CLOSE
Original image
Getty Images

25 Things You Might Not Know About Sledding

Original image
Getty Images


Initially developed to haul loads over snowy terrain, sleds quickly evolved into recreational devices. I can fondly recall many a snow day spent hurtling down the hill in my backyard, inevitably ending up in the hedge, and emerging, scratched and exhilarated, ready for another go. I'm sure many of you have similar memories. So without further ado, here are a few things you might not have known about the history of sledding; many of these facts came from Brice J. Hoskin’s The Sled Book: Notes Concerning Winter’s Favorite Pastime.

Toboggans


Wikimedia Commons

1. The word toboggan comes from either the Algonquin word odabaggan or the Anishinabe word nobugidaban.

2. The Inuit made their toboggans out of whalebone, while other tribes used birch or tamarack. The sleds had a curved front, to ease traveling over difficult terrain, but had no runners. The design has changed little since they were first developed; today, most toboggans are made with seven boards of ash or maple, each about 2 inches wide.

3. The Russians built the first toboggan slide—a high wooden structure with an ice-covered chute—in St. Petersburg in the late 1800s.

4. Tobogganing as a sport began in Canada in the late 1800s and quickly spread. Though it was considered a "sport," tobogganing was also high-fashion: Men wore top hats and ladies donned their best clothes for trips down the chute.

Kicksleds


Wikimedia Commons

1. When an unknown inventor took a timber sled—which was used to haul wood out of the forest—and added a handlebar and put iron on the runners, the kicksled was born. They were first mentioned in a Swedish newspaper in 1870.

2. Another name for a kicksled is "spark." (The word for kicking in Scandinavian languages is sparke or sparka.)

3. "Kicksled" is a direct translation of the Finnish word potkukelkka.

4. The first kicksledding club was founded by Captain Victor Balck, one of the original members of the International Olympic Committee, in Stockholm in 1899.

5. Kicksleds can only be used on hard, slippery surfaces, which makes them particularly good for traversing frozen lakes.

6. Average kicksled speed in a race: 18mph.

Bobsleds


Wikimedia Commons

1. An unknown inventor created the bobsled by adding a steering mechanism to a toboggan.

2. The sled gets its name because early competitors thought it helped to "bob" their heads on straightaways. (They were wrong—staying low makes the sled go faster.)

3. There are two variations on the bobsled. The skeleton, introduced in 1892, is a metal one-person sled that a rider drives lying head-first. The luge is a one or two person sled that puts riders feet first; they steer by pulling straps attached to the runners. The luge replaced the skeleton in the 1964 Olympics.

4. Top speed in bobsled on a modern course: 80mph.

5. A four-man bobsled race was an event in the first Winter Olympics, held in France in 1924. Only men competed until 2002, when two-woman teams were allowed to compete.

6. Bobsledding has been a part of every winter Olympics except for the 1960 Olympics in Squaw Valley, California; too few teams expressed an interest in competing.

7. There are two recreational bobsled tracks in the United States, both at the sites of past Olympic games: Park City, Utah, and Lake Placid, New York. They sleds go through the courses in under a minute, and riders will experience up to 5gs (astronauts experience 3gs on liftoff).

American Clippers and Cutters


Image courtesy Collector's Weekly.

1. Clippers and cutters were the first mass-produced sleds in the United States. They were made by the Paris Manufacturing Company in South Paris, Maine. The company was founded by Henry Morton in 1861; it was also the first company to commercially produce skis.

2. Morton based his sled designs on horse-drawn sleighs.

3. Yankee Clippers have runners that are upturned in the front; they're meant to be ridden face-first. Cutter sleds were longer, with runners that curved over the front of the sled. They were designed to be ridden sitting down. Both were difficult to steer.

4. The most famous sled in pop culture is Citizen Kane's Rosebud—a Yankee Clipper.

The Flexible Flyer


Wikimedia Commons

1. The flexible flyer was patented by Samuel Leeds Allen in 1889. Allen was a prolific inventor who held almost 300 patents; he developed the sleds to keep the workers at his farm equipment factory busy in the off-season.

2. The sled had a slatted wood seat and steel runners which were weakened at one point halfway back with something that resembled a hinge. It was moderately steerable, and worked best on hard snow or ice.

