Tomorrow is a day my wife and I look forward to all year: the start of the Tour de France. For the next three weeks, we will arrange our work and social lives around the television as we absorb gorgeous scenery, team tactics, mind-blowing athletic prowess, half-insane fans, and the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. They’re all part of the best sporting event of the year.
For some odd reason, many non-cycling Americans have no idea why Le Tour is so much fun to watch, as if the scenery and photo-worthy moments such as the one above aren’t reason enough. Which is why the AV Club put together a great list of “10 reasons why you should watch the Tour de France this year.” It’s all true and also serves as an excellent primer for Tour newbies.
We’re excited—and getting ready to cheer on our own Rui Costa, Portugal’s road champion, whose goal is to finish in the top 10. And that’s one of the things that makes Le Tour so different. In what other sporting event do top athletes train all year for a goal of not being number one? But there are so many ways to win in Le Tour, and so many people/teams to root for (not to mention plenty of time to change your mind as the race moves on), that the whole thing is uplifting. It’s not a winner-take-all event. For many riders, merely surviving the whole race is a win. For the viewers, it’s always a win.
In completely different news, a short, profanity-filled video has been making the geek rounds lately. It was taken by a cyclist who saw something really, really weird happening in the sky and pulled over to film it. The cyclist was understandably freaked out by the event, and swore a bit to himself (so the video is NSFW unless you mute the sound), but it isn’t actually an alien signal for invasion. It’s a weather phenomenon called a crown flash. If one were more poetic, one could call it dancing ice crystals.
Bad Astronomer Phil Plait explains the science behind this flashing, moving beacon:
What’s happening here is a wispy cirrus cloud, made up of ice crystals, is being impinged upon from below by a rising cumulus cloud. If the ice crystals in the cirrus are long and needle-shaped, they’ll align themselves with the electric field of the lower cumulus cloud, which is generated by up- and downdrafts inside the cumulus cloud. When the electric field suddenly changes (due to, say, lightning discharges inside the cloud), the ice crystals can snap into a different orientation, reflecting and refracting sunlight in a different direction (note that the plume in the video is the same color as the Sun). They do this as a group, making it look like huge coherent structures are suddenly changing shape.
In other words, you’re watching an electrical field shifting and snapping like a living thing, and moving ice crystals with it. SO cool. Kudos to the cyclist, who—though freaked—did not run away but filmed the phenomenon instead. Astronomy and meteorology geeks the world over are grateful.
In the biology world, artist Stefan Siverud has been painting and decorating urban snail shells in a project called Snailpimp. His efforts certainly destroy any camouflage the snails have, but when a despised species must share its world with humans, sometimes standing out can be an advantage. I’ve seen people crush snails just for the “fun” of it, a concept I don’t understand, but my guess is that none of these decorated snails will ever get stepped on. For more photos, check out Mental Floss.
Speaking of Mental Floss, the site recently had an article explaining how people clean up after their seeing-eye dogs. Long-time readers of this blog will know that I think there’s a special place in the underworld for people who let their dogs crap on sidewalks or in parks and then just walk away from it, so it’s kind of surprising that I never thought about how visually-challenged people deal with this necessary task. Turns out that their dogs are even more thoroughly trained than I’d ever thought. Check out the article for specifics. Busy busy!
And finally, something to make you smile. Dutch punk singer David Achter de Molen performed a rock-god feat at the PinkPop festival in the Netherlands last month: he caught a beer thrown by a fan. While he was crowdsurfing. With utter panache. And did I mention that the beer was in a cup? Check this out.
Over at Slate, a science team tried to recreate this magnificent feat of athleticism—both the perfect throw and the nonchalant catch—and discovered that, while possible, it is much harder than it looks. This moment may go down in music history.