NORAD tracks when Santa Claus is comin’ to town

NORAD tracks SantaTHE ASSOCIATED PRESS

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Volunteers at the North American Aerospace Defense Command are getting ready to monitor Santa Claus as he makes his storybook Christmas Eve flight.

Technology and social media have become an important part of the U.S. and Canadian military tradition, and NORAD Tracks Santa has already attracted a record 1.5 million Facebook “likes.”

The volunteers will spend Wednesday answering phone calls and emails from children and posting updates on the mythical journey to Facebook, Twitter and www.NORADSanta.org .

The 59-year-old program now has a control center at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, and it generates enough statistics, anecdotes and stories to fill a sleigh:

— HOW IT STARTED: A December 1955 newspaper ad invited kids to call Santa, but the phone number it listed was for the Continental Aerospace Defense Command, the predecessor to the North American Aerospace Defense Command. The officers on duty played along and began passing along reports on Santa’s progress.

— HOW IT WORKS: Kids call 877-HI-NORAD or email noradtrackssanta@outlook.com starting at 4 a.m. MST on Christmas Eve. A volunteer checks a big-screen computer monitor and passes along Santa’s location. Updates are posted at noradsanta.org, facebook.com/noradsanta and twitter.com/NoradSanta. Hundreds of volunteers work for 23 hours on the day — and the night — before Christmas.

— SO FAR THIS YEAR: NORAD Tracks Santa had 1.5 million Facebook likes by Monday afternoon and the total was growing by about 100 an hour. Twitter followers stood at 136,000. Initial website visits weren’t available, and the phone lines and email accounts weren’t live yet.

— AND LAST YEAR: The website attracted more than 19.5 million unique visitors in December, the Facebook page drew 1.45 million “likes” and the Twitter feed had 146,000 followers. Volunteers took 117,000 phone calls and answered 9,600 emails. Another 800 inquiries came in via OnStar. The Facebook likes, Twitter followers, phone calls and OnStar questions were all record highs for NORAD Tracks Santa.

— GROWING FAST: Visits to the website, which was launched in 1997, peaked at 22.3 million in 2012 before dropping to about 19.6 million last year. The reason isn’t clear, but Maj. Beth Castro, a NORAD spokeswoman, said the website might not have been able to accommodate all the traffic.

— PHONE CALLS: Phone calls rose from about 74,000 in 2009 to more than 117,000 in 2013.

— SOCIAL MEDIA: Facebook “likes” grew from 1 million in 2011 to 1.45 million last year; Twitter followers were up from 101,000 to more than 146,000.

— NEW THIS YEAR: The website has an animated elf named Radar. “Radar” was the favorite in a vote on Facebook, beating out “DARON,” which is NORAD spelled backward, and “Echo L. Foxtrot,” which uses the military phonetic alphabet to spell out “elf.” NORAD Tracks Santa also has a new mobile version of its website for smartphones.

— WHAT’S NORAD? The joint U.S.-Canada command is responsible for defending the skies and monitoring the sea approaches for both nations. Its control room was originally inside Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado Springs in a shelter designed to withstand a nuclear attack. The control room is now at Peterson Air Force Base, also in Colorado Springs.

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Daffy dinosaur has a unique look — and way to eat

The Deinocheirus has a look that's akin to Jar Jar Binks mixed with Barney the Dinosaur. (AP Photo/Michael Skrepnick, Dinosaurs in Art, Nature Publishing Group)

The Deinocheirus has a look that’s akin to Jar Jar Binks mixed with Barney the Dinosaur. (AP Photo/Michael Skrepnick, Dinosaurs in Art, Nature Publishing Group)


Nearly 50 years ago, scientists found bones of two large, powerful dinosaur arms in Mongolia and figured they had discovered a fearsome critter with killer claws.

Now scientists have found the rest of the dinosaur and have new descriptions for it: goofy and weird.

The beast probably lumbered along on two legs like a cross between TV dinosaur Barney and Jar Jar Binks of Star Wars fame. It was 16 feet tall and 36 feet long, weighing seven tons, with a duckbill on its head and a hump-like sail on its back. Throw in those killer claws, tufts of feathers here and there, and no teeth — and try not to snicker.

And if that’s not enough, it ate like a giant vacuum cleaner.

That’s Deinocheirus mirificus, which means “terrible hands that look peculiar.” It is newly reimagined after a full skeleton was found in Mongolia and described in a report for the journal Nature. Some 70 million years old, it’s an ancestral relative of the modern ostrich and belongs to the dinosaur family often called ostrich dinosaurs.

