If I can assume, your purpose includes:
    1. Outreach to both your usual and non-standard audiences
    2. Updates on the latest in your field’s of expertise
    3. Answering questions/interaction with your audience
    To fulfill that purpose, I would suggest the following:
    1. I have used and viewed Facebook Live videos. Given the breadth of the Facebook/Twitter user base, I think that is a good medium. One thing to research is if there is a way to perhaps “simulcast” on FB Live and Periscope. I think those are probably the top two, live, social media based broadcast apps. The most efficient way to reach the most people. There are other more niche tools, but nice tools have niche user groups.
    2 & 3. Perhaps the answer here is to just do two, maybe three, brief segments. An opening monologue where you give some updates on your current work/research or a topic of interest, a second segment where you answer a question or two that is perhaps representative of a question that seems to be getting asked over and over again, and a third where you answer a few “live questions” that come in during the “broadcast”.

    In sum, I really enjoyed the FB Live session and was glad to see you did that. My guess is that (as a podcast lover myself), that the podcast venue is probably a little too involved and time consuming whereas FB Live/Periscope sessions can be a little more ad hoc and informal and therefore a little less of a time drain.

    PS – Should you ever do a podcast, know that you would have at least one dedicated listener (me!). Just sayin’…..

  8. I don’t “do” Facebook. For selfish reasons, I’d prefer you picked a different medium — but I can also recognize that you might have your own reasons for “reaching out” to that market.

    I’d absolutely love if you did some sort of podcast. But, again, I recognize that a polished podcast can take a lot of time and effort — editing out all the “ums” and “aahs” and the like alone, plus the rest of the production values. But maybe there’re some media students at UCLA looking for a project?

    A two-phase topic submission process might be nice — again, if you can spare the bandwidth. First, solicit open-ended questions. Then, let people “vote up” the submitted questions they’d most like to have answered. At the end, make sure to answer the #1 most-liked question. The rest you could cherry-pick from, time permitting…on average, answer more of the highly-liked questions, but don’t be afraid to answer unloved ones you think are more important than your audience realizes.

    As for my own question for such a thing…I think I’d ask how the various fields interact — how the electron field and the photon field interact with the electromagnetic field, and so on. I’d also love if you could devote an entire episode to entropy, as it seems that so much (including emergence) can be understood in terms of multiple microscopic states with indistinguishable macroscopic states. My also-ran question would be about randomness and whether or not there’s reason to think that anything is truly fundamentally nondeterministic.



  9. Facebook or twitter is the best way to reach fans. It’s also in your best interest because facebook traffic and twitter followers/retweets are currency nowadays.

  10. Sean,

    As a relic declining Facebook, I really appreciate your posting the exchanges on your blog site afterwards. One question for your next session is “Where is, and what is, a particle before measurement?” For practical purposes, we could use the basic double-slit set up if you like.

    Or, if you prefer, we could limit the question to “Where is a particle before being measured?”

    If we use the double-slit setup and photons, is a pre-measurement photon inside the photon gun? If not, how far from the laboratory is it? How far from Earth can it be located? Within the observable horizons I presume?



  11. Good open question. May I note an assumption here, that the location of the particle post measure is a known. Please wrap into the discussion and defend Thanks,. slvrfx

  12. Hi Sean,

    I wanted to take some time before replying because I’m considering a vaguely related effort to interactively mentor folks in the area of Computational Thinking, eventually to be focused on more formally expressing such thinking via Python. That is, I don’t want to teach “programming” per se, but to instead focus on exploring the processes, perspectives and approaches most useful to concrete problem solving in the generic sense, though grounded in the real world.

    The desire to focus on Computational Thinking sprung from something a friend recently said: “OMG, the November California ballot is going to be SO FREAKIN’ HUGE! How can I possibly become even a minimally informed voter in a reasonable amount of time?”

    I won’t go into the details of “unwrapping” such questions, other than to reiterate my goal to make it truly interactive, free from any syllabus beyond presenting a simple goal statement at the start. From there, my intent would be to serve as a moderator fostering a Socratic conversation. Most importantly, I’d have to resist the temptation to immediately share my thinking on the subject, and instead help folks develop, explore and refine their own thinking.

