Friday, August 14, 2009

Modern Day Message in a Bottle

As a kid, I always wanted to put a message in a bottle and throw it in the ocean for someone in a faraway land to discover. I thought it would be cool to see where and how far it traveled. Since I didn't live near the ocean, I had to come up with a plan B.

Plan B was put into action when I came home from the local county fair with a helium balloon. I attached a self-addressed postcard and a string to the balloon, but the postcard was too heavy. I ended up making a light weight postcard out of thin typing paper. I added labels to the postcard for the recipient to fill in their name, age, address and the location where they found the balloon, and I wrapped it with plastic wrap to keep the paper dry. I had to trim the size of the postcard a few times before it seemed air worthy, and then I finally let it go.

The postcard arrive in the mail about a week later. A thirteen year old girl in a nearby town found the balloon. My father estimated that the faraway lands that I dreamed of were in fact about seven miles away.

About thirty years later, I noticed that I had a dollar bill with a web address stamped in a couple of places on the bill:

The Where's George? site allows you to register bills using the series and serial numbers, and you will receive e-mail notifications when anyone else registers any of the same bills that you registered. Each e-mail includes a link to a page on the site that shows you the registration log for the bill, the distance traveled and a map showing the path that the bill took based on the log entries.

I always log any bills that I find stamped with the address, and I have occasionally written the address on a bill.

Below are some screen shots showing logs of bills that someone registered after I had. One made it all the way from Martinsburg, WV to D.C. by way of Bowie. The other made it from Bowie to Bristol, NH in eleven months.

Martinsburg, WV to D.C. via Bowie

Bowie to Bristol, NH in 11 months


  1. Have you also seen bookcrossing?

    Have you heard this podcast from Radio Lab? It has a great story about the balloon thing.

  2. I hadn't heard of bookcrossing. I just checked out the site. I was just looking through my books today. I wonder what would happen if I left my ODBC API book at the nearby Starbucks. That one probably wouldn't go very far.

    The balloon story on NPR is incredible. I was already amazed at the 140 miles against prevailing winds (20 times further than my balloon), but the story kept getting better. I'll have to listen to the discussion on "chance" later. Interesting stuff.

  3. Mike,
    Good Lord! Am I glad I no longer code to the ODBC API...I hope I don't have to code again to anything.

  4. Bob, ha. I still do a lot of analysis and design work, but coding for me is a little like writing. I miss it when I don't do it. I try to sneak some in every now and then.