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7 Fun Cold Weather Activities Beyond Snowmen

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When the mercury drops, you might be tempted to stay inside, but what's the fun in that? Snow, ice, and freezing temperatures may be hard on your heating bill, but there are plenty of fun things to do outside. Just make sure to dress warmly, beware of walking on slippery ice, and take breaks to warm up inside.  

1. FROZEN BUBBLES

Bubbles are typically a warm weather activity, but they can be just as fun in freezing temperatures. If it's cold enough, you can blow soap bubbles and watch them freeze before they pop! Instructables member pi526 has a recipe for homemade bubble liquid, and tips for getting photographs of those neat creations. Depending on the temperature, you might be able to watch ice crystals form while they freeze. Bubbles that come into contact with a surface will freeze if they don't pop first. They might pop in the process of freezing, which leaves fascinating shapes to study, or they might freeze completely and then break to resemble a broken glass Christmas ornament. Or you might see your bubbles still frozen the next day.

2. BOILING WATER SNOW

The temperature outside has to be pretty cold to make instant snow out of boiling water. If you live where winter temperatures drop way below freezing, you might want to try this. When Yan recorded this video the thermometer read -13°F (-25°C). Bring water to a boil in a pan or coffee cup, and take it outside and throw it in the air. Be sure to throw it away from you, so you don't get burned. When the rapidly-evaporating water vapor hits the cold air, it turns to snow. It has to be hot water, close to its gaseous form, to disperse well. Cooler water will just splash in droplets and then freeze on the ground. See it happen at -40°, as a man in Russia creates a several-stories tall snow cloud.  

3. ICE SWORD

Naturally-formed ice has an unpredictable strength. Pykrete is ice formed by freezing water with a content of 14 percent wood pulp. The wood fibers strengthen the ice and make it much harder to shatter. Pykrete also melts at a much slower rate than ice. It was developed by Geoffrey Pyke, who envisioned ships made of pykrete in World War II. Alan Pan used pykrete to mold a huge ice sword—complete with embedded LEDs. Watch him try some experiments to test its strength above. You, too, can be smashing watermelons in the middle of winter.

4. MAPLE SYRUP TAFFY

Maple syrup taffy is candy made from maple syrup cooled to the consistency of taffy on a bed of freshly fallen snow. You can do this outside, or inside if you work quickly. Here's a recipe, although you might want to use popsicle sticks instead of your fingers—especially if you plan to share it.

5. GLOWING IGLOO

While on winter vacation in Edmonton, Alberta, Daniel Gray and Kathleen Starrie of New Zealand made colored bricks of snow, water, and food dye packed into milk cartons and set them outside to freeze. They used around 500 of the bricks to build this Technicolor igloo. You can see pictures of the process and the finished product in this album.

6. BUILD YOUR OWN SLED

Sledding is a great winter activity, but if you have more kids than sleds, you may have to get creative. In freezing weather, you can make solid items out of fabric with a little water and time. The folks at Minnesota Cold formed a sled out of a towel, and it works just fine. Minnesota Cold has a series of freezing weather activities to try at your own risk.

7. SUPERCOOLED WATER

Water is supercooled when it gets below freezing temperature without turning to solid ice. Pure filtered or distilled water can stay liquid below freezing because it lacks the mineral particles that act as "seeds" for crystallization. That's what happened to this guy when he left bottles in his vehicle overnight. But when you bump the bottle good enough, it causes air bubbles to seed the ice crystals, which immediately spread throughout the container. If it's cold enough, you can watch an entire bottle freeze up in seconds! Get a closer look at the crystallization here. You can do this experiment indoors, too.

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Pop Culture
An AI Program Wrote Harry Potter Fan Fiction—and the Results Are Hilarious
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Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

“The castle ground snarled with a wave of magically magnified wind.”

So begins the 13th chapter of the latest Harry Potter installment, a text called Harry Potter and the Portrait of What Looked Like a Large Pile of Ash. OK, so it’s not a J.K. Rowling original—it was written by artificial intelligence. As The Verge explains, the computer-science whizzes at Botnik Studios created this three-page work of fan fiction after training an algorithm on the text of all seven Harry Potter books.

The short chapter was made with the help of a predictive text algorithm designed to churn out phrases similar in style and content to what you’d find in one of the Harry Potter novels it "read." The story isn’t totally nonsensical, though. Twenty human editors chose which AI-generated suggestions to put into the chapter, wrangling the predictive text into a linear(ish) tale.

While magnified wind doesn’t seem so crazy for the Harry Potter universe, the text immediately takes a turn for the absurd after that first sentence. Ron starts doing a “frenzied tap dance,” and then he eats Hermione’s family. And that’s just on the first page. Harry and his friends spy on Death Eaters and tussle with Voldemort—all very spot-on Rowling plot points—but then Harry dips Hermione in hot sauce, and “several long pumpkins” fall out of Professor McGonagall.

Some parts are far more simplistic than Rowling would write them, but aren’t exactly wrong with regards to the Harry Potter universe. Like: “Magic: it was something Harry Potter thought was very good.” Indeed he does!

It ends with another bit of prose that’s not exactly Rowling’s style, but it’s certainly an accurate analysis of the main current that runs throughout all the Harry Potter books. It reads: “‘I’m Harry Potter,’ Harry began yelling. ‘The dark arts better be worried, oh boy!’”

Harry Potter isn’t the only work of fiction that Jamie Brew—a former head writer for ClickHole and the creator of Botnik’s predictive keyboard—and other Botnik writers have turned their attention to. Botnik has previously created AI-generated scripts for TV shows like The X-Files and Scrubs, among other ridiculous machine-written parodies.

To delve into all the magical fiction that Botnik users have dreamed up, follow the studio on Twitter.

[h/t The Verge]

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entertainment
Netflix's Most-Binged Shows of 2017, Ranked
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Netflix might know your TV habits better than you do. Recently, the entertainment company's normally tight-lipped number-crunchers looked at user data collected between November 1, 2016 and November 1, 2017 to see which series people were powering through and which ones they were digesting more slowly. By analyzing members’ average daily viewing habits, they were able to determine which programs were more likely to be “binged” (or watched for more than two hours per day) and which were more often “savored” (or watched for less than two hours per day) by viewers.

They found that the highest number of Netflix bingers glutted themselves on the true crime parody American Vandal, followed by the Brazilian sci-fi series 3%, and the drama-mystery 13 Reasons Why. Other shows that had viewers glued to the couch in 2017 included Anne with an E, the Canadian series based on L. M. Montgomery's 1908 novel Anne of Green Gables, and the live-action Archie comics-inspired Riverdale.

In contrast, TV shows that viewers enjoyed more slowly included the Emmy-winning drama The Crown, followed by Big Mouth, Neo Yokio, A Series of Unfortunate Events, GLOW, Friends from College, and Ozark.

There's a dark side to this data, though: While the company isn't around to judge your sweatpants and the chip crumbs stuck to your couch, Netflix is privy to even your most embarrassing viewing habits. The company recently used this info to publicly call out a small group of users who turned their binges into full-fledged benders:

Oh, and if you're the one person in Antarctica binging Shameless, the streaming giant just outed you, too.

Netflix broke down their full findings in the infographic below and, Big Brother vibes aside, the data is pretty fascinating. It even includes survey data on which shows prompted viewers to “Netflix cheat” on their significant others and which shows were enjoyed by the entire family.

Netflix infographic "The Year in Bingeing"
Netflix

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