Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The technological message in a bottle

I've never been into the "newest, fastest, bestest" technology. I know that a lot of shortwave fans, if not of the present, then certainly the past, were into the hobby because of their desire to experience the cutting edge. That's not me.

My connection (or one of them) with shortwave--especially pirate radio and low-power private stations--has been more low brow.

I've been fascinated with things like messages in bottles and old graffiti.

To me, there's something wonderfully personally impersonal about a message in a bottle. Although it's been tossed out into the unknown, as impersonal as can be, it's meant for one person: who ever finds it.

In the case of graffiti, at the moment at least, I'm not too interested in the high school hood who tags every trashcan, bridge overpass, and bathroom stall, but I do stop any time I see initials carved in stone from more than a hundred years ago, such as from the bored Civil War soldiers who held the lookout above strategic Harpers Ferry (now West Virginia) or those who carved into Jefferson's Rock on the other end of the town.

Other mysterious events that some might include in these realms are the TJIPETIR tiles that have been floating out from a World War I-era ship wreck near Sicily, ocean playset Legos that have washed ashore in the British Isles from another ship wreck, and, of course, the Toynbee Tiles.

I found a mylar balloon in the yard about two weeks ago and I checked it--just to be sure that no note was attached designating it as some kid's weekend pen pal project.

You never know.

These parallels and metaphors are all leading somewhere. I found a link to a great story of an 8-year-old girl who tossed a message in a bottle into the ocean in 1989. She completely forgot about the bottle, moved away, and, about 37 years later, the bottle was discovered and most of the note was still intact.

Here's the link to the story.


  1. Hi Andrew! Interesting post! And interesting links!

    It's interesting that you compare pirate radio with messages in bottles. A listener in the UK made the same comparison many years ago (I think it was the editor of a small fanzine I used to read). And I've thought of pirate radio that way ever since! :) You send something off, and you don't know who is going to receive it – or if anyone is going to receive it at all.

    Of course, there's also the scientific aspect. But like you, I've never been into cutting-edge technology. And if it gets too technical, the magic can go away. At least that's what I feel. To me, flying a kite (a small one from the toy shop or a small home-made one) is magic. I fear that if I knew everything about aerodynamics, getting a kite up in the air would seem less extraordinary.

    I sometimes read newspaper articles about messages in bottles (someone in Scandinavia threw a bottle in the ocean x years ago, and the bottle has now been found somewhere in, say, the Caribbean). The articles always (or so it seems) end with a scientist saying: "Oh well, this is completely normal. The bottle just followed this and that current, so it was bound to end up where it did." :)

    One of the most magic moments for me as a pirate listener was when Oscar the Engineer from England (I think it was him) was on the air on medium wave over Christmas and received a phone call from a young girl who had got a new radio for Christmas. She could hear him load and clear and wanted to know if he was a pirate. A real message in a bottle moment!


    Kai S. in Norway

  2. Hi Kai. Thanks much for your comment. Great stuff and another good angle. I've been trying to post regularly through the Global HF Weekend (and will hopefully be a bit more active on the blog), so I'll respond more to your comment in a post later on (rather than bury it in a comment :o)