3. In 1915, around 120,000 flexible fliers were sold, with an average of 2000 sold per day. The smallest went for $2.50; the largest, which was 8.5 feet long, weighed 41 pounds and could hold six adults, sold for $12.

4. In 1928, six flexible flyers went to the South Pole with Admiral Richard E. Byrd.

Original image
arrow
science
11-Year-Old Creates a Better Way to Test for Lead in Water
Original image

In the wake of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, a Colorado middle schooler has invented a better way to test lead levels in water, as The Cut reports.

Gitanjali Rao, an 11-year-old seventh grader in Lone Tree, Colorado just won the 2017 Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge, taking home $25,000 for the water-quality testing device she invented, called Tethys.

Rao was inspired to create the device after watching Flint's water crisis unfold over the last few years. In 2014, after the city of Flint cut costs by switching water sources used for its tap water and failed to treat it properly, lead levels in the city's water skyrocketed. By 2015, researchers testing the water found that 40 percent of homes in the city had elevated lead levels in their water, and recommended the state declare Flint's water unsafe for drinking or cooking. In December of that year, the city declared a state of emergency. Researchers have found that the lead-poisoned water resulted in a "horrifyingly large" impact on fetal death rates as well as leading to a Legionnaires' disease outbreak that killed 12 people.

A close-up of the Tethys device

Rao's parents are engineers, and she watched them as they tried to test the lead in their own house, experiencing firsthand how complicated it could be. She spotted news of a cutting-edge technology for detecting hazardous substances on MIT's engineering department website (which she checks regularly just to see "if there's anything new," as ABC News reports) then set to work creating Tethys. The device works with carbon nanotube sensors to detect lead levels faster than other current techniques, sending the results to a smartphone app.

As one of 10 finalists for the Young Scientist Challenge, Rao spent the summer working with a 3M scientist to refine her device, then presented the prototype to a panel of judges from 3M and schools across the country.

The contamination crisis in Flint is still ongoing, and Rao's invention could have a significant impact. In March 2017, Flint officials cautioned that it could be as long as two more years until the city's tap water will be safe enough to drink without filtering. The state of Michigan now plans to replace water pipes leading to 18,000 households by 2020. Until then, residents using water filters could use a device like Tethys to make sure the water they're drinking is safe. Rao plans to put most of the $25,000 prize money back into her project with the hopes of making the device commercially available.

[h/t The Cut]

All images by Andy King, courtesy of the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge.

Original image
iStock
arrow
technology
Google's AI Can Make Its Own AI Now
Original image
iStock

Artificial intelligence is advanced enough to do some pretty complicated things: read lips, mimic sounds, analyze photographs of food, and even design beer. Unfortunately, even people who have plenty of coding knowledge might not know how to create the kind of algorithm that can perform these tasks. Google wants to bring the ability to harness artificial intelligence to more people, though, and according to WIRED, it's doing that by teaching machine-learning software to make more machine-learning software.

The project is called AutoML, and it's designed to come up with better machine-learning software than humans can. As algorithms become more important in scientific research, healthcare, and other fields outside the direct scope of robotics and math, the number of people who could benefit from using AI has outstripped the number of people who actually know how to set up a useful machine-learning program. Though computers can do a lot, according to Google, human experts are still needed to do things like preprocess the data, set parameters, and analyze the results. These are tasks that even developers may not have experience in.

The idea behind AutoML is that people who aren't hyper-specialists in the machine-learning field will be able to use AutoML to create their own machine-learning algorithms, without having to do as much legwork. It can also limit the amount of menial labor developers have to do, since the software can do the work of training the resulting neural networks, which often involves a lot of trial and error, as WIRED writes.

Aside from giving robots the ability to turn around and make new robots—somewhere, a novelist is plotting out a dystopian sci-fi story around that idea—it could make machine learning more accessible for people who don't work at Google, too. Companies and academic researchers are already trying to deploy AI to calculate calories based on food photos, find the best way to teach kids, and identify health risks in medical patients. Making it easier to create sophisticated machine-learning programs could lead to even more uses.

[h/t WIRED]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios