This story, published April 1, 2009, looks at a famous April Fool's Day prankster from Sandia National Laboratories
Physicist claims No. 7 spot on list of top hoaxes
By Sue Vorenberg
The Santa Fe New Mexican
Mark Boslough tends to keep a low profile each year on this particular day.
As the proliferator of more than a couple of famous e-mail hoaxes, the Sandia National Laboratories physicist knows he's a prime target for April Fools' Day pranksters. So on this of all holidays, he likes to keep his skepticism at the ready.
"We're all subject to gullibility, especially if it's something you want to believe, " Boslough said. "That's why con artists continue to be successful."
Getting one past Boslough might be tough, though -- his most well-known prank is ranked seventh out of the "Top 100 April Fool's Day Hoaxes of All Time, " at the Museum of Hoaxes, museum
Boslough just couldn't help himself with that one, which he let loose on cyberspace back in 1998 -- he said he just had to spread the word about Alabama legislators trying to change pi, an infinite number that begins with 3.14159, to the more "biblical value" of 3.0.
The e-mail was disguised as a news story, written by "April Holiday" of "The Associalized Press."
In it, a fictitious lawmaker argued that because pi can't be calculated exactly, it could "harm students' self-esteem."
The story actually started as a small prank between Boslough and some friends at New Mexicans for Science and Reason, a scientific group that often debunks urban myths and pseudoscientific propaganda.
But Boslough soon found his attempt to poke fun at creationists, a group that wants religious ideas discussed in school science classes, had gone viral, he said.
"I was just curious, " Boslough said. "I always wondered if I wrote something like that if people would forward it."
When Boslough e-mailed him the story, Dave Thomas, a seismologist and president of NMSR, posted it on a usenet group called talk.origins -- on online bulletin board where both creationists and scientists would often debate their ideas, Thomas said.
"On the morning of April 1, I posted it as pretty much a straight news story, " Thomas said. "Then about 12 hours later, I posted that it was a prank, but by then it had already spread."
Soon, calls poured into Alabama legislators' offices to protest the new law. And the e-mail started to change -- with versions coming back to Boslough and Thomas attributing the story to the Associated Press and changing fictitious source names into those of real people at Auburn University, Thomas said.
"It was like looking at a virus as it mutates, " Thomas said.
Eventually the story was debunked by Snopes.com, a site that dispels urban myths; it was also cited by National Geographic News in 2004 as one of the "more memorable hoaxes in recent history."
The prank faced stiff competition at the Museum of Hoaxes for the No. 1 spot. It was beaten by a story in 1957 about "The Swiss Spaghetti Harvest" and a 1996 one about "The Taco Liberty Bell, " among others, but Boslough said he was amazed by how far his joke ascended.
"Being in the top 10 is an honor beyond my imagination when I wrote that thing, " Boslough said with a laugh.
And his pranks certainly didn't stop with that one.
Emboldened by his success with the pi story, Boslough struck again in 1999, with a fake Darwin Award about an Alaska worker who was cooked and killed in microwave radiation after standing too close to a telecommunications feed horn.
It said the worker, "Edward Baker, " was killed while trying to keep warm. Other sources in the story included "Tanya Cooke" and "John Burns, " which were subtle hints that it was a joke, Boslough said.
"I got one of those Darwin Award e-mail forwards and I basically wrote my own award, cut it and pasted it at the top as the winner, " Boslough said. "Amazingly enough, I was at my mom's house up in Denver not long after, and it was on the front page in the Denver Post in somebody's column -- the award I made up."
That prank had the worker employed with the Northern Manitoba Signal Relay Company, which doesn't exist. Boslough used the name so he could abbreviate it to NMSR, in hopes that Thomas would pick it up, he said.
"I knew Dave always checked that acronym online every day, so I was hoping he'd find it, " Boslough said.
Thomas said he did indeed notice the story, and he was suspicious from the beginning.
"I think Mark did that one for my benefit, but he didn't get me, " Thomas said.
Thomas also launched his own April Fools' Day prank that year, with a little help from Boslough. His prank didn't go quite as viral as Boslough's, but it still managed to fool quite a few people -- especially in creationist camps, he said.
Thomas' prank was an e-mail sent out by a fictitious German graduate student named "Stefan" who claimed that scientists in New Mexico were covering up a fossil find that showed a dinosaur eating a species of early man.
"Stefan" felt compelled to spread the word that the find had disproved Darwin's theory of evolution, because the theory shows dinosaurs and hominids could not have existed at the same time.