    Where am I going with this? I’m thinking your interactive videos could best focus on areas where fruitful interaction can really exist. They should be on subjects you’ve thought about, and may have previously covered (with pre-session links to other videos and blog posts), but where the audience has also done some thinking, or can be encouraged to do so with a bit of preparation.

    I believe the key is minimal formal preparation on your part, limited to formulating a topic title, collecting some links, and sending a notification. So, for example, if a recent blog post generated good discussion in the comments, that could be an easy ad-hoc video topic.

    But that raises a generic issue: Do you want the audience to be able to prepare for each ad-hoc video? Do you want audience “reaction” to your topic, or would you prefer to stimulate something deeper? That is, what is the goal of having any interactivity, instead doing an “off-the cuff, unedited” video blog post? How can interactivity best add real value for all participants?

    To retain some level of spontaneity, I believe it will be important to prevent scheduling from becoming an issue. Rather than trying to set a specific time when posting a topic, instead post a rough “heads up” guess as to when your free moments tend to land (Wednesdays after 6 PM Pacific, Saturdays before 10 AM, etc.).

    You could also have a “pending” list of several topics, to be discussed only when the muse visits.

    As to the platform, I personally avoid all social media sites due to rampant privacy violations. If you use tools that block trackers (such as Ghostery with all options enabled), many social sites simply disappear. Google Hangouts may be the best because, well, Google already knows everything about me (and many of my most important tools depend on it having that knowledge), so it’s probably the lesser of all evils (though certainly not at the “no evil” level).

  13. (Blast, didn’t hit ‘Edit’ quick enough.)

    I should emphasize the difference between audience reaction and a well-considered question or comment. Some folks simply think faster on their feet than others, and those with slower reflexes could easily be excluded from the interaction as the live session progresses.

    For example, a brief presentation followed by a live Q&A session would likely move along fairly quickly. The issue of moderation also arises.

    The other extreme would be an informal online seminar, where attendees are expected to be somewhat prepared, and where you would provide a starting thought or proposition to be followed by an active discussion (where participants would both ask and answer questions). Sticking to a fairly narrow topic for a longer time would permit folks to gather their thoughts before commenting.

    I follow the PBS Space Time channel on YouTube (they don’t fear using some math), where each weekly video on a new topic ends with answers to questions and comments from the prior topic. I’d call this “curated interactivity”, and it seems the Space Time crew works hard to representatively sample the questions and comments and provide thoughtful replies. Though certainly not “live”, it does preserve many of the best aspects of dynamic interactivity.

    I greatly appreciate your desire to more directly interact with your online audience! Trying to get an edge in wordwise after one of your public talks can be really tough.

  14. I still can’t help but wonder if more has been done to resolve the issue of the Higgs Boson being able to create photons. The Higgs had a lot of hype about it proving quantum mechanics, but it makes it seem like it didn’t do that completely. So what, if anything, will ever be done to resolve this “issue”?

  15. slvrfx,

    Thanks for the question. You are correct. In the double-slit setup, the position post-measurement is somewhere on the detection screen. No problem.

    In part anticipating that, my question was originally phrased as: “In between two measurements, what/where is a photon?”

    But for Sean, that would present a “loop-hole” for Multi-Worlds to say that the photon is in one of the other worlds. That is why in part I brought up “somewhere between our observable horizons”.

    Anyway, we should hear from Sean first.



  16. Just saw your new MinutePhysics video on youtube: “Why Doesn’t Time Flow Backwards?” along with a tweet saying that at least four more videos will follow on complexity:

    I don’t know if this is the way (or one of the ways) you’re thinking of implementing the idea you expressed in this post, but I think these kinds of succinct videos with illustrative graphics are excellent at explaining, and generating interest in, physics. And one nice advantage to having these on YouTube is that the Transcript is available from the More [actions] menu pick.

    I look forward to the rest of them.

  17. “Anyway, we should hear from Sean first.”

    I also would like to hear from Sean about things, but is it inappropriate or rude to discuss topics we’d like to hear more about in the meantime? (Even if just to give Sean a sense if the level of confusion that exists?)

    I know he is very busy, so I wouldn’t expect any more than 4 of these live Q&As a year.