A new way to celebrate Valentine’s Day


El Paso Zoo photo

EL PASO, Texas (KFOX14) — Not only can you name a cockroach after your ex at the El Paso Zoo, but on Valentine’s Day the zoo will be feeding those cockroaches to the meerkats for their “Quit Bugging Me” event at 2:15 p.m. Feb. 14.

You can submit the name of yours or your friend’s ex by sending a direct message to the El Paso Zoo Facebook page by Feb. 10. On Valentine’s Day, zoo staff will decorate the meerkat exhibit with the submitted names and shortly after, in honor of those names, the meerkats will be fed cockroaches.

“This is a fun way to get the community involved in our daily enrichment activities,” said El Paso Zoo Event Coordinator Sarah Borrego. “The meerkats love to get cockroaches as a snack and what better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day than by feeding them a cockroach named after your ex!”

The public is invited to attend the “Quit Bugging Me” event. The zoo will also show the event on Facebook Live and the meerkat webcam available on the zoo’s website www.elpasozoo.org.

Thanks, UrsaRodinia

Carl Sagan on Dystopia, Fake News & Big Tech


Om MalikChristopher Michel

Reprinted in its entirety from om.co, Om Malik’s blog

Happy birthday, Carl Sagan. Thanks for leaving a legacy and the gift of your writings. In his 1995 book, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, noted writer, astronomer and philosopher Sagan noted:

I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time — when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness…

The dumbing down of American is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30 second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance.

It is good that he is not here to see the future, and it is a shame he is not here to tell us about the future. But his birthday should be a reminder of why we need to learn and evolve with science, and not shun it.

h/t Steve Crandall

Texas posted addresses, SSNs of 3.5 million residents online


We will keep you safe!

Following last week’s massive Epsilon e-mail breach, it feels as if all of us suddenly have a little too much personal information floating around online. And now, a large group of Texans are about to have it a lot worse: the state revealed Monday that personal information for 3.5 million citizens has been exposed to the public, including names, addresses, Social Security numbers, and more.

According to Texas State Comptroller Susan Combs, the data wasn’t exposed by a hacker or a group of vigilante scriptkiddies—it ended up on a state-controlled public server after having been passed around between various state agencies. The data came from the Teacher Retirement System of Texas, the Texas Workforce Commission, and the Employees Retirement System of Texas, all of whom transferred the unencrypted data (against state policy) between January and May of 2010. The information was only discovered on the public server on March 31, 2011, meaning it has been available for almost a year.

… In addition to the aforementioned personal information, Combs said that other data, like date of birth and driver’s license numbers had been exposed “to varying degrees.” Additionally, “all the numbers were embedded in a chain of numbers and not in separate fields”—good if only lazy “hackers” accessed the file, but bad because it ensures that the appropriate data is matched with other data from the same person.

Combs emphasized that numerous internal procedures were not followed, and that her office had been in contact with the Texas Attorney General in order to conduct an investigation into the exposure

If it’s like most investigations of this type, some poor file clerk will be blamed and walloped.

Unfortunately for those whose data was exposed by the state of Texas, it won’t just be a matter of beefing up their spam filters or making sure not to click links from unverified parties. The comptroller’s office advises that affected individuals should put a fraud alert on their profiles with all the major credit reporting agencies and to carefully monitor all of their accounts for cases of identity theft…Texans whose data was exposed will be notified by letter, or they can call (855) 474-2065 starting April 12 to find out early.

That should make everyone feel all toasty and safe again. The Texas government is on the job.

Happy 80th Birthday, Viktor Korchnoi


Sosonko: “Pssst. You’re not supposed to be winning any more.”
Korchnoi: “I can’t help it.”

Of all modern players, Korchnoi impresses me so much– as he does many others– because of the longevity of his competition at the highest levels. At 80 years of age, he is rated 2557 and ranks 427th in the world (FIDE). He was about 75 years old before he fell off the top 100 list.