And Thomas' prank even came with pictures. "My dad had some fossils, so we arranged it to make it look like a dinosaur eating a human, " Thomas said. "The story spread to several creationist Web sites, with them using it as proof of their ideas."
The original story and photos, which include Thomas playing the role of a paleontologist, remain on NMSR's Web site at www.nmsr.org/Archive.html -- and he still gets an occasional call from a creationist asking for more details about the find, Thomas said.
"We tell them to go up a level on the site and check where they are, " he said.
When asked if they had any mischief planned for today, the two scientists said, perhaps a bit too innocently, that they didn't.
But Boslough did pass on a few tips for would-be pranksters and skeptics.
"I do have some rules for hoaxes, " Boslough said. "Don't be mean, don't humiliate people -- you want them to laugh. Remember that the best jokes have lots of clues in them, and also, on the Internet, you want about half the people to get the joke and half to not get it."
This story, published Sept. 19, 2007, looked at the reaction of local veterans to the documentary series "The War."
In New Mexico, Hispanics fear World War II stories are lost
By Sue Vorenberg
In the unsanitary hell of a Japanese prisoner of war camp, Rafael Rodriguez Jr. found a touch of home: A sweet taste similar to a childhood treat from his mother called jocoque.
Cans of diluted milk that he and some other World War II Bataan veterans occasionally got during their captivity tasted a little like jocoque - his mother's word for buttermilk.
It wasn't much, but it was enough to lift his spirits in a place where one bowl of moldy rice was the standard daily meal and days were spent watching close friends from New Mexico die of dysentery and starvation, the 89-year-old said.
"I remembered Mother used to make buttermilk and I used to like it - and when I tasted this milk from a can it tasted very much like it," Rodriguez said. "That helped me a lot."
As the airing of Ken Burns documentary "The War" approaches, Rodriguez said he's worried that the stories of Hispanic soldiers could be lost.
The documentary sparked controversy when national Hispanic groups noted the absence of any Hispanic interviewees.
Burns went back and interviewed two Hispanic veterans from California and included them in the documentary. But that's a very small sampling - and it's not New Mexico's story, Rodriguez said.
"At least we made them listen a little bit to what they ignored," Rodriguez said.
KNME-Channel 5 is trying to remedy that problem for local audiences, at least. The station plans to air several documentaries about New Mexico veterans in conjunction with the documentary, including "Memories of Hell," produced in 1986, focused on survivors of the Bataan Death March.
The documentary "provides a historical record, as many of these veterans are no longer with us," said Ted A. Garcia, KNME general manager and CEO.
The station is also airing several short spots with local vets and has launched a Web site, knmethewar.org, with more stories from local veterans.
Rodriguez's unit was the 200th Coast Artillery Regiment. Its 1,800 soldiers were among the 47,000 who were force-marched 65 miles without food or water in the Bataan Death March.
Those that fell behind or collapsed during the march were often shot or beaten to death, Rodriguez said.
"For me, it was pure luck," Rodriguez said. "When I thought I was too hungry to continue we got to lay down at midnight one night. A few of us ended up in a turnip patch. We ate turnips - but we didn't make any noise because the Japanese were patrolling back and forth."
After the march, the survivors were held in squalid conditions with little food, sanitation or water from 1942 until the end of the war in 1945.
"I don't think the newspapers and the media gives enough credit to my regiment and what we went through - it's always other regiments, other campaigns," said Horacio H. Montoya, another Bataan survivor from the 200th.
"The suffering, the loss of men, the indignities we suffered," Montoya continued. "We lost a lot of men there. Our regiment that left with 1,800 men, we got back with 900 men."
Montoya said he was surprised that Hispanics' stories weren't originally included in "The War," considering their sacrifices.
"Of course it's important to bring this out to the open regarding Hispanics," Montoya said. "But at the same time, I'd like to leave the race issue out of this - we've been left out of the news, but that's the way the ball rolls."
Montoya, 89, had to work in Japanese coal mines during his captivity.
"It was very, very hard work and not a lot of food," Montoya said.
What got him through it was his memories of home, and faith in God, he said.
"I never maintained any thoughts in my head that I was going to die, even though my friends and buddies were dying all along the road," Montoya said. "I always looked forward to getting back."
Conditions at Camp O'Donnell, where many men in the 200th were held, were better than forced labor in the coal mines, but not by much, Rodriguez said.
There wasn't enough water for showers, barely enough to drink. As a medic, he did what he could to help fellow soldiers - but that was little, Rodriguez said.
