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Winter Olympics wipeout GIFs

The Winter Olympics offer us a great lesson in GIFs--specifically, the power of a well-made GIF to condense much longer-form content into its highest-impact few seconds. Where you've got weeks of serious content and coverage, the GIF has to focus on what brings you the most oomph. Wipeouts.

4chan's worksafe GIF section has been collecting the best of the wipeouts from the 2014 Winter Olympics for the last week. It's an impressive thread. Not only is it emotionally wrenching to see these athletes try so hard and fail, but the wipeouts highlight the magnitude of what they're trying to do. One big crash puts all the perfect runs and tenths-of-a-second into perspective. Here are some of my favorites.

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Sledding down an empty road in Birmingham, AL

The gentleman in this video claims to hit 30 mph while sledding down Birmingham's Crestwood Boulevard. I have no idea whether or not this is true, but knowing the intersection he's sledding past (I used to live right near there), it would certainly be a hell of a ride down a long stretch of steady grade. Other context that makes this video more fun: Crestwood is (as the "boulevard" implies) a multi-lane, divided small highway that's usually filled with cars going 55 mph in a 40 mph zone. The fact that this man is not hit by a car is a testament to how much the city has been shut down by the recent snow and ice.

Oh, and, finally, all those people going "wooo!" as he passes are standing outside of the neighborhood bar. Natch.

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Inside the ice-crusted sea caves of Lake Superior

For the first time since 2009, the coastline of Lake Superior has frozen hard enough that people can venture out onto the ice and into the sea caves that line the shore near Wisconsin's Apostle Islands. Like the Lake, itself, the sea caves are frozen and covered with sparkling icicles — from dainty needles to thick, massive stalactites.

These are different caves from the ones I went through in a dinghy in the summer a couple of years ago. Those caves were at Devil's Island, about 6 miles from the mainland. The caves you can see in this, and several other videos taken by YouTuber Shannon Kowalski, are right up along the mainland shore, at the base of some steep sandstone cliffs. The cliffs themselves are the remains of a sandy river basin and chains of shallow ponds that dotted the landscape here a billion (yes, with a "b") years ago. The caves are much more recent, forming as waves from Lake Superior slowly erode holes in the sandstone.

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Bundle up and be inspired: Winter cyclists of Minnesota

In Minneapolis, an estimated 4000 people ride their bikes as part of a daily commute — year round. (The number doubles for the non-winter months.) At the Pedal Minnesota blog, you can see some of their happy faces. Or, anyway, happy eyes. The rest of their faces tend to be hidden under balaclavas. Like you do. Maggie 11

Coloured ice fortress


Redditor Unspeakablefilth lives in northern Ontario, where December was plenty cold (daytime highs of -25C!). He made the best of an icy situation by freezing blocks of coloured ice in shifts, a new batch every 12 hours, ending up with hundreds of them, which he used to piece together a gorgeous ice-fortress that he opened up to his neighbours. The Imgur set does a great job of showing off the build process and the ensuing enjoyment.

It's a great variation on last winter's coloured ice igloo from Edmonton. Can't wait to see what next year brings!

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The cheesy streets of Milwaukee

Back in September, the city of Milwaukee announced that it would be spreading cheese brine on its streets this winter in a pilot program to see whether the salty liquid could reduce the amount of rock salt necessary to de-ice roads. Now, it looks like the plan is working out well. In fact, there's not even a smell to the streets. Maggie 27

What we really feel when we feel "cold"

Temperature is just a measure of jigglyness, says Henry Reich of Minute Physics. Not in the "I don't think you're ready for this jelly" sense, but at the scale of atoms. And it's this jiggle that can help explain why two things that are, technically, the exact same temperature can feel totally different when we touch them. Great science for a cold day!

A frozen egg

This happened in my friend's henhouse this morning.

My friend Kate Hastings, who took this photo, thinks this egg froze because the hen cracked it slightly. But it also looks like the kind of expansion cracking that you can get when eggs freeze and burst their own shells. When the water in the egg white and yolk freezes, it forms a crystalline structure — and that structure isn't very tightly packed. There's lots of space between the molecules, which means that solid ice takes up more space than the liquid it replaced. If the egg freezes solid enough, it's got nowhere left to expand except outside the shell.

Eggshells, as it turns out, are not a great insulator from the cold. Chicken butts are, but chickens also don't always sit on their eggs consistently enough to keep those eggs from freezing.

