What’s in Amazon’s giant mystery box?

Amazon’s Giant Mystery Box Is Back

Nerds went into a tizzy earlier this year when a giant Amazon box was spotted on the back of a flatbed truck. Turned out the box held a Nissan car that was being delivered as part of an advertising deal the car maker did with Amazon.

Guess what? The big box is back. This morning, a Re/code editor spotted the box shown in the photo above on the back of a truck in the SoMa neighborhood of San Francisco. On first look, it didn’t appear big enough to fit a car. I contacted Amazon to get some more information.

An Amazon rep said it is not part of an advertising campaign like last time, but it is part of a “new program” that the company will unveil next week. Fifteen of these boxes are scattered around the U.S., he said.

“We’re excited to be making 15 special deliveries next week as part of the holiday season,” the spokesperson said in an email. “Stay tuned.”

Geeks especially enjoy whimsy in place of advertising dollar$ spent on traditional agitprop.

This can’t be about their new diapers – they debuted yesterday. The same day this article was posted over at Re/Code. So, I’ll be one of the geeks patrolling the Web and watching for news about the Big Box.

I have a thing about Amazon boxes, anyway. I haven’t succeeded, yet – haven’t gotten past the mystery of customer service representatives whose English is a second language. But, since I’m prepaying for a truly cheapo cremation when I shuffle off this mortal coil – I want the absolute minimum which includes my body traveling into the fires of redemption in a cardboard box instead of something really expensive – I’m trying to get a properly sized Amazon Prime box. Appropriately labeled as such.

As a geek who’s been online since 1983 and a devotee of online commerce, I think it would be the best way for me to prep for redistribution of my elemental molecules.

Are we getting ready for a remake of “MIMIC”?

The High Line, a park that turned a dilapidated stretch of elevated railway on Manhattan’s West Side into one of New York’s newest tourist attractions, may have brought a different kind of visitor: a cockroach that can withstand harsh winter cold and never seen before in the U.S.

Rutgers University insect biologists Jessica Ware and Dominic Evangelista said the species Periplaneta japonica is well documented in Asia but was never confirmed in the United States until now. The scientists, whose findings were published in the Journal of Economic Entomology, say it is too soon to predict the impact but that there is probably little cause for concern…

Michael Scharf, a professor of urban entomology at Purdue University, said the discovery is something to monitor.

“To be truly invasive, a species has to move in and take over and out-compete a native species,” he said. “There’s no evidence of that, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be concerned about it…”

Periplaneta japonica has special powers not seen in the local roach population: It can survive outdoors in the freezing cold…

The likelihood that the new species will mate with the locals to create a hybrid super-roach is slim.

MIMIC is one of my favorite sci-fi flicks. That it had a terrific cast along with solid writing did it no harm. The CGI was an early example of just how intricate and realistic computer-generated illustration was becoming in the movie world.

I will wait and watch. Bwahahaha!

Florida battles slimy invasion by giant snails – the wrong way

Slow-moving fast food

South Florida is fighting a growing infestation of one of the world’s most destructive invasive species: the giant African land snail, which can grow as big as a rat and gnaw through stucco and plaster.

More than 1,000 of the mollusks are being caught each week in Miami-Dade and 117,000 in total since the first snail was spotted by a homeowner in September 2011, said Denise Feiber, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Residents will soon likely begin encountering them more often, crunching them underfoot as the snails emerge from underground hibernation at the start of the state’s rainy season in just seven weeks, Feiber said…

A typical snail can produce about 1,200 eggs a year and the creatures are a particular pest in homes because of their fondness for stucco, devoured for the calcium content they need for their shells…

The last known Florida invasion of the giant mollusks occurred in 1966, when a boy returning to Miami from a vacation in Hawaii brought back three of them, possibly in his jacket pockets. His grandmother eventually released the snails into her garden where the population grew in seven years to 17,000 snails. The state spent $1 million and 10 years eradicating them.

Feiber said many people unfamiliar with the danger viewed the snails as cute pets.

They’re huge, they move around, they look like they’re looking at you … communicating with you, and people enjoy them for that,” Feiber said. “But they don’t realize the devastation they can create if they are released into the environment where they don’t have any natural enemies and they thrive.”

Though I prefer sea snails/scungilli and conch, many varieties of snails are a taste-tempting treat. Never had a chance to be told they were something not worth eating because – when I was a kid – our family shared a duplex home with our landlady who was French. She kept a terrarium of snails in her kitchen for special occasions.

Turing papers to stay in UK after 11th-hour auction success

Second world war papers by the UK’s most famous codebreaker, Alan Turing, have been bought for the nation with an 11th-hour bid by the National Heritage Memorial Fund. Turing’s work was in danger of going to a private buyer abroad but will now stay in its “spiritual home”, Bletchley Park, which was the centre of Britain’s top secret code-breaking effort during the war.

The mathematician, often dubbed “the father of computer science”, helped crack the German Enigma code while stationed at Bletchley Park…

Dame Jenny Abramsky, the chairman of the NHMF, said: “This is such welcome news. Alan Turing was a true war hero and played an absolutely crucial role during the second world war.

“The National Heritage Memorial Fund was set up in memory of those who have given their lives for the UK and this grant will now ensure that this extremely rare collection of his work stands as a permanent memorial to the man and to all those who paid the ultimate price in service to this nation…”

An online campaign by IT journalist Gareth Halfacree managed to raise £28,500 through public donations in just over a week. In addition, Google donated $100,000 (£62,700) to the Bletchley Park bid, but it was not enough to secure the papers…

The papers will go on public display later this year following conservation work by the NHMF.

The Manchester University scientist committed suicide in 1954 at the age of 41, two years after being chemically castrated following a criminal prosecution for having a sexual relationship with a man.

In 2009, the then prime minister Gordon Brown was forced to apologise on behalf of the government for Turing’s “appalling” treatment after an online petition gained thousands of signatures.

Turing was a genius and dedicated his work to the best possible service he could render to humanity in defeating the Nazi codes and aiding the war against Fascism.

That his nation rewarded him with ignominy and bigotry is unforgivable. The afterthought by Brown – is worth as much as it is. The result of a politician pushed into belated action.

Bletchley Park is where his papers should reside for posterity. To be studied in the surroundings where he accomplished so much.

Catching up with science news

I read a lot of science news. Science has been a preoccupation of mine since I picked up my first copy of Thrilling Wonder Stories at our neighborhood drugstore on the way home from school at the age of 8.

Over at the “big” blog, the boss calls these my “weird science” posts. Which is only a jest because, in fact, he understands them – just hates to admit it when they contradict his politics.

Anyway, I don’t keep up with posting them all and usually delete the majority from storage. Silly. Why not offer a roundup, once in a while – and let you choose what to read and what to skip:

A newly discovered skeleton of an ancient seabird from northern Chile provides evidence that giant birds were soaring the skies there 5-10 million years ago. The wing bones of the animal exceed those of all other birds in length; its wingspan would have been at least 5.2 m (17 ft.).

Continue reading

Scientists evaluate Big Balls in Costa Rica

The ancient stone spheres of Costa Rica were made world-famous by the opening sequence of “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” when a mockup of one of the mysterious relics nearly crushed Indiana Jones. So perhaps John Hoopes is the closest thing at the University of Kansas to the movie action hero.

Hoopes, associate professor of anthropology and director of the Global Indigenous Nations Studies Program, recently returned from a trip to Costa Rica where he and colleagues evaluated the stone balls for UNESCO, the United Nations cultural organization that might grant the spheres World Heritage Status…

Hoopes, who researches ancient cultures of Central and South America, is one of the world’s foremost experts on the Costa Rican spheres. He explained that although the stone spheres are very old, international interest in them is still growing.

“The earliest reports of the stones come from the late 19th century, but they weren’t really reported scientifically until the 1930s — so they’re a relatively recent discovery,” Hoopes said. “They remained unknown until the United Fruit Company began clearing land for banana plantations in southern Costa Rica.”

According to Hoopes, around 300 balls are known to exist, with the largest weighing 16 tons and measuring eight feet in diameter. Many of these are clustered in Costa Rica’s Diquis Delta region. Some remain pristine in the original places of discovery, but many others have been relocated or damaged due to erosion, fires and vandalism.

The KU researcher said that scientists believe the stones were first created around 600 A.D., with most dating to after 1,000 A.D. but before the Spanish conquest…

Speculation and pseudoscience have plagued general understanding of the stone spheres. For instance, publications have claimed that the balls are associated with the “lost” continent of Atlantis. Others have asserted that the balls are navigational aids or relics related to Stonehenge or the massive heads on Easter Island.

“Myths are really based on a lot of very rampant speculation about imaginary ancient civilizations or visits from extraterrestrials,” Hoopes said.

John Hoopes maintains a website to disseminate the realities of the stone balls – and to dispel some of the myths. As well as he can.

Giant jellyfish attacking Japanese fishermen

Giant jellyfish descend on the Sea of Japan, causing untold devastation to coastal villages and leaving a trail of destruction and human misery behind.

Sounds like a great sci-fi flick. But it’s not. It’s real and it’s a nightmare for Japanese fishermen.

The massive sea creatures, called Nomura’s jellyfish, can grow 6 feet in diameter and weigh more than 450 pounds. Scientists think they originate in the Yellow Sea and in Chinese waters. For the third year since 2005, ocean currents are transporting them into the Sea of Japan.

Monty Williams, a marine biologist at Alabama’s Dauphin Island Sea Lab, said the jellyfish grow to an enormous size as they are transported by ocean currents. He said they stay together in packs and as they drift northward, they get caught in fishermen’s nets…

The jellyfish destroy fishermen’s nets, getting trapped in them, tearing holes and ruining catches.

Fishermen often use expensive mazelike nets that stretch for hundreds of kilometers. When swarms of giant jellyfish tear them, the result is devastating. “Communities of fishermen and these fishing villages own these nets,” Williams said. “When these nets get wiped out, it actually has this economic devastation for an entire community.”

I know it doesn’t feel like anything termed “short-term phenomenon” to the fishermen. But, in terms of oceanography, unless someone knows of radical changes taking place in the region, that’s exactly what’s described. That’s why I never would be a farmer, regardless of how many times my agricultural kin offer that avenue. And a decade or so of subsistence fishing as a youth was sufficient, thank you.

Surely, there must be a lame and leftover Cold Warrior in Japan’s Parliament who can blame China – or Greenpeace – for this? I probably could find a dozen or so in Congress.

San Diego menaced by giant squid

Scuba divers off the Californian city of San Diego are being menaced by large numbers of jumbo squid.

The beaked Humboldt squid, which grow up to 5ft (1.5 metres) long, arrived off the city’s shores last week.

Divers have reported unnerving encounters with the creatures, which are carnivorous and can be aggressive…

The creatures – also known as jumbo flying squid – do not affect swimmers because they remain deeper in the water…

“The ones that we are getting right now have a big beak on them, like a large parrot beak,” San Diego’s Union-Tribune quoted John Hyde of the National Marine Fisheries Service as saying earlier in the week.

They could take a chunk of flesh off you…

Scientists say they do not know why the squid – which usually live in deep waters further south off Mexico and Central America – have come so close in.

But one expert, Nigella Hillgarth of the San Diego-based Scripps Institution of Oceanography, told AP it was possible that the squid had established a year-round population off California.

Maybe we should return to polluting the water?