"We didn't have enough water to drink, much less to wash the patients," Rodriguez said. "A person with diarrhea that we couldn't wash, can you imagine such an ugly sight? That killed more than anything else."
Occasionally, one of the men forced into physical labor would manage to sneak in an orange or a banana, which they'd share with fellow soldiers - even though they were starving and it would have been easy not to share, Rodriguez said.
"The New Mexico National Guard was about 80 percent Hispanic, and the Hispanic people are very thoughtful about helping our neighbors," Rodriguez said. "We shared. Everybody would get a few bites."
When rescue finally came, with guns blazing, Rodriguez was surprised by his own reaction, he said.
"They started shooting Japs," Rodriguez said. "When I heard the shooting and looked up at the towers, I saw one Jap was hit. He shook a little bit and dropped head-first. But I felt sorry. I didn't rejoice."
And when he returned home, he returned intact, with his love of jocoque in tow, he said.
"It was a nightmare but it worked out - here I am," Rodriguez said. "When I drink buttermilk now, I don't even think about the war. I wonder why I don't, but I don't."
After a pause to consider what he just said, he continued.
"The important thing now is to drink and enjoy," Rodriguez said. "To get the benefits out of it."
This story, published June 2, 2007, is about an Albuquerque woman who made it to the World Series of Poker
PRACTICING HER POKER FACE
Albuquerque resident Catherine Hart graduates from playing Texas Hold ’Em online to representing the Duke City live in Sin City
By Sue Vorenberg
Rolling her eyes, Catherine Hart looked with scorn at her opponent across the green poker table.
“This person is going all in,” she said, eyeing her computer screen knowingly.
People always do that when they shouldn’t in AOL’s online No-Limit Texas Hold ’Em tournaments, which is where Hart said she’s learned all about the game.
Hart is a master of the computer game version of poker, but her online play has netted her a chance to represent the Duke City and play at a new level — face-to-face against live competitors at the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas.
Hart, 48, is one of 12 AOL online tournament winners selected to play in the poker series, which is shown on ESPN every year.
Keep an eye out for her, she said. She already has a strategy for locals who’d like to root for the hometown favorite.
“I’m going to get a shirt that says ‘505’ on it,” Hart said. “People from New Mexico will know what it means, but nobody else will.”
Hart will be one of about 9,000 competitors in the first round of the championships the week of July 6. If she makes it to the top, she could end up playing for $15 million.
And that has everybody who knows the boisterous, blond poker whiz eagerly waiting for the tournament to start, said Shane Solvie, 27, who works with Hart at Blayne’s Auto Superstore, 4700 San Mateo Blvd. N.E.
“She’s pumping up everyone at our business,” Solvie said. “We’ll be watching her for sure — online and on TV. She’s got to be representing. She’s not just going there for herself.”
If Hart wins, there will be a huge party at the store. And Hart claims, even with the $15 million prize, she would still return to work as office manager for the car dealership. “I couldn’t do that to them,” she said.
Along with her online poker practice, Hart’s main trainer has been her son, 23-year-old Alex Hart, who’s coming with her to Las Vegas, she said.
“We talk about it every day,” she said. “He stops by work, tells me I should be practicing at work. Every night he comes home and tells me I should be practicing.”
Alex Hart taught his mom to play Texas Hold ’Em about two years ago. The two watch a lot of poker tournaments on TV and are huge fans of the World Series of Poker, she said.
“I’d love to play against Phil Hellmuth,” she said of the poker star who, in 1989, at age 24 was the youngest person ever to win the series.
“He’s got a mouth on him,” Hart said of Hellmuth. “He always thinks he’s the best. Wouldn’t it be great if a woman took him down?”
Hart and her son plan to scout out poker games at Albuquerquearea casinos to practice her live play before the competition, she said.
Poker is very different live than online, she said. Around a table, players have to hide their facial expressions so others don’t guess their hands, Hart said.
“My son says I have to wear glasses, a hat,” Hart said. “He says it would be better to put a Halloween mask on, but that won’t be happening. I’ll be smiling the whole time — even if I have a bad hand, I’ll be smiling.”
People also tend to be more reckless with their chips online than in real life, Hart said.
“I think people are more conservative playing live than on the Internet,” Hart said. “On the Internet, people don’t care as much. If they lose, they lose.”
So far, Hart is the only New Mexican to win a seat from AOL for the World Series tournament, said Nicole Opas, programming director for AOL Games. There’s still time for her to have some New Mexico company, though.