I got to watch Korchnoi play Mecking in the 1974 candidates match for the World Chess Championship. One of the things I remember was the sound of the large doors slamming when Mecking would exit the playing area after making his move. The first couple of times, Korchnoi looked up like a half-perturbed bear. After that, he seemed to ignore the sound as if ignoring a pesky fly at a picnic. He feasted on Mecking and won the match.

One day, I was seated next to the infamous and aging Norman Whitaker (quite a trip!). At one point, not realizing the volume of his voice (or did he?!), he remarked of a move just made: “As Tarrasch used to say, the Bishop bites granite.” He kept repeating this to himself. There was a bit of a stir, but things quieted down.

Happy 1,000th Birthday to Hanoi


Drummers below a statue of King Ly Cong Uan
who founded Hanoi as VietNam’s capitol in 1010

Daylife/Getty Images used by permission

A musical refrain blared from a loudspeaker as this weekend began — “Hanoi, Hanoi, Hanoi” — and on the sidewalk below, Nguyen Thi Thuy was selling red heart-shaped decals printed with the gold star of Vietnam’s flag.

“I’ve been waiting for this day for a long time,” said Ms. Thuy, a 20-year-old college student, who had pasted one of the decals on her cheek.

This day only comes once every thousand years.”

With parades and concerts and flamboyant kitsch, Hanoi is celebrating its 1,000th anniversary on Sunday, and much of city life has ground to a halt to make way for it…

But in the symbolism of the celebration, the Communist Party ruled supreme, just three months before a once-every-five-years party congress, at the pinnacle of a history that includes royalty and feudalism as well as revolution…

As an urban landscape, though, Hanoi seems mostly to be succeeding, where other Asian cities have failed, in integrating development with preservation.

Zoning laws have maintained the low-rise heart of the city with its shade trees and broad sidewalks. Most development has been shifted to the western suburbs.

Many of the elegant villas of the old French quarter have been preserved, and the bustling Ancient Quarter, choked with tourists and commerce, survives. The area around Hoan Kiem Lake has so far resisted development…

As the city’s modernization picks up pace, it seems, the pace of nostalgia accelerates along with it.

The article is more than a little choppy – likely edited to suit New York/American politics.

After all, this is the celebration of a nation that generally succeeded in rebuffing attempts of their much larger neighbors like China to absorb them. They defeated old colonialists like Japan and France and a new imperialist like the United States. The distance they have brought a nation impoverished by war – by comparison with neighbors like Thailand – is stellar.

Indian police target Valentine ‘obscenity’


Why show religious nutballs who slander India? Here’s a celebration of love in China…
Daylife/Getty Images used by permission

Limit displays of affection as you celebrate Valentine’s Day or face prosecution, authorities in western India are warning the public.

Police have banned what they call shows of obscenity, noisy celebrations, and the use of liquor and colored powders from Wednesday till February 15 in the city of Pune, in Maharashtra state.

Indians often celebrate festive occasions by playfully splashing one another with colored powder.

Maharashtra has been the scene of violent protests on past Valentine’s Days, by Hindu nationalist activists who say the event corrupts Indian culture. Maharashtra is home to the country’s financial hub, Mumbai.

The police ban, which applies to public and private locations, also restricts gatherings of people.

Go ahead. Arrest people for celebrating my birthday.

Blue moon to light the sky this New Year’s Eve

If you have anything ridiculously ambitious or wondrously farfetched you’d like to achieve in life, then we’d strongly suggest aiming to achieve such goals this coming New Year’s Eve – a date on the calendar expected to be marked by a distinct ‘blue moon’.

Beyond the obvious ‘once in a lifetime’ adage, stargazing astronomers have revealed that 2010 will be ushered in alongside a genuine blue moon, which, while not nearly as rare as you may think (usually about once every 30 months), will be the first to illuminate the night sky on New Year’s Eve since 1990.

According to astronomer David Reneke of Australasian Science magazine, the next New Year’s Eve blue moon isn’t likely to happen until 2028.

To historians enjoying astronomy, the last century cast a “blue moon” into existence whenever there were two full moons in a single month.

For me, as I have through the happiest years of my life – I celebrate my wife’s birthday every New Year’s Eve.