“Deinocheirus turned out to be one the weirdest dinosaurs beyond our imagination,” study lead author Yuong-Nam Lee, director of the Geological Museum in Daejeon, South Korea, said in an email.
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When scientists in 1965 found the first forearm bones — nearly 8 feet long — many of them envisioned “a creature that would strike terror in people,” said University of Maryland dinosaur expert Thomas Holtz Jr, who wasn’t part of the study. “Now it’s a creature that would strike bemusement, amazement.”

And yes, he said, “it’s pretty goofy.”

The find is tremendous but is a cautionary tale about jumping to conclusions without enough evidence, said University of Chicago dinosaur expert Paul Sereno, who wasn’t part of the discovery.

It also reminds us that evolution isn’t always what we think, Sereno said.

“This is evolution in a dinosaur — not a mammal — world,” Sereno said in email. “The starting point is a two-legged animal looking somewhat like a fuzzy-feathered ostrich. Now you want to get really big and suck up lots of soft vegetation. In the end you look like a goofy Michelin ostrich with fuzz and a tail — not a cow.”

Lee figures the tilted wide hips and massive feet show that Deinocheirus was a slow mover and probably grew so big to escape from being regularly feasted on by bigger dinosaurs.

It had a beak that could eat plants, but it also had a massive tongue that created suction for vacuuming up food from the bottoms of streams, lakes and ponds, Lee wrote.

Originally Lee’s team couldn’t find the dinosaur’s skull, but a tip from another researcher led them to recover it from the private market in Germany.

Some kids will soon adopt this dinosaur as their favorite, Holtz said, “and those are kids with a sense of humor.”

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Online:

Nature: http://www.nature.com/nature

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Reported by SETH BORENSTEIN of the Associated Press. He can be followed at http://twitter.com/borenbears

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2014′s biggest pumpkin weighs in at 2,058 pounds

Ashley Goldsmith, 6, of San Ramon poses for a photo with the winning pumpkin at the 41st Annual Safeway World Championship Pumpkin Weigh-Off  in Half Moon Bay, Calif., Monday, Oct. 13, 2014. The 2,058 lb. winner was grown by John Hawkley in Napa Calif.(AP Photo/Alex Washburn)

Ashley Goldsmith, 6, of San Ramon poses for a photo with the winning pumpkin at the 41st Annual Safeway World Championship Pumpkin Weigh-Off in Half Moon Bay, Calif., Monday, Oct. 13, 2014. The 2,058 lb. winner was grown by John Hawkley in Napa Calif.(AP Photo/Alex Washburn)

A gourd weighing 2,058 pounds took first prize and set a new tournament record Monday at an annual pumpkin-weighing contest in Northern California.

John Hawkley, 56, won this year’s Safeway World Championship Pumpkin Weigh-off in Half Moon Bay south of San Francisco.

Hawkley “squashed” his competition, beating the runner-up by more than 300 pounds, Tim Beeman, a spokesman for the weigh-off said.

Hawkley — a production manager for a local newspaper — credited his success at least in part to warm weather. He ended up with a total of six pumpkins on a 4,500-square-foot patch of land in his front yard in California’s Napa Valley, which is famous for its wine grapes. One of his other pumpkins also weighed more than 2,000 pounds.

“My wife said this is as much pumpkin patch area as I’m going to get,” he said.

Hawkley said he will use the more-than $13,000 in prize money to make repairs on his home, which was damaged during a strong earthquake in the Napa area in August.

All 30 pumpkins weighed at this year’s tournament were from California, according to Beeman. The contest normally gets growers from Oregon and Washington as well.

Last year’s winner was also from the Napa Valley and came in at 1,985 pounds.

Hawkley’s gourd will be on display this weekend at the Half Moon Bay Pumpkin Festival.

Reported by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS from HALF MOON BAY, Calif.

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Teenager wins Nobel Peace Prize

Malala Yousafzai speaks during a media conference at the Library of Birmingham, in Birmingham, England, Friday, Oct. 10, 2014, after she was named as winner of The Nobel Peace Prize.  The Nobel Peace Prize 2014, is awarded jointly to Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan and Kailash Satyarthi of India, for risking their lives to fight for children’s rights. Malala was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman two-years ago in Pakistan for insisting that girls have the right to an education. (AP Photo/Rui Vieira)

Malala Yousafzai speaks during a media conference at the Library of Birmingham, in Birmingham, England, Friday, Oct. 10, 2014, after she was named as winner of The Nobel Peace Prize. The Nobel Peace Prize 2014, is awarded jointly to Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan and Kailash Satyarthi of India, for risking their lives to fight for children’s rights. Malala was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman two-years ago in Pakistan for insisting that girls have the right to an education. (AP Photo/Rui Vieira)

The Nobel Prize for peace was awarded to Malala Yousafzai, 17, for her efforts as a teenager to push equal-opportunity education in Pakistan and the world. She shared the award with Kailash Satyarthi of India. In this video, she talks about finding out about her win and her hopes for the future.

http://youtu.be/ppCDZrRef-E

The 2014 Nobel Prizes were announced last week by committees in Stockholm and Oslo, with the last one coming up on Monday. The $1.1 million awards will be handed out on Dec. 10, the anniversary of prize founder Alfred Nobel’s death in 1896. Here is a wrap-up of the winners.