AOL will pick three more champions by Father’s Day, Opas said.
“The World Series is all about the average man — or woman — becoming a champion,” Opas said.
To be picked by AOL, players compete online in daily tournaments against 5,000 others. The top 100 players in those tournaments make it into the championships, which are played online that Sunday, Opas said.
The winner of each Sunday championship gets a seed in the World Series of Poker.
AOL pays the $10,000 entry fee for the event and pays for a hotel room and airfare, Opas said.
“Poker’s a little bit of luck and a lot of skill,” Opas said. “The people who win are smart and keen. That’s what our winners have.” Being smart and keen is one thing. What Hart needs most is to develop her poker face, she said.
“I haven’t gotten that down, yet,” she said with a wink, but added, “I’m working on it.”
This story, published April 19, 2007, looks at the local impact of the Virginia Tech murders.
A vigil for Virginia victims
Locals share pride, grief by candlelight
By Sue Vorenberg
A lone voice broke the silence of hundreds of Albuquerqueans as they held candles and formed the VT shape of the Virginia Tech logo in Civic Plaza.
“Hokie, Hokie, Hokie, hi,” the strong, deep voice chanted Wednesday night, the school cheer resonating in a crowd that remained silent and still long after it was done posing for cameras.
“Tech, Tech, VPI,” someone answered from the quiet wall of candles.
Again silence, then another voice: “Hokie, Hokie, Hokie, hi!”
In a sea of sweatshirts that were equal parts Lobos red and Hokie maroon and orange, it was hard to tell who at the candlelight vigil was a Virginia Tech alumnus and who was not.
But team colors don’t really matter in the larger picture of the violence that left 33 dead on Virginia Tech’s campus Monday — it’s America’s tragedy, and it’s Albuquerque’s tragedy, Mayor Martin Chavez told the crowd.
“I’m a graduate of the University of New Mexico,” Chavez said, “but we’re all graduates of Virginia Tech — this could have happened anywhere.”
So, it was for Silvia Tarro, 58, clad in Virginia Tech clothing, and her sister, Fran Diener, 57, wearing a Lobos sweatshirt.
The pair came to the vigil in honor of Tarro’s daughter and son-inlaw, Jamie and Brian Chapman. The couple graduated from Virginia Tech and still live in Virginia.
“Brian was a computer engineering major,” Tarro said. “He spent a lot of time in that building. It hit us pretty hard.”
The sisters fashioned maroon, white and orange armbands out of ribbon and wore them Wednesday night. “I wish we had brought more so we could hand them out,” Diener said.
Looking around at the hundreds of others who came to Civic Plaza, Tarro said she was deeply touched.
“When I heard it on the radio that this was happening, I was just thrilled,” Tarro said. “I told my daughter and son-in-law that this was happening and she cried.”
The city will send Virginia Tech a video and photographs of the crowd holding candles in the shape of the school’s logo as a sign of support, Chavez said.
Before lighting their candles, pockets of Virginia Tech alumni huddled together, trying to make sense of the tragedy.
Lauren Woody, 23, came with her two nephews, brother and sister-in-law and her father and mother. Her father, Richard Woody, 53, graduated from the school in 1975. He’s taken the family back each year to watch football games and stay in tune with the school, she said.
“My father’s voice — you can just tell he’s hurting,” she said. “It’s shocking. I can’t believe it. My heart goes out to everyone there.”
Richard Woody said his biggest worry is how his two grandsons, ages 4 and 10, will absorb what has happened.
“I’m concerned about how they’re handling this,” he said Wednesday night. “We brought them up here to see that there’s good and evil in the world. We brought them here tonight to see the good. On Monday we saw the evil.”
Gwynne Currier, 31, who graduated from Virginia Tech in 1998, said she hopes this is not what her school will be remembered for. Really, it’s a peaceful school in a beautiful part of the country, she said.
“It’s a shame it happened anywhere — a mall, an airport,” Currier said. “That it was Tech really hit home to me. It’s a shock that we’re in the news for something like this, instead of our football team.”
Currier had classes in Norris Hall, the building where 30 people were killed, but she doesn’t think it should be torn down, she said.
“I certainly think some sort of memorial should be set up, but let’s not give this guy (the shooter) credit,” Currier said. “Life should go on. They should still hold classes there.”
Standing in the school logo formation with his candle, Derek Kuit, 20, thought about the people his age who, like him, were just starting out in life and going to school. Kuit begins classes at Central New Mexico Community College this fall, he said.