One side note: You can actually thaw and eat frozen eggs. But you shouldn't thaw and eat an egg like this. That's because the shell is actually a pretty good barrier against bacteria. If a fresh egg — the kind sitting under a hen — has cracked, there's a higher likelihood of bacterial infiltration.

Thanks to Kate and Grampaw!

The evolution of white fur and an animal sex scandal

Up north — in Canada and other places where snowy winters are reliable (and reliably heavy) — you find more animals whose fur comes in various shades of white. This is true even for species that are brown or black further south. The difference is obvious. But how does it happen? Carl Zimmer presents two possible paths to paleness — random mutation, and fortuitous cross-species mating. In related news: Golden retrievers are probably getting it on with Canadian coyotes. Maggie

Science proves that you should wear glittens

They're the mullet of cold-protective clothing. Half glove, half mitten — really, fingerless gloves with a handy mitten flip-top.

They are also fantastic.

Now, partly, this is a matter of personal opinion. But partly, it's just good science.

Before you spend your weekend outdoors, or take your next chilly commute, let's talk briefly about glittens — and the science that makes them superior hand covering.

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The science of flu season

Flu season is in winter. Okay, great. But why? (Consider this an open thread for all your favorite humidifier recommendations.) Maggie

Rainbow-colored igloo


This beautiful, rainbow hued igloo was designed by Edmonton's Brigid Burton, who wanted to entertain her daughter and her daughter's boyfriend (an engineer student), visiting from New Zealand over winter break. Burton froze cartons full of colored water and left the boyfriend, Daniel Gray, to do the rest, building the structure out of 500 ice-bricks.

Made a coloured ice igloo while visiting my gf in Edmonton, Canada. The local news station did a story on it. News article in comments (imgur.com) (via Colossal)

How to: Instantly turn water into snow

Chalk this up under "Blogs You Ought to be Following". The Tumblr Fuck Yeah Fluid Dynamics is a great place to find succinct, clear explanations of the forces that make things flow. In particular, they're fantastic at posting explanations behind things you see in YouTube videos, both viral and obscure.

The video above — in which a nice Siberian guy tosses boiling water off his balcony and creates a cloud of snow — has been making the rounds recently. Here's how Fuck Yeah Fluid Dynamics explains it:

Several effects are going on here. The first thing to understand is how heat is transferred between objects or fluids of differing temperatures. The rate at which heat is transferred depends on the temperature difference between the air and the water; the larger that temperature difference is the faster heat is transferred. However, as that temperature difference decreases, so does the rate of heat transfer. So even though hot water will initially lose heat very quickly to its surroundings, water that is initially cold will still reach equilibrium with the cold air faster. Therefore, all things being equal, hot water does not freeze faster than cold water, as one might suspect from the video.

The key to the hot water’s fast-freeze here is not just the large temperature difference, though. It’s the fact that the water is being tossed ...

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How plants stay warm

Plants and animals have to adapt to live in high latitudes and chilly mountain environments. With animals, we kind of instinctively know what makes a creature cold-weather ready — thick, shaggy fur; big, wide snowshoe paws. But what are the features of cold-weather plants? It's one of those really interesting questions that's easy to forget to ask.

At The Olive Tree blog, Tracey Switek has at least one answer. In cold places, you see more plants that grow in little mounded clumps. Of course, plants can't really rely on huddling together to create warmth. So you still have to ask, "Why is it better to grow in a mound when it's cold out?"

The dome-like shape which the cushions tend to take (made possible by an adaptation that makes all the plants in the clump grow upward at the same rate, so no one plant is high above all the others), and the closeness with which those plants grow, makes these clumps perfect heat traps. The temperature on or inside a cushion can be up to 15 °C more than the air temperature above it. The cushions are able to retain heat radiating up from the soil, as well as absorbing heat from the sun (a very dense, large, clump of green can get surprisingly warm on a sunny day at high altitude). Add to that the fact that the wind speed in and around a cushion can be cut by up to 98% from open areas, you have a perfect recipe to prevent heat loss. Many alpine cushion plants also have very hairy leaves, which trap even more heat within. This allows the plants to maintain a relatively stable, warmer than average microclimate that is resistant to sudden changes in weather and temperature outside (such as freezing temperatures at night or sudden storms). Interestingly enough, this stabilizing effect can also be a benefit when it gets too hot out, maintaining lower temperatures against baking sunshine.

Very cool!

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Via Sci Curious

Image: Michael Haferkamp, via CC