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Articles by Todd Hymas Samkara

Todd Hymas Samkara is Grist's assistant editor.

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  • Move Thyself: “Kingdom of bicycles” experiencing identity crisis

    So, in case you haven't heard, China's economy has been growing a wee bit. The boom has fueled growth in incomes and is largely responsible for the attendant explosive growth in auto sales and use. Huge growth. The number of cars has grown over 20 times since 1978 and is expected to balloon another five times still by 2020.

    Meanwhile, bicycle ridership has fallen at roughly the same rate as auto use has grown, and city planners and officials, eager to keep the boom booming, even at great public cost, have been planning to welcome the auto's continued growth and popularity with more roads.

    And though the U.S. still out-cars (and out-roads) China by a wide margin, China's rapid growth has led to bicycles literally being left by the wayside. Urban planning has turned them into seeming second-class forms of transport. (This sounds familiar, America. As Ginsberg might have said: "America, you've given cars all and now cyclists are nothing.")

    But back to China. As the Guardian puts it:

    Having spent the past decade pursuing a transport policy of four wheels rich, two wheels poor, the Chinese government has suddenly rediscovered the environmental and health benefits of the bicycle.

    As described in the state media, apparently the government is finally trying to do something about the unhealthy shift to autos.

    China's Vice Minister of Construction, Qiu Baoxing, has lashed [out] at city authorities for making it harder for cyclists to get around, saying the country should retain its title as the "kingdom of bicycles."

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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.