“It’s insane to think this (trend of shootings) started out in high schools and now it’s moved to college campuses,” Kuit said. “It’s getting more open. We’re more vulnerable. I think if you see somebody sitting alone like this guy — go up and talk to them. Reach out. Who knows, one word could change the whole fate of somebody.”
It’s a complicated issue for all Americans to deal with, said Jeremy Jaramillo, of the Agora Crisis Center at the University of New Mexico.
Agora counselors roamed through the crowd Wednesday in case people wanted to talk.
“This is a multifaceted issue,” Jaramillo said. “At first, we thought this was a person who was incredibly violent. Now we’re finding he had emotional and mental problems. That’s complicating everyone’s grief. People don’t know how to handle this yet.”
Anybody who wants to talk about the tragedy is welcome to call Agora at 277-3013, he added.
“We’re all just so close,” Jaramillo said. “We’re feet away from each other, and we all need to reach out and show we care.”
As the crowd dispersed, a group of about 10 Hokies gathered at the corner of Civic Plaza, consoling one another, but also at the ready with another school cheer. Virginia Tech will recover, they said. It will take time, but it will recover.
“Hokie, Hokie, Hokie, hi,” the group yelled together. “Tech, Tech, VPI.”
This story, published Aug. 10, 2006, looks at the arrest of professional racing's Unser brothers after they drove into a crime scene
Arguments with cops cause Unsers’ arrest
By Sue Vorenberg
The driver of a suspected stolen car shot at police, then held them at bay in a standoff on busy Unser Boulevard Northwest before killing himself.
Into this tense situation — gunfire crackling on a Wednesday morning — came the Unser brothers. Leaders of the famed racing family, Al Unser Sr. and Bobby Unser, arriving separately, wanted to get past the blockade to nearby property they own.
Bernalillo County Sheriff’s deputies said no. Deputies said the Unsers argued. If they ever did get to the property, they did so only after spending time at the Metropolitan Detention Center. Both men were arrested on charges of resisting or obstructing an officer and not obeying an officer.
The brothers did not return Tribune phone calls seeking comment Wednesday.
But according to Bernalillo County Sheriff’s spokeswoman Erin Kinnard Thompson, “Bobby Unser said, ‘You guys think you’re bullies. Don’t tell me what to do,’ ” quoting his comments to a deputy in a criminal complaint.
“Al Unser said, ‘Goddamned, you don’t yell at me; you guys think you are God. Don’t tell me what to do,’ ” Kinnard Thompson said, quoting from a second complaint.
The drama started shortly after 9 a.m. Wednesday, after a man suspected of driving a stolen car sped from 47th Street and Central Avenue to Unser Boulevard and Bluewater Road.
There, the driver stopped and fired at police, said John Walsh, spokesman for the Albuquerque Police Department. Sheriff’s deputies were called to help.
Al Unser Sr., 67, arrived at 9:50 a.m. The four-time Indianapolis 500 winner tried to drive around the blockade in his Ford Excursion, Kinnard Thompson said.
“The sergeant explained that this was a shooting and he needed to leave the area immediately,” Kinnard Thompson said. “He continued to resist deputies’ requests. He refused to leave the area.”
After asking Unser to leave at least five times, deputies arrested him and took him to the Metropolitan Detention Center, Kinnard Thompson said.
Around 25 minutes later, Bobby Unser, 72, arrived. The three-time Indy winner also tried to drive around the blockade, Kinnard Thompson said.
He “challenged the deputy’s authority, told him that they didn’t have the authority to ask him to leave the area, and that he was not leaving,” Kinnard Thompson said.
Deputies asked Bobby Unser to leave six or seven times, Kinnard Thompson said.
“Eventually he, too, was arrested,” she said. The Unser brothers have a Central Avenue address; both indicated they were trying to get to property they own, Kinnard Thompson said.
They were released later on $1,025 bail each, she said.
Kinnard Thompson said the Unser brothers’ actions endangered not just themselves, but officers and deputies on the scene who were forced to pay attention to the Unsers rather than to the situation.
“I really don’t know what their motivation is,” Kinnard Thompson said.
Meanwhile, the man who was shooting at police crashed into another car in the area and “shortly thereafter, he took his own life,” Walsh said. “Whether it was intentional or accidental, we’re still trying to determine.”
Officers had not identified the man, who shot himself in the head with a modified shotgun, Wednesday afternoon. They would use fingerprints which can be a slow process, Walsh said.