MEDICINE

U.S.-British scientist John O’Keefe split the Nobel Prize in medicine with Norwegian couple May-Britt Moser and Edvard Moser on Monday for breakthroughs in brain cell research that could pave the way for a better understanding of diseases like Alzheimer’s.

Nobel Prizes are awarded in the categories of peace, medicine, literature, physics and chemistry. An associated award in economics is also handed out. Aside from a medal, recipients also get a cash award of about $1 million.

Nobel Prizes are awarded in the categories of peace, medicine, literature, physics and chemistry. An associated award in economics is also handed out. Aside from a medal, recipients also get a cash award of about $1 million.

PHYSICS

Isamu Akasaki and Hiroshi Amano of Japan and Japanese-born U.S. scientist Shuji Nakamura won the Nobel Prize in physics on Tuesday for the invention of blue light-emitting diodes, which promises to revolutionize the way the world lights its homes and offices — and already helps create the glowing screens of mobile phones, computers and TVs.

CHEMISTRY

U.S. researchers Eric Betzig and William Moerner and Stefan Hell of Germany won the Nobel Prize in chemistry on Wednesday for finding ways to make microscopes more powerful than previously thought possible, allowing scientists to see how diseases develop inside the tiniest cells.

LITERATURE

French writer Patrick Modiano won the Nobel Prize in literature on Thursday for his lifelong study of the Nazi occupation and its effect on his country. Among more than 40 works, Modiano wrote the Prix Goncourt-winning “Missing Person” and co-wrote the acclaimed movie “Lacombe, Lucien.”

PEACE

Children’s rights activists Malala Yousafzai from Pakistan and Kailash Satyarthi of India won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for campaigning for the rights of children and young people, particularly their right to education.

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Whales put on a show

Sperm whales swim in the waters off the the coast of Dana Point, Calif.  More than 50 mothers and juveniles were rolling and playing with dolphins. (AP Photo/Capt. Dave Anderson/ DolphinSafari.com)

Sperm whales swim in the waters off the the coast of Dana Point, Calif. More than 50 mothers and juveniles were rolling and playing with dolphins. (AP Photo/Capt. Dave Anderson/ DolphinSafari.com)

More than 50 sperm whales emerged off the Southern California coast in an extremely rare, hours-long sighting that had whale watchers and scientists giddy with excitement.

Pods of mothers and juveniles rolled and played with dolphins Monday a few miles off Laguna Beach, the Orange County Register reported.

They later were spotted off San Diego and were heading south, said Jay Barlow, a sperm whale expert with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

It’s by far the largest group ever spotted so near to shore in Southern California, Barlow said Tuesday.

Others agreed.

“I’ve been counting whales and been on the water for 35 years. We’ve never had a large group like this ever,” said Alisa Schulman-Janiger, director of the ACS/LA Gray Whale Census and Behavior Project.

The massive mammals were spread out over an area of up to 3 square miles and came within inches of boats as they poked their heads out of the waves, said David Anderson, who operates Captain Dave’s Dolphin and Whale Safari sightseeing tours.

Monster size: Sperm whales are the huge, toothed creatures mentioned in the novel “Moby Dick.” They were hunted nearly to extinction for their oil in the 1800s.

The whales weigh up to 45 tons and eat about a ton of squid a day. They prefer to hunt in deep waters and can dive to 3,000 feet.

Why the sperm whales showed up remains a mystery.

Unlike toothless gray whales, which migrate down the California coast each year, sperm whales aren’t frequent visitors.

Usually, only one or two adult males show up each summer or fall while large groups of females normally are found in warmer waters, Barlow said.

However, this year has seen a lot of warmer water close to shore, he said.

“The climate patterns have definitely been weird,” Barlow said.

Other species that prefer warmer waters also have shown up this year, including pilot whales, false killer whales, and various species of tropical birds.

The sperm whales also might have been chasing food, Barlow said. “That’s mostly what they think about.”

Humboldt squid, which can weigh 60 pounds or more, have been turning up in the area for a decade.

“Could be they’re catching on,” Barlow said.

The whales also could simply have gotten confused by the complicated ocean terrain and “wandered in not intending to be here,” he said.

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Reported by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. Information from: The Orange County Register, http://www.ocregister.com

A sperm whale breaches in the waters off the the coast of Newport Beach, Calif.  (AP Photo/Lasanthi Benedict)

A sperm whale breaches in the waters off the the coast of Newport Beach, Calif. (AP Photo/Lasanthi Benedict)

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