>> Friday, December 4, 2009
I ran across this in the news. Quick summary:
"On Saturday, thousands of people nationwide will search the skies in a high-tech scavenger hunt designed to test how far-flung groups can use the Internet and technology to work together. The DARPA Network Challenge calls on groups to pinpoint the locations of 10 red weather balloons scattered around the country -- with a $40,000 prize going to the first team to find them all."
Fascinating concept. I wonder how long it will take for a team to find them all?
Thinking of hunting for balloons makes me think of two things: 1) "Balloon Boy" and his family - the crazy people who wanted a reality tv show and whose pretend hunt for their six-year-old son dominated recent headlines and wasted tax dollars (is there a way to scour that out of my memory? I could use that space for something worthwhile); and 2) my childhood balloon correspondence.
A fact of childhood is that kids wind up getting helium balloons at parties and restaurants and all sorts of places. Rather than just letting them grow wrinkly and lose floatation in the house, my Dad came up with a better purpose: balloon mail. Dad would have my sister and me write little notes, encase them in some kind of plastic (usually little plastic baggies) and seal them with the balloon string or twist tie. We'd trim off all the excess everything - paper, plastic and string - to make it as light as possible. Then we would release them from the back deck of the house, watch them float into the sky, and usually forget about them. It was quite magical watching them float off into the blue (or gray - this is Syracuse, after all) wondering just what they would see and who they would meet on their journey.
We did this fairly regularly over the years. One year for Christmas I remember the appearance of a helium tank in the living room, and a big bag of assorted balloons. That year we peppered our area of the Country with balloon notes.
Most of those balloons drifted off into the great Never Never Land of nowhere. Who knows where they wound up? Now I cringe slightly thinking about the litter and potential for critters choking on rubber balloons, but I try not to dwell on it. People didn't worry so much about such things back then.
I am a packrat when it comes to manuscripts, letters and other sentimental documents. I have a huge rubbermaid bin in the attic full of correspondence from all bits of my life. I lament the lost art of correspondence (the real kind, involving pen, paper and stamps). A rummage this evening through the bin uncovered letters I wrote to my parents when I was in summer camp, letters I wrote home when I was studying abroad in high school and college, my and my sister's balloon correspondence, and even a brief exchange that was carried on between the hotel maid and my favorite stuffed dog, Le Mutt, when my family took a trip to Toronto when I was probably about 8.
Le Mutt, you see, also sent some of the balloon letters that got responses. He was - and in fact still is - quite literary.