Todd Hymas Samkara

Todd Hymas Samkara is Grist's assistant editor.

Panda-lovers watching panda lovers: voyeurism in black and white

Sorry, not really panda porn.

Given pandas' population difficulties, "getting it on" probably isn't something they engage in very often, but don't tell the world's eager panda-philes that. China has set up voyeur-friendly web cams that stream panda content live from the mountains of Sichuan in four 20-minute segments every day (except for weekends) so that, as Reuters says, "people around the world can spy on pandas doing what comes naturally to them."   If you're thinking "hot panda sex!," don't. Even when conditions in the "fog-shrouded mountains" permit, panda voyeurs can witness largely sedate bears munching on bamboo shoots, sleeping, (and slowly going extinct). Wolong Giant Panda Reservation and Research Centre, home to 154 wild and about 80 artificially bred giant pandas, launched the service on its Web site ( "PandaCam" will go live for four 20-minute periods a day, giving the animals a bit of privacy at weekends, Xinhua news agency said on Friday. Uncomfortable spying on pandas in China? Try the U.S. version! Yep, we have our very own PandaCam, already in action, trained on the bears at the National Zoo. Cute in the way that only captive, pacing pandas can be. (Is it on a loop or is that the third lap in the last ten minutes?) Fun!

Frog hunters and soccer stars of the Ukraine, unite!

Merely an excuse to mention the World Cup.

I'd been trying to find an excuse to mention the World Cup here, other than the Green Goal thingie. And here is an amusing, feeble (though legit) excuse. Frog Chorus Keeps Ukraine Soccer Players Awake Ukraine's World Cup players complained on Tuesday that frogs were disturbing the sleep of the squad at their lakeside hotel in Potsdam. Central defender Vladislav Vashchyuk told the Sovetsky sports newspaper that frogs in the Templiner See lake were keeping the players awake at night ahead of their Group H opener against Spain on Wednesday. "We have agreed we will take fishing rods to hunt these frogs," said Vashchyuk. Hartmut Pirl, manager of the hotel where the squad are staying, told Reuters he had not had any complaints. "There are frogs that croak. This is a nature reserve," said Pirl. A ready excuse for getting spanked by Spain, or a genuine gripe with nature? The world may never know.

Hooray natural fibers, and please don't eat the sheep

Wool and silk pass the test

Vindication is a strange animal (like unto a marmot, or maybe an echidna) creeping up where one least expects it. Such as the BBC yesterday. A fan, nay, a necessary devotee of natural-fiber clothing (see: Multiple Chemical Sensitivities), I often get flak from fellow outdoorspeople for outdoorsifying in non-synthetics. Especially so on high-altitude peaks in Colorado. But, newsflash, people: natural fibers like wool and silk, when worn correctly in layers, can hold up to just about everything synthetics can, even on Everest.  Or on 14,000-foot peaks in the U.S. Or in the high Sierras. Of course, no material is perfect -- super-wet conditions in bulky woolies, for example, often result in a seeming sheep's worth of extra weight -- but in mostly dryish mountain conditions, they're the mountain goat's pajamas. Wearing replica gear made from gabardine, wool, cotton and silk, [mountaineer Graham Hoyland] wanted to disprove the common myth that the 1920s climbers were ill-equipped to reach the summit [of Mount Everest] ... The three-year project, led by Professor Mary Rose and Mike Parsons, revealed that Mallory's clothing was highly effective at providing protection at high altitude. The layered natural materials used to construct the garments were found to be excellent at trapping air next to the skin. The outer layer of gabardine was hardwearing and water-resistant yet breathable. But the clothing was also lighter than modern gear -- the lightest ever to be used on Everest.

World Naked Bike Ride, take three

The Third Annual World Naked Bike Ride hit cities across the world this weekend, bringing attention to cycling, cyclists' rights, oil use, climate change, and, well, nudity for a good cause.

Move Thyself: Deer avoids car, hits man on bicycle

D'oh, a deer ... In other bicycle news, it seems the Chinese masses are increasingly trading in their classic cruiser-style Flying Pigeon bikes for cushy mountain bikes and higher tech road bikes (oh, and cars). Not a huge surprise, as an increase in affluence often leads to a transportation upgrade. But nonetheless, the state-owned bike company has noted the changing demographics of its riders as well as a dip in sales.

The recipe for twins (sorry, vegans)

Attention female vegans (and no, I'm not soliciting romance, thanks): If you're dreaming of birthing twins, you may want to read this. Women who eat a vegan diet -- a strict vegetarian diet that excludes all animal products including milk -- are one-fifth as likely as other women to have twins, a U.S. researcher reported on Saturday. But despite what some headline-writers suggest ("Vegan diet lowers odds of having twins" and "Meat-Eaters More Likely to Have Twins?"), neither meat-eating nor even necessarily veganness seem to be the key. The reason [for the vegan twin-birth difference] may be hormones given to cattle to boost their milk and meat production, said Dr. Gary Steinman, an obstetrician specializing in multiple-birth pregnancies at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, New York. So if you vegans want to increase the likelihood of twins without disrupting your diet, seems you could maybe skip the dairy and just go right for the growth hormones. Yum.

Move Thyself: Post script: The thievery capitulation

As if this guy didn't already have enough interesting stories about decades spent cycling essentially nonstop around the world, here's one more:

Move Thyself: A tribute to fallen cyclists, and cycling away the gas-price blues

Tonight in some 200 U.S. cities (and six other countries), cyclists will be joining in the Ride of Silence to pay tribute to bicyclists who've been killed or injured on public roadways. And there are a lot. From the Seattle Times article: In 2004, in Seattle there were 258 bicycle collisions with cars -- resulting in 224 injuries and one death, according to the city's Department of Transportation. Um, make that 260, and 225 injuries. My two collisions that year went unreported. (Stupid minivans!) And from the Oregonian: The most recent Oregon Department of Transportation statistics show 14 bicyclists died in Portland-area collisions with motor vehicles from 2000 through 2005. Meanwhile, the number of reported bicycle crashes has held steady for years at about 160 annually. Join a ride near you and reclaim the streets.

Rhymes with unanimity

Basically everyone agrees: we're full of chemicals. Hooray, agreement! Now what to do about it? Some California lawmakers are suggesting a program to monitor and catalog said chemicals in residents' bodies. Senate Bill 1379 would create the nation's first statewide biomonitoring program to study levels of chemical contamination in blood, urine, fatty tissue, or breast milk. Essentially it's a state-specific version of the CDC's National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals. Predictably though, powerful forces are aligning against it, fearing an educated, informed, environmentally aware public.