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Memory stick found in frozen seal faeces in New Zealand (bbc.com)
91 points by hsnewman 10 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 28 comments

Hey it was found by a co-worker. Here's the original article we published: https://niwa.co.nz/news/they-were-defrosting-leopard-seal-po...

Lots of funny tweets about it too: https://mobile.twitter.com/niwa_nz/status/109261054140158771...

Finally, hijacking the thread, but we also have a Python Open Source tool if you are into weather forecast, workflow, schedulers, etc: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19081972

Irony, we can't see any photos of 'USB stick in seal faeces' despite 'camera in every hand' these days!

Or did I miss them by 'JavaScript' blocking by default?


Never underestimate the bandwidth of a leopard seal anus of USB flash drives hurtling through the Pacific Ocean.

What is the brand name/model of this thing? I'd imagine the fact that it survived being eaten and frozen would be a great endorsement for the durability of the product.

Did no one ever tell you to not plug every usb stick you find into your computer? could've had malware on it... or worse: seal poop!

... or sealware. Fortunately the memory stick remained sealed after being un-sealed. Able to stand both being dipped in strong acid, saltwater and very low temperatures. Impressive if we think about it.

I had find a lot of plastic in whale stomachs, is not uncommon at all.

-> I had found

Was expecting the faeces to carbon date to some tens of thousands of year ago (cue Timeline by Michael Crichton).

Yeah, that would be a lot more newsworthy.

Now that's some long con social engineering. I'm impressed.



Are we on reddit, or is it now popular to create sarcasm / pun chains on HN?

Check it for BitCoin

If it's frozen they probably just need to reboot it.

The drive was sealed for security reasons.

A deep dive into the issue has secreted the secret.

I am so very disappointed it's not ancient seal faeces.

I think we should carbon date it to be sure. Just imagine, forebearer design committees!

But the discovery of the stick is a cause of concern.

No it isn't. This is AFAIK the first occurrence of its kind (which is why it made the news) and very likely to be a rare accident. Start getting concerned when this routinely happens, or other usually considered disposable items start getting found; otherwise it's just paranoic fearmongering.

I live a couple hours drive from where this scat was collected; the local wildlife centre here has a box full of plastic "usually considered disposable items" that came out of an albatross stomach on display. It's absolutely gross, you can start being concerned now please.

While I've got an audience: I do embedded electronics/firmware for my day job, and literally this morning bowed out of a volunteer project building a monitoring system for that same local wildlife centre [1]. I have a good job, and am kept busy between it, upkeep of a small home, and a healthy-ish mix of fun and volunteer stuff - just can't make time for that project. It's a good life, I am very lucky and am not trying to complain.

But, isn't it a bit weird that we collectively make decisions that lead to this sort of situation - where I'm spending my day getting a VoIP phone better (OK, posting on HN), instead of helping out make the world better?

I'd love to be able to dial back the "real job" to put more effort in to this sort of thing, but it just doesn't seem like our industry would be OK with a 20-hour work week. And, it doesn't seem that the conservation groups would be able to pay market rates for engineering work, which is also a shame.

How can we fix this?

[1] https://albatross.org.nz/ Basically, what's wanted is a system to 1) alert the staff when people peek under the lids of nest boxes for penguins, and 2) attempt to read the RFID tags implanted in those birds, so that when one parent doesn't come home, their egg/chick can be rescued (lose 1 bird instead of 3).

That's a very good question. I know a few companies here in Auckland that give their employees some days per year to work on volunteer projects. Maybe that could be extended to longer periods?

Another alternative is to use industry veterans. We have few from programming background, but I believe that might change in a few years?

Yeah, I'm sure my employer would be OK with a few days/year too, but what I'm getting at is: Our society makes it impractical for skilled workers to put in more like months/year in to socially beneficial projects, what can we do to fix that?

Sadly the overlap between "things that you think ought to be important" (like monitoring wildlife) and "things that are economically important enough for someone to pay you for" is pretty small. Saving an penguin chick is laudable but who's going to pay you for it? Maybe a charity-funded organisation, but (even if well funded) those seem to still use volunteers rather than paid work.

Tech companies don't want 20hr/wk workers because of the investment required to bring a worker up to speed in any given company, and the amount of 'live' knowledge required to be productive. I'd expect two workers at 20hr/wk to be much less productive than one worker at 40hr/wk.

That seems like a restatement of the problem, but is worded like an explanation. So, I probably didn't word my post clearly and will try again:

Imagine two people at retirement age, who have each worked full careers at a similar skill level and with similar devotions to their jobs. One of them worked at solving hunger* , the other worked on consumer electronics. Which provided more benefit to society, and by how much?

The system we've got seems to say that the work done by the person who worked on consumer electronics is several times as valuable, and to me that seems wrong. I'm asking for ways that we could change the system, so that that penguin monitoring project (for example) doesn't have to be "volunteer time" rather than "work time".

* or environmental conservation, social equality, curing cancer, whatever floats your boat.

I used to make tools for people who model epidemics. Then our budget shifted to instead focus on making pretty graphs for decision makers.

> How can we fix this?

Politics. There is no way around it. Money will go into what rich people are interested in. Public spending is the way to make it go in other directions.

Unless you have an idea to profit off wildlife monitoring, you'll need a public official convinced that this is a project worth doing.

What had you tried?

(I hypothesize that) electronics might be a problem with embryos whose future survival depends on reading correctly the magnetic field of the earth.

1) There are weight traps able to differenciate among a human and a small rodent or penguin. You should study that in your system. Is basically a plate buried in soil that acts as a switch when someone steps over there.

Yeah, this. From the drive's contents it sounds like someone accidentally dropped it directly into the ocean, not that it was thrown in the garbage which was subsequently dumped in the ocean.

Yup. The stick came attached to a human hand? Leopard seals can be deceptively